Casting Shadows: Why I Love Sherlock Holmes

For those of you who were linked here through the title of my blog post, let me start by apologizing. I’ve misled you. There’s no way I can explain in a single blog post all the reasons I love Sherlock Holmes. Where can I even begin?

I crave for mental exaltation.

The Sign of the Four (SIGN)

You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.

“A Scandal in Bohemia” (SCAN)

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.

“The Boscombe Valley Mystery” (BOSC)

There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (HOUN)

Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.

“The Red Circle” (REDC)

Come at once if convenient—if inconvenient come all the same.

“The Adventure of the Creeping Man” (CREE)


Gems—gems everywhere! Most mysteries turn stale after the first read. But the Sherlock Holmes tales reward every visit.

“I am inclined to think — ” said I.

“I should do so,” Sherlock Holmes remarked impatiently.

…“Really, Holmes,” said I severely, “you are a little trying at times.”

Valley of Fear (VALL)


But for me perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the Canon is the long shadows it casts. There are 60 Holmes tales in all (56 short stories and 4 novels), and in these…

1. Irene Adler, the woman, appears only once.*

2. Professor Moriarty, the arch nemesis of Holmes, appears only twice.*

3. Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s elder—and smarter—brother, appears only thrice.*

4. The Baker Street Irregulars, the band of street urchins whom Holmes sometimes hires, officially appear only thrice.*

5. The deerstalker cap, perhaps the most famous accessory of Holmes, never explicitly appears.

Sidney Paget, the first major illustrator of the stories, shows Holmes with this cap only twice.*

6. “Elementary,” the famous explanation of Holmes, appears only once*—and never as “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

(This line was actually popularized from the first sound film of Sherlock Holmes, 1929’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes—much like Gone with the Wind’s most famous line never found in the book: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”)


See what I’m getting at? These small seeds plant forests in the minds of Holmes fans. Think of it: Sherlock Holmes is the most depicted person in all of film, at 254 times (beaten only by the non-human Dracula, at 272 times).


It’s as if mere proximity to Sherlock Holmes can expand one’s imagination.


So you see, writing a 500 word blog post that captures the greatness of Sherlock Holmes is simply impossible. Everywhere one looks his shadow is cast, coloring the world. But thanks anyway for humoring me in my attempt. As Holmes says, “Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person.”**


As for your own reading, now that I’ve given you a taste, it’s time to visit (or revisit!) the tales of Sherlock Holmes. As Holmes says in The Sign of the Four: “You know my methods. Apply them.”


*1: “A Scandal in Bohemia” (SCAN).

*2: “The Final Problem” (FINA) and Valley of Fear (VALL). Though he is directly mentioned in 5 other tales.

*3: “The Greek Interpreter” (GREE), “The Final Problem” (FINA), and “The Bruce-Partington Plans” (BRUC). He is also mentioned in “The Empty House” (EMPT).

*4: A Study in Scarlet (STUD), The Sign of the Four (SIGN), and “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” (CROO)

*5: “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” (BOSC) and “Silver Blaze” (SILV).

*6: “The Crooked Man” (CROO).

**: “The Silver Blaze” (SILV).


17 Comments Add yours

  1. sslal says:

    opened the cover the pages turn

  2. awax1217 says:

    Ah. The game is afoot. You stroked a nerve, madam. One of my first forays into the world of mysteries was Holmes. The hound of the Baskervilles. Then the one with the snake of which i can for the life of me not recall its name. As I read Holmes, aka Doyle, I became aware of similarities he used . The set up became used over and over again. I am also aware that Holmes like his creator dabbled in drugs. It was the fashion in those days. I have been watching Elementary on television. A series of Holmes and a female Watson. There is something off paced with it. I am not sure what but it does not sit well. As for Holmes and Watson I am tainted with Basil and Nigel as the two intrepid sleuths bumbling through modern times. I grew up on them as a staple. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

    1. Oh, I do love the Hound of the Baskervilles. That book had me at: “It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull.”

      The one with the snake is “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” certainly one of the greats!

      1. awax1217 says:

        i actually used the game is afoot in my novel that I wrote. It is a serial killer novel and I would be glad to send it to you if you are interested. Let me know. It is not gory but more into the mysteries of the mind. I made it a short read.

