Sherlock Holmes Pastiches Analysis

General Stories

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Many early pastiches can be consigned to the realm of parody. For example, an early series, written by R. C. Lehmann under the pseudonym of Cunnin Toil, recounts the adventures of a detective named Picklock Holes and his friend Potson. The first of these stories, “The Bishop’s Crime,” appeared in Punch in August, 1893. Seven other stories followed. During that same year, Doyle and his friend James M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, wrote Jane Annie, a musical play that was produced in London. Unfortunately for the two of them, it was a colossal flop. Afterward, Barrie wrote a story titled “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators,” in which both he and Doyle are characters who consult Sherlock Holmes to find out the reason for their theatrical failure. Not liking the answer the detective finds for them, Doyle transforms Holmes into a puff of smoke.

Holmes has occasionally turned up in other strange settings. For example, John Kendrick Bangs’s Pursuit of the House Boat (1897), the second part of his trilogy about the dead, concerns a boat, which is home to the souls of such people as Socrates, Noah, Napoleon, and Confucius, that is taken by Captain Kidd from its moorings on the River Styx. The victims eventually hire Sherlock Holmes to help them; he ingeniously finds the boat and restores order to the world of the dead. One might wonder why Holmes was among the dead, but at the time of the novel’s publication, Holmes was believed by all to have met his demise at the foot of the Reichenbach Falls.

Other well-known authors have followed. Bret Harte wrote “The Stolen Cigar Case” in 1902, featuring the detective Hemlock Jones. Nine years later, O. Henry wrote about “The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes.” Other names that have been used include Thinlock Bones, Sherlaw Kombs, and numerous other plays on “Sherlock Holmes.” What makes stories about such characters work is the fact that readers are already familiar with Sherlock Holmes and recognize him even when he appears under...

(The entire section is 835 words.)

“The Great Hiatus”

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

A gap in publication of the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories occurred between May, 1891, when Doyle appeared to kill off Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, and April, 1894, when Holmes reappeared in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” This three-year stretch is known in Holmesian circles as “The Great Hiatus,” and many novels and stories have been written about the events in Holmes’s career that could have occurred during those years.

The American author Nicholas Meyer has written three Sherlock Holmes books, the most acclaimed of which is The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), which is set during the time of the Great Hiatus and tries to explain Holmes’s three-year disappearance. In this book, Dr. Watson, concerned about Holmes’s addiction to cocaine, takes his friend to Vienna in the hope that Dr. Sigmund Freud can cure his addiction. Under Freud’s psychoanalysis, Holmes discovers the reason for his obsession with Professor Moriarty. Meanwhile, Holmes prevents a war from breaking out. In The Canary Trainer (1993), Meyer provides another explanation of the Great Hiatus. This book has Holmes employed as a violin player by the Paris Opera and features Irene Adler as one of the opera’s stars. Meyer’s third Holmesian novel, The West End Horror (1976), involves murders in the theatrical district of London and has Holmes interact with such historical figures as George Bernard Shaw and Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula (1897).

The extent to which writers go to bring Holmes into play can never be underestimated. One of the most bizarre explanations of the Great Hiatus has to be one constructed by Bob Jones in Sherlock Holmes Saved Golf (1986). That book recounts how Sherlock Holmes, at the request of the Prince of Wales, foils a scheme to transform golf from the gentleman’s game that it was into something far less honorable that might compromise the integrity of some of England’s great families.

Historical and Literary Figures

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Pastiches have pitted Holmes against three of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’ most notorious real and literary figures, none of whom appears in Doyle’s canonical stories. The first of these is the very real figure of perhaps the most famous serial killer of all time: Jack the Ripper, who haunted London’s East End for only four months during late 1888, when he murdered at least five women. He was never arrested or even identified, and his identity remains to be established. His reign of terror was brief, but it occurred during the heyday of Holmes’s career. Many people have argued that it is inconceivable that Scotland Yard would not have called upon the great detective to investigate the Ripper case.

Doyle himself never connected Holmes with the Ripper, but many pastiche artists have. Perhaps the most famous of these depictions is the 1965 film A Study in Terror, directed by James Hill, that finds Holmes tracking down the famous killer, who turns out to be one Lord Carfax. A year after this film appeared, the Ellery Queen team, along with Paul W. Fairman, came out with a well-received novelization of the film. At least ten other writers have put Holmes and the Ripper in direct contact. Edward B. Hanna’s The Whitechapel Horrors (1993) is probably the best known.

Another major literary figure of the Victorian age is Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian vampire, Dracula, who comes to London and to take up...

(The entire section is 547 words.)

