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
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. Amazon.de (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
"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.