Sherlock Holmes is one of the most well-known literary characters. The character and the stories about him are in the public domain and have been since the 1980s (some stories were not in the public domain in the U.S. until 2013). The author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published most of the stories about Sherlock in a newspaper called The Strand. Sherlock Holmes is referenced in many different mediums and also adapted into many different mediums.
The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
I’ve decided to combine all of the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into one section. The first story published was A Study in Scarlet. Sherlock first meets Watson in this story. If you have no familiarity with Sherlock Holmes, this is the novel to start with. I had trouble figuring out which books to read in which order to ensure that I read them in the correct timeline. The best solution for this is really to just pick up a copy of the stories bound together in the right order. There are several collected and published books that are available, such as the one pictured to the right. The 60 stories of Sherlock Holmes consist of four novels and a number of short stories that were published in The Strand newspaper. They are collected into five separate books of collected stories.
Most of the stories are quick reads, with the exception, of course, of the novels. They all follow a predictable pattern of mystery and Sherlock solving the cases. When compared to some of the fiction and writing of today, the stories can seem a bit on the dull side. They take place during Victorian times and offer the first glimpse into criminology and forensic science. Forensic science is now far more advanced than it was during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s time. It is interesting to read a fictional account of the beginnings of that practice. It can, however, make some of the conclusions seem obvious to readers in this day and age.
There are many older adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories for film. The most recent big budget adaptation from Warner Bros. stars Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock and Jude Law as Watson. There are two films in this series. The first film starts somewhere in the middle of Holmes’s life and friendship with Watson. Both of the films in this series are new stories rather than adaptations of those written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The second movie borrows elements from The Final Problem and The Empty House, but is a completely new story. There have been talks of another movie being added to this series, but nothing has materialized yet.
I found these movies to have a very unique cinematography approach with the fight scenes and during Holmes’s deductions. The action sequences are slowed down as a voice over by Holmes explains the connections and what is happening. The scene is usually then reversed and played at regular speed. It is not the first time the technique is used, but certainly the first time it has been used in this type of movie (to the best of my knowledge). I enjoyed these movies and liked that the stories were something new instead of adapting one of the author’s original stories for the screen.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss adapted Sherlock Holmes for modern day in 2009. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman stars as John Watson. It airs on BBC in the U.K. and on PBS in the U.S. It airs on several channels in Canada including PBS, BBC Canada and Showcase. Each series comprises of three 1.5 hour episodes. The first episode is A Study in Pink, a play on the first story, A Study in Scarlet.
Admittedly, this particular series is a favourite of mine. I enjoy how Steven and Mark update the original stories for the modern age, adding in technology and updating the forensics of the cases. The characters are still very true to their original incarnations while still being fresh and updated. Some of the backstory even still works for modern times. In the original stories, Watson had returned from the Middle East after serving in the military. Sherlock’s Watson also has returned from Afghanistan after serving in the war there. It could be said that history seems to repeat itself.
The major downside to this adaptation is the length of time between each series (season). Series 1 was broadcast in 2010, then it wasn’t until 2012 that the second series aired. The third series aired in 2014 and we won’t see the fourth series until 2017 (possibly). Part of the reason for this is the very busy careers of the two main leads. Currently, it may end up that Series 4 is going to be the last, but it has also been said that Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have plotted a fifth series. It’s very likely to hinge on how available Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are.
Sherlock Holmes was also updated by CBS in 2012 and set in modern day New York. CBS was originally interested in adapting the Sherlock show for American audiences. However, when that didn’t pan out (thankfully), CBS had their own version commissioned.
The audience is first introduced to the character of Dr. Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu, who is a sober companion. She is hired by Sherlock’s father after he has completed rehab in order to ensure Sherlock’s sobriety. Sherlock, played by Jonny Lee Miller, is at first very resistant to the idea but eventually comes around and begins to rely on Watson to assist him during the investigations he handles. Eventually, Joan’s contract runs out, but she stays on to learn to become a detective.
I think the most interesting aspect of this adaptation is the gender changes to some of the characters. John Watson and James Moriarty are both turned into female characters. The characters are not played any differently because they are women. They have the same intellect and drive while they just happen to be women. I have to admit that I wasn’t completely sure how I would feel about this when I first heard about it, but I think it really works. The only real change in these characters lies with Moriarty. In this series, she is also Sherlock’s lover, Irene Adler, a pseudonym she used to draw Sherlock’s attentions away from her criminal activities. It’s a different take on the two characters, but I found that I rather enjoyed it. The fifth season is currently airing on CBS.
A number of video games have been produced using the characters of Sherlock Holmes. The ones I have mostly played are produced by Frogwares as well as one by Big Fish Games. Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles was produced by Big Fish Games. It is essentially a hidden object game that goes along with the story as you find items and solve the occasional puzzle. It’s very straightforward and enjoyable, but not particularly challenging.
The games by Frogwares are mostly like interactive stories. The player follows along with the tale while collecting evidence and speaking with other characters to get to the end. Most of the games are older. The graphics aren’t as crisp as more modern games but Frogwares is producing more of these games. The most recent game was released on June 10, 2016. I have yet to play this one and the one released prior (September 30, 2014) but both have positive reviews on Steam. All of these games take place in the usual time period for Sherlock Holmes.
I think, in the end, we may never see the end of Sherlock Holmes adaptations. I think as long as people keep coming up with new and interesting ideas for the characters, they will be successful. Even when they’re not financially, they very rarely fail to be enjoyable. I look forward to seeing what is next for this character and catching up on those that I have missed.