Strange Tales

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Science fiction is a genre that few readers would associate with Sherlock Holmes. Nevertheless, Holmes has found his way into that genre with some regularity. Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space (1985) is a collection of such stories. Edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin Henry Greenburg, and Charles Waugh, it features stories by Asimov and such other esteemed writers in the science fiction field as Poul Anderson and Philip José Farmer. Even the canonical story “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” makes its way into this collection. Sherlock Holmes in Orbit (1995), edited by Michael Resnick and Martin H. Greenburg, contains twenty-six stories depicting the detective not only in his own era, but in the deeper past, in the future, and around time itself. Ghosts in Baker Street (2006), edited by Martin H. Greenberg et al., contains thirteen stories by twelve authors who try to refute Holmes’s famous dictum, from “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,” that “the world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”

Two strange science fiction adaptations of Holmes revolve around the concept of cryogenics. In the 1987 television film The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1987), Holmes is said to have been frozen at the point of death and brought back to life during the late twentieth century by Jane Watson, a descendent of Dr. Watson. Holmes’s freezing and thawing out take place in England, but most of the adventure is...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Drama and Film

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Theater and film have played a major role in the popularization of Sherlock Holmes and in the creation of images of him in the public mind. Moreover, it is likely that no character in the history of films has been portrayed as often as Sherlock Holmes. Hundreds of films have shown Holmes and Watson in a variety of locales, situations, and characterizations. However, the first screen presentation of Holmes was nothing more than a farce that used cinematic tricks popularized at the time by George Melius. Produced by the New York studios of the American Mutescope and Biograph Company around 1900 and featuring what would now be considered primitive appearances and disappearances, Sherlock Holmes Baffled was a sixty-one-second cinematic exploration of what the new film medium could do. Nonetheless, it demonstrates the pervasive presence of Holmes, as the brief film’s joke would make no sense to anyone unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes.

During the early twentieth century, no actor portrayed Holmes more astutley than William Gillette, who wrote the play Sherlock Holmes and played the lead role for more than thirty-three years. First produced in 1899, Sherlock Holmes defined the living detective and is responsible for bringing the cult of Moriarty to life in subsequent pastiches. At the time the play opened, only twenty-five Holmes stories had been published, and only one of them had even mentioned Moriarty. Thanks to the prominent role assigned to Moriarty in Gillette’s play, Moriarty dominated Holmes pastiches. Gillette made Holmes his own. Perhaps his most famous addition to the lore of Holmes is the curved meerschaum pipe, which appears nowhere in Doyle’s stories.

Gillette’s play was filmed in 1916,...

(The entire section is 716 words.)


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The world of Holmes pastiches continues to grow. One place that feeds that growth is the Internet and the world of fan fiction. On numerous sites, people are encouraged to provide their own stories and their own perspectives on characters they have encountered in either their reading or their viewing. The Web site is a rich resource for all things regarding the detective and his creator. Almost everything in the Holmesian world can be found there.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Akinson, Michael. The Secret Marriage of Sherlock Holmes and Other Eccentric Readings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Innovative study of the original Sherlock Holmes stories that attempts to explain how Holmes himself might have read the stories.

Baring-Gould, W. S. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World’s First Consulting Detective. New York: Random House, 1995. First published in 1962, this now-classic fictional biography of Holmes might be regarded as a pastiche in its own right. It is based closely on Doyle’s original stories, supplemented by secondary sources. Includes a proposed chronology of Holmes’s life.

DeWaal, Ronald. The Universal Sherlock Holmes. Toronto: Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, 1994. Invaluable guide to the land of all things Holmesian. This volume and Kaye’s The Game Is Afoot cover almost everything that has to do with Holmes, from Doyle’s stories in their many versions to the many pastiches made about Holmes.

Fido, Martin. The World of Sherlock Holmes: The Facts and Fiction Behind the World’s Greatest Detective. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media, 1998. Useful study of the original Sherlock Holmes character that attempts to link his stories to real people and events.

Kaye, Marvin, ed. The Game Is Afoot. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Excellent collection of pastiches both well known and obscure. It also contains a number of essays, including one by Joseph Bell, Doyle’s model for Sherlock Holmes, and Frederic Dorr Steele, one of the most famous of all illustrators of Holmes.

Ross, Thomas Wynne. Good Old Index: The Sherlock Holmes Handbook, a Guide to the Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—Persons, Places, Themes, Summaries of All the Tales, with Commentary on the Style of the Author. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1997. Valuable handbook to all aspects of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Sherlockian.Net. Web portal containing links to hundreds of other sites about Sherlock Holmes. The other sites contain the texts of the original Holmes stories; illustrations; listings of films, plays, and radio and television shows about Holmes; parodies and pastiches; and information about all aspects of the world of Holmes and his creator. The site also contains special tips for teachers and students.