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Submitted on
March 14, 2012
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Sherlock Holmes

The Ever Evolving Icon

What is it about a fictional character first introduced to the public in Great Britain in 1887 that has kept him being reincarnated, with generationally-correct upgrades, over and over again in film and on television? Who is this literary hero whose portrayal over the past century by such past masters as Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett to today’s vanguard talents Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch has inspired such a continuing outpouring of fan appreciation?

Every generation will forever have their “true” Sherlock Holmes. Basil Rathbone in the 1940s will no doubt remain in heavy rotation on TCM as the “final word” in the Holmes persona. More objective film scholars consider Jeremy Brett’s interpretation of Holmes on British TV from 1984-94 to be truest to the Conan Doyle stories and definitive. The Holmes brought to BBC TV in 2010 and still enthralling fans today in the USA as well as Britain is a modern-day version of the detective played by Benedict Cumberbatch as a sort of brilliant eccentric yet very cool outsider. And then we have Robert Downey’s fan-pleasing Holmes whose adventures are left in the Victorian era but are anachronistically supercharged with 2012 high-tech Hollywood effects, not to mention Holmes’ acquisition of a flippant tongue and cynical sensibility seemingly borrowed from James Bond.

So many different Sherlock Holmeses!

Yet they all work so well with their respective fans.

What’s the common thread?

When Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes back in 1887, he equipped his detective “super-hero” with all of what were the cutting-edge “powers” just then coming into vogue: Holmes is as an early forensic scientist, pre-dating the CSI shows by a hundred years; he is a master decipherer of trace evidence, fingerprints, ballistics and handwriting; he plays violin, but is also adept in the martial arts. He outwits his opponents with “deductive reasoning,” usually summing up his amazingly inerrant analyses with, “You see, it’s elemental, my dear Watson.” (Watson was his ever-present sidekick and witness to his genius, thus establishing the “superhero sidekick” well before Batman’s “Alfred.”)

Sherlock Holmes was, in 1887, the closest thing to a Superman, Batman, or X-Men. In fact, those later heroes and many more all cribbed pieces of his cool persona for their own identities.

I think the reason Sherlock has remained so iconically popular with audiences for over a hundred years is that his character speaks to a deep desire in so many of us: the dream of being able to not only make practical use of, but to actually be a master of all the latest resources, all the newest information, all the most current science and technology – not to mention being engaged at the same time in the fine arts at a scholarly level.

Sherlock Holmes won his battles against evil because he was able to possess and utilize all the newest, breaking science and technique available. So of course, in our times of overwhelming informational overload and finding ourselves in a neverending state of tech device and data catch-up, the Holmes character attracts and engages us. He is truly our Renaissance-Futurist role model. From Rathbone to Downey, he is the ultimate evolving icon, the Forever Master of our ever-accelerating ever-evolving high-tech and super-science society.

Questions for the Reader


Does it bother you when the depiction of a favorite fictional literary character is radically altered in film or on TV over and over again? Or does it all depend on the quality of the depiction and the story?


Most of the muscle-bound comics superheroes beginning in the 1930s-40s also seemed to possess great intellects along with their dominating physiques. Do you think this was because of being influenced by the Holmes character of 30 years before? Or just a coincidence – since if as character has a super-strength body, why not a matching super-strength brain?


Which Sherlock Holmes novels or short stories have you read?


In which way do you prefer your adventure story hero to achieve his/her final victory:

  1. His/her superior intellect; puzzle-solving skills.
  2. Physical strength and fighting skills, and a little good luck.
  3. A mix of both brains and brawn.
  4. Through lone wolf personal action; breaking of rules & protocol.
  5. Through leadership of a team of relative equals.
  6. Other -  Please Elaborate. I would love to know which story ending achievement tropes I might have left off of this list.


Who was/is your favorite Sherlock Holmes -- and why?

  • Basil Rathbone
  • Jeremy Brett
  • Peter Cushing
  • Christopher Lee

  • Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Vasiliy Livanov
  • Other


If Sherlock Holmes and Liara T'Soni are the District 3 Tributes in the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Who survives and why?

What is it about a fictional character first introduced to the public in Great Britain in 1887 that has kept him being reincarnated, with generationally-correct upgrades, over and over again in film and on television?
Add a Comment:
SteamOn-Steampunk Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2014
:) Thank You
BadwolfBlaze Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2014
4. Other - A mix of all these.
Teamwork allows people to conquer obstacles normally too big for a single individual, and being original and breaking rules lets people tackle problems from different angles.(as well as surprise enemies)
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2013  Professional Artist
Wonderful piece, and of course there's the new Sherlock Holmes Motion Book too! :-)…
PokemonFan1235 Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2013
1. Yes it upsets me.
2. Yes I do think that
3. I have read all Sherlock Holmes Novels and Short stories . I also have gotten into the new generations of Sherlock Holmes books that are being published by other authors
4. Definelty A
5. Downy, Cumberbatch and Brett are my favorite Sherlocks
6. I really cant answer this question because I have never watched those shows listed or have seen the hunger games
Inflat-a-Toad Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2013  Student General Artist
Just good luck.
FeatherlynneXWarrior Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
On other I'd say I like a mix of both brains, brawn, and lone wolf rule breaking. THAT'S what makes Sherlock Holmes so awesome; he does them all!! :squee:
Mordial33 Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
As far as how and adventure story should end, I vote "other". While I agree, to some extent, with most of the other choices, I think a hero needs to be able to understand their victory on an emotional level. Brains and brawn add filler to the story, but the emotions of all the characters, mainly the protagonist and antagonist, are what add substance to the story. A hero should achieve victory by doing what has to be done and thinking of the emotional and moral consequences that would ensue. But that's just me! I'm naive and old-fashioned!
Shadowkey392 Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2012
Very interesting. I am a Holmes fan also, and I think you could be right about the reason why he continues to grow on people even now, over one hundred years after his conception and introduction to the world. I also think that another reason for this is that lots of people enjoy a good mystery, and Holmes' adventures provide us with the best mysteries there are to be had.
InfinityApocalypse Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
1. It definitely doesn't bother me because I tend to think of Sherlock Holmes as being an idea within itself.
2. It appears that it is just a coincidence, but not so because I believe that the superheroes with and the Sherlock Holmes characters are all given remarkable intellect for the same reason-- authors want to give their characters more depth and make them stand out amongst everyone else, but the difficulty is leaving the core essence of humanity at the heart of the character and not allow the superpowers or superior intellect to make it impossible to relate to.
3. Doyle's complete collection
4.!!!!!F!!!!!! Other.
I believe that the best way for a hero to achieve his final victory is only by death in an eternal slumber, where all of his/her efforts appear to have been for naught, but instead, the hero realizes in his final moments, that his sacrifice allows his successors pick up the pieces of his/her legacy, and complete the goal that the hero never could.
5. I really cant pick a favorite for the actors themselves, however, if it were the character in question, it might be a different story.
6. Sherlock Holmes; he would escape en route to the capitol, and live in the Wild.
tatsuyabocchan Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2012  Professional General Artist
not really bothering actually, because Holmes in my own imagination not really look like the movie..
so somehow i never get really interest to watch any of it.
because when it comes to the old Britain setting, especially for this poor detective.
but always try to act elegant in front of his customers. you know, kind of the combination of this characters...

disney aladin for wits, agility, street smart, posture, and speed. but he had the bad arrogant behavior of peter pan, and maybe the last strong character like phoebus from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with his idealistic and kind of heroic.

some how if i could mix those character into 1 person, i can create my ideal Holmes. lol
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