Common Misconceptions about Sherlock Holmes

1. The deerstalker hat: Sherlock never wears this hat. In fact, he rarely wears head wear at all (except when he’s in disguise). When he does, Conan Doyle mentions a top hat. The hat was probably first introduced by Sidney Paget, illustrator for The Strand. It later gained popularity in theatrical adaptations until eventually, it became difficult to find a Sherlock Holmes avatar existing without this iconic hat.

2. Sherlock Holmes frequently says “Elementary, my dear Watson.”: False. Only once or twice in the 56 stories written about Holmes does he say ‘Elementary’. On several occasions Holmes says ‘my dear Watson’ in the middle of a sentence, but never does he ever say “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

3. Sherlock Holmes always smokes a Calabash pipe: The curly, distinctive pipe that is always associated with Sherlock Holmes is never mentioned in the books. In fact, Conan Doyle never even mentions that Holmes prefers pipes to other forms of tobacco. Sherlock never would have even used a Calabash pipe, because it mellows the smoky mixture, and Sherlock preferred strong, harsh tobacco. This was, most likely, a Hollywood invention.

4. Sherlock Holmes was old: Holmes was born in 1854. The first story, A Study in Scarlet, is set in 1881, making him 27 at the time. This means that for most of his adventures with Watson, he was a young man. Obviously he grew old at some point in time, but he was not always old.

5. Sherlock Holmes was a drug addict: it can be easy to assume this, but first the context of the stories must be taken into account. At the time when the stories were set, it was not uncommon for people to take drugs. In spite of this, Sherlock Holmes did not frequently take drugs. He mentioned that he only took drugs when his mind required stimulation, or when he did not have a case to solve. Moreover, he only took morphine and cocaine (which were legal, over-the-counter drugs at the time), NOT opium. Opium is only mentioned in The Man with the Twisted Lip in which he must pretend to take opium in order to solve a case.

6. Sherlock Holmes was gay: this is false. Holmes was, to a great extent, asexual. Watson married in The Sign of Four, and loved his wife very much. The relationship between Holmes and Watson was purely platonic. This myth is largely perpetuated by such adaptations as the Guy Ritchie movies and BBC’s Sherlock.

7. Sherlock Holmes loved Irene Adler: Again, Holmes was asexual. While many interpreted A Scandal in Bohemia to indicate that Sherlock Holmes loved Irene Adler, this is not true. Holmes was a famously misogynistic man, and therefore Watson’s surprise at Holmes’ respect for Irene Adler comes through in his writing. But that’s all it was. Holmes’ feelings towards Adler were admiration and respect, not love.

8. Sherlock Holmes was a very serious man who never laughed or smiled: on the contrary, Holmes laughed or smiled in almost every single story, sometimes sarcastically. In fact, Sherlock Holmes was totally capable of feeling and conveying normal human emotions, which brings me to…

9. Sherlock Holmes was socially handicapped: this is the misconception with irks me the most because it is simply not true. There are various claims to this myth, including: he cannot deal with or understand other people’s pain, he does not feel emotions, and he cannot understand social interaction. None of this is true. Clearly he has to be able to understand pain in order to help people. In the Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, he stoops to a criminal level in order to save a woman’s engagement. In this same story, he becomes engaged to a woman, which shows that clearly, he must have a total understanding of social cues and norms in order to manipulate a woman to the point that she falls in love with him. He regularly acts kindly towards women and his clients in general.

Up next: Thoughts on the Reichenbach Fall (BBC Sherlock)


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