Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Popular culture references to Sherlock Holmes

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Popular culture references to Sherlock Holmes

Many writers make references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary creation, the detective Sherlock Holmes, and these often become embedded within popular culture. While Holmes exists predominately in the context of Victorian-era London, he has been mentioned in such outre contexts as the 22nd century or hunting aliens or supernatural enemies. The versions of Holmes wearing the deerstalker hat appear only a few in the original Strand pictures, as opposed to the far more common top hat. Holmes frequently says, "Elementary, my dear" to other characters. These references are in addition to the innumerable passing references to Sherlock Holmes made in a very large percentage of all literary and cinematic works, such as the labeling of a person as a "Sherlock", whether in reference to their intelligence (or in jest or sarcasm).



One of the first attempts was made in response to the "Great Hiatus" (when Arthur Conan Doyle decided not to write any more Holmes stories, to the dismay of his fans). Stepping into the breach, John Kendrick Bangs wrote Pursuit of the House-Boat (1897) [a sequel to his A House-Boat on the Styx(1895)], in which a deceased gentleman's clubhouse boat is stolen, whereupon Holmes arrives to help his fellow-deceased track down the boat by chartering a ship from Hades to London. Bangs' version of Holmes then comments to himself:

"For now," he said, with a chuckle, "I can get back to earth again free of cost on my own hook, whether my eminent inventor wants me there or not. I never approved of his killing me off as he did at the very height of my popularity."

However,in 1894, Conan Doyle decided to return to writing, bringing Holmes back from the dead by claiming he had faked his death in "The Empty House". While Bangs' attempt was reverential, Maurice Leblanc decided to write the short story "Sherlock Holmes arrive trop tard" ("Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late"). In it, Holmes meets the young thief Lupin for a brief time, unaware that he is, in fact, Lupin. After legal objections from Conan Doyle, the name was changed to "Herlock Sholmès" when the story was collected in bookform in Volume 1. Holmes returned in two more stories collected in Volume 2, Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmès, having opened the floodgates to less flattering versions of Holmes. One of the more recent parodies in print is "The Lord Mike Saga", wherein Mycroft Miles (née Mills) is the Holmes figure, with the titles reflecting the styles: "A Study in Varlets", "The Strange Case of the Moth-Eater of Clapham Common", "Happy Times and Places", and "A Cameo Broached". Miles refuses to speak of Holmes, referring to him only as "the other chap".

Frequent speculation as to the "real" Holmes has existed since publication, and Mark Frost's novel The List of Seven (1993) and its sequel The Six Messiahs (1995) are not the first to put a spin on this. Frost has Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as its main character and tells the (fictional) story of how Doyle's Holmes was inspired by Johnathon Sparks, a mysterious man who saves Doyle's life from a mad occultist. The Wold Newton family series connects multiple famous fictional characters together to a mail coach that passed a radioactive asteroid in the eighteenth century - Holmes is a descendant of one of the travelers in that coach.


Some of the earliest films use Holmes as a character, notably the early films of William Gillette, the American actor who played Holmes in various plays.

  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) is an early "talkie".
  • Later films would blur the lines between canon and non-canon, however.

  • In the sci-fi film Time After Time (1979), H.G. Wells uses a time machine to go to 1979 America; he tries to use Sherlock Holmes as a false name, thinking the literary character would be forgotten by then.
  • From 1984 to 1985, Japan's Tokyo Movie Shinsha and the Italian TV station RAI released 26 episodes of Sherlock Hound, a show featuring anthropomorphic dogs in various roles in the Sherlock Holmes world.
  • Walt Disney Pictures released The Great Mouse Detective (July 2, 1986), wherein the character of Holmes is borrowed by a mouse. The name "Basil" is no mere coincidence: one of Holmes's aliases in the original Conan Doyle stories is "Captain Basil". Also, the actor Basil Rathbone was one of the first to portray Holmes on film. The film is based on the Basil of Baker Street novels.
  • Continuing the print tradition of goodnatured irreverence, the comedy film Without a Clue (1988) presents the premise that Holmes was a fictional creation of John Watson's, who was the true deductive genius. Once the character becomes popular, Watson is forced to hire an out-of-work actor to play Holmes.
  • In the movie The Phantom of Baker Street (2002), Conan goes into a virtual Victorian London a computer simulated Holmes and Watson don't appear due to working on another case (Hound of the Baskervilles), but Moriarty and Irene Adler do.
  • Television

  • In the VeggieTales episode "Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler", Larry the Cucumber play the roles of Sheerluck Holmes and his assistant Watkins. In this parody Sheerluck is portrayed as a dimwit who is credited for solving cases usually solved by the more intelligent Watkins, and his early refusal to acknowledge his partner leads to a brief rift between the two.
  • Comics

  • In the Italian comic book Martin Mystère and spin-off series Storie di Altrove/Stories from Elsewhere Holmes is a historical character. In late 1880s he worked on the case of Jack the Ripper and met professor Richard Van Helsing, a vampire who destroyed Count Dracula. Together they defeat Professor Moriarty.
  • Games

  • Dai Gyakuten Saiban: The Adventures of Naruhodo Ryunosuke (2015), the spin-off title in the Ace Attorney video game series, stars Sherlock Holmes as a supporting character. Watson briefly appears as a supporting character, along with his daughter Iris Watson, a 10-year-old M.D. genius.
  • Fate/Grand Order has Holmes briefly appear in the Camelot singularity.
  • Wizard101's world Marleybone stars Sherlock Bones, and Dr. Meowiarty as a reference to Holmes and Moriarty.
  • Manhwa

  • The Korean manhwa series, Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries, is set in the Sherlock Holmes universe, but in an earlier period in history. Set in the year 1864, it features younger versions of characters in the series. These include Inspector Lestrade as a junior police officer and Professor Moriarty as a student.
  • Music

  • The song "Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes" (1943) by American jazz string band Spirits of Rhythm imagines a comic dialogue between the two title characters.
  • Sherlock Holmes is the subject matter in the song "Sherlock Holmes" by American rock band Sparks, on their eleventh album Angst in My Pants.
  • "Searchin'" (1957), a song recorded iby the R&B group The Coasters, makes reference to Holmes and other fictional detectives.
  • The Kinks song "Village Green Preservation Society" name checks both Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty.
  • The B.A.Robertson song, "Bang Bang" name checks Sherlock Holmes.
  • Spoken word

  • The Firesign Theatre's comedy record, The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra (1974), parodies Holmes, featuring a character named Hemlock Stones.
  • Television

    Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty appear in

  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series episode "Elementary, My Dear Turtle" (1987).
  • The Real Ghostbusters episode "Elementary, My Dear Winston", in which Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty are literally brought to life by a strong belief held in them by the world's population. Though not ghosts, they do not have physical bodies.
  • Many aspects and details of Sherlock Holmes were adopted in the TV show House, M.D.


    Popular culture references to Sherlock Holmes Wikipedia