  3. John says:

    HI Rebecca

    I have been a Holmes fan for many years. I still read them over and over again. I also try to read other authors tries at it, and sometimes they are hits and misses in the bunch. I have to say that one of my favorite stories happens to be Silver Blaze, and the Problem at Thor Bridge. Regarding film portrayals, I have to lean towards Basil Rathbone. He made that character come alive ( not good for him though afterwards as he was a little typecast)

    I noticed Silver Blaze at the bottom of your list. Hopefully make it out that Book Gallery to see the massive inventory of rare books someday.

    Happy Thanksgive to you !


    1. I love “Silver Blaze,” too. It’s collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which we do sell in the first edition. Definitely stop by one of our galleries if you’re in town to come see.

  4. Randy says:

    Hi Rebecca: Aaaahhh…one of my favorite collections. I’ve read through the canon many times in the past, and recently listened to the complete BBC radio series. Admittedly, as bibliophiles, we all treasure the volumes, but I am curious as to your opinion of the recent TV adaptations: the wonderfully cerebral Sherlock on BBC (which masterfully adapts the original), and the more pedestrian CBS series Elementary. Do you watch either?

    1. Randy, I’ve seen Sherlock on BBC but not Elementary. In fact I recently made my husband watch the first couple episodes of Sherlock with me. Upon revisiting, the first episode is still incredibly brilliant. The second, while it ties together a number of themes from the Canon in interesting ways and updates some of the mysteries in loyal-yet-refreshing ways (The Dancing Men, Valley or Fear…), was not nearly as good. So overall I do quite like the series, even though it isn’t perfect.

  5. Paul R. says:

    One of my favorites collections as well and one that I’ve enjoyed again and again since I was a child. In fact, I recently re-read the collection and, if I may reference another of your blogs, it’s a prime example of why I love my e-reader in addition to “real” books. The Complete Sherlock Holmes resides on my Kindle so it’s always with me…and always available when the mood strikes. Yes, I also have the collection in hard copy (two different editions) but I can’t carry them around with me at all times. BTW, I’d be interested in your opinion of The House of Silk. I enjoyed it but I’m wondering if you felt it stood up to the memory (and writing style) of Arthur Conan Doyle?

  6. Joe says:

    Gregory: “Is there anything to which you wish to draw my attention?”
    Holmes: “Yes, to the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.”
    Gregory: “But the dog did nothing in the nighttime.”
    Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

    How brilliant is that?

    1. So brilliant. There’s a name for these things, actually: Sherlockismus.

  7. Howard Bennis says:

    I belong to one of the Sherlockian scion societies. We are always discussing the canon and all of it’s manifestations. Two of our members are experts and authors. I have signed first additions of S. Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes for Dummies” and A. Lewis’ “The Watson Chronicles”.
    (she has also written “Murder in the Vatican”). Do you think signed first edition paperbacks will ever be valuable?

    1. Which scion society? I attend meetings in various cities when I can (there are none in Vegas).

      By “first edition paperbacks” I assume you mean first edition in paperback form, yes? (Some books were first published in a “paperback” form, period, and those are just firsts–like Lolita.) That’s not an easy question to answer simply without oversimplifying, but I can say this: as long as the true first is available, it’s doubtful later versions (as paperbacks generally are) will command terribly high prices. Again, that’s assuming the paperback version is actually later in bibliographical priority. It should also be noted that paperback editions tend to be produced in much higher print runs. So both concepts of supply and demand are working against the collectible value of paperbacks. That said, a book signed by someone who notoriously hardly ever signs would be an exception–one exception among many…as I said, I hesitate to talk in definitive terms.

  8. Skywatcher says:

    Oh, I love this little gem from THE NAVAL TREATY:
    “I clambered over the fence into the grounds”.
    “Surely the gate was open!” ejaculated Phelps.
    “Yes, but I have a peculiar taste in these matters”.

    I have always been fond of the way that Watson makes mention of cases which we never actually see. There’s THE GIANT RAT OF SUMATRA, but the one that I’d really love to read is “…the whole story concerning the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant. There is at least one reader who will understand”.

    1. Oh, that is a gem.

      The unknown story I’d really love to read is the Isadora Persano case: “…who was found stark staring mad with a match box in front of him which contained a remarkable worm said to be unknown to science…”

  9. Resa Haile says:

    I have to disagree that “elementary” appears only once, as I noted in this blog post on Tumblr:

    Nice post, though.

    1. Fair enough! I would say you’re nitpicking on this one (the focus is on the semantic impact of the syntax in the famous quote, using “elementary” as a stand-alone statement for emphasis), but that’s not in the spirit of Sherlockian study. Thanks for recording all the uses and noting the link here–everyone, take a look and get the specifics of Holmes using “elementary.”

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