Sherlock Holmes - Background to a Phenomenon (Header)
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4. Sherlock Holmes - Cult Hero

4.1. Dimensions of the Cult in Past and Present

A scetch of the cult featuring Sherlock Holmes, both at Doyle's time and at pressent, including examples and critical reflections.

To the present day, Sherlock Holmes' hasn't lost much of his influence in the hearts and minds of people: Even today, he is an "ubiquitous and instantly recognisable cultural symbol"(1) , advertising rational thought throughout the world. What kind of nimbus is there around the stories?
The enormous public interest in the detective caught the author completely by surprise. Although the idea of a scientific character used to interest him in the beginning, his relationship towards Holmes became ambiguous once the public was in love with the mastermind. Conan Doyle's view on the matter is best described in his own words:

"[Although] I was certainly working hard, […] [it] was still the Sherlock Holmes stories for which the public clamoured […]. [Eventually], I saw that I was in danger of having my hand forced and of being entirely identified with what I regarded as a lower stratum of literary achievement." (2)

Then as now, the numerous admirers of Sherlock Holmes tended to take him for a real person of flesh and bones, but unlike today, this remarkable effect brought about many disadvantages for both, the writer and Dr. Bell: They frequently received "Calls for help" with their daily mail and found themselves in the complicated situation of being identified with a supernatural genius.(3) 

Since he felt that the unexpected public interest threatened to block his creativity as well as his literary career putting him in an awkward position, his decision to "end the life of [his] hero"(4) seems to make perfect sense . 
The public outcry that followed this attempt to 'kill' Holmes (5) was tremendous: The author was fiercely attacked, "men wore black mourning bands, the British royal family was distraught, […] more than 20,000 readers cancelled their subscriptions to the popular Strand Magazine, in which Holmes regularly appeared"(6), and the detective's -tragic but fictional- "passing was discussed in a language usually preserved for state funerals."(7) 
Eventually, Conan Doyle revived Holmes - he never managed to free himself completely from his epochal creation. (8)

This quick retrospect of the original cult about Sherlock Holmes reveals two of its characteristic elements: Not only are the readers deeply committed to the detective, but they choose to believe in him as a real person that could have lived among them.
Time has done little to change that. (9) lists a total of more than 1000 articles for 'Sherlock Holmes'. (10) Apart from different editions of the texts themselves, there are various books and essays on the Canon, some of which make no attempt to keep their distance from the "World of Sherlock Holmes". 
Anyone who wants to experience this microcosm outside books may not only do so in various multimedia productions but also in 'The Sherlock Holmes Museum', Bakerstreet 221b, London,(11) where the visitors can indulge in the brilliant illusion that Sherlock Holmes walked around in these rooms just as they may do. Even the atmosphere of the area around the historical house is predominated by the detective… 

"Interest in Sherlock Holmes world-wide remains as strong as ever"  states 'The Sherlock Holmes Society of London' (ca. 1930 / 1950) (12) "and the Society's membership embraces people from all walks of life and from every part of the globe". An organisation for enthusiastic fans, it issues a biannual magazine and organises meetings but also eccentric events like 'pilgrimages' to places that are of importance to the stories.

All these random facets, just as various fan web sides and essays quarrelling over small details to the detective's 'biography', indicate that, to this day, there is a large number of fascinated devotees to appreciate the (fictional) proceedings in Baker Street 221b.

from: Ellen F. Higgens: "The Female Rivals of Sherlock Holmes", p.135, in: C. R. Putney et al. : "Sherlock Holmes", 1996. [Text]
 Original quote by A. Conan Doyle, in: D. Stashower: "Teller of Tales", 2001, p.145.[Text]
For details see: Peter Costello: "The Real World of Sherlock Holmes",1991; Chapter 4, pp.24-30.[Text]
D. Stashower ("Teller of tales"), p.149.[Text]
See "The Final Problem" for an account of the temporary end of Holmes' career; "The Adventure of the Empty House" gives the exact circumstances of the detective's ultimate 'revival'.  [Text]
Details from: Encyclopaedia Britannica (CD ROM, Standard Edition 2001): "Holmes, Sherlock". [Text]
D. Stashower ("Teller of tales"), p.149.
The mere fact that a fictional character gained that much influence in real life as to menace his author is truly remarkable in my opinion.  [Text]
Result of an online recherché done in January 2004. [compare:] [Text]
S. Kromm gives more reliable figures (‘Feminist Appraisal’, footnote, p.269)[Text]
Online: [Text]
 Online: ("The Society" / "History"). [Text]
Author's Logo · Author: Paul - Christoph Trüper, 2004  - 2006.
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