1. and 2. -- Sherlock Holmes is a living person, whom we know very well from series and movies
We, the fans of Sherlock Holmes like to believe that he is alive, but the truth is that he is a character created by the talented Scottish writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The detective became part of popculture very fast, because the logic, the pipe, the deerstalker, the investigation and the long coat make him easily recognizeable. Besides Dracula he is the most portrayed character. But some adaptations differ too much from the extraordinary and loveable figure. The events of the Canon and the features of the other characters are often altered as well. (Unfortunately the requirements of the media and artistic freedom drastically change facts and people.) One can only get to know the real Sherlock Holmes from the writings of Doyle, and the most faithful adaptation of his adventures is the Granada Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. Doyle’s hero had an extremely important part in creating forensic science, and this way he made the world a safer place, and he was a genius, ahead of his time. In modern adaptations and in some of the countless pastiches this significant characteristic is completely missing.
a, -- BBC Sherlock is the first modern Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock's character was placed into modern age several times. He even travelled to the future, to the 22nd century. BBC's title hero is not the first modern Holmes, he is the first 21st century Sherlock.
3. -- Sherlock had Asperger’s syndrome and called himself a „high functioning sociopath”
Though Sherlock Holmes is a fictional hero, we talk about him as if he were alive. It is a widely spread misconception that he has some mental illnesses.
Asperger’s syndrome: Sherlock’s ability to think extremely fast and effectively and his observing skills are the result of lots and lots of practice. These features are instinctively better developed in people who have dangerous jobs. What is more, Sherlock has no problems with keeping eye contact, and his movements are perfect – neither are tipical of patients with Asperger’s. The detective’s qualities show that Conan Doyle thoroughly observed and described people who have dangerous jobs.
High functioning sociopath: Psychiatry knows the term „sociopath”, but the phrase „high functioning sociopath” does not exist. It was created in BBC’s Sherlock (and poor Anderson has a hopeless mission when he is ordered „Do your research”). The detective uses the term to terrify his enemies. Conan Doyle’s character had never been a sociopath or psychopath. Psychologist and writer Maria Konnikova has the same opinion.
More information with Canonical examples: Sherlock Holmes did not have Asperger's syndrome and he was not antisocial
4. -- Benedict Cumberbatch was the first sexy Sherlock, and the detective was good-looking
Many people think that Benedict Cumberbatch is the first sexy Sherlock. No doubt the actor is good-looking, but numerous attractive men portrayed the legendary sleuth before him, for example William Gillette, Sir Roger Moore, Jeremy Brett, Vasily Livanov, Richard Roxburgh or Robert Downey Jr. In some adaptations and pastiches Holmes has affairs either with Irene Adler or with other women. Many fantastic illustrators showed him graceful - just like Frederick Dorr Steele and Robert Fawcett. So the Baker Street sleuth has been sexy for a long time.
We also have to mention that Doyle’s opinion was that Sherlock is the man of the mind, so he did not imagine him to be handsome. This feature came from his first illustrator, who worked for The Strand Magazine, Sidney Paget. He was a very talented artist, and when he read Sherlock’s adventures, he loved the main character. He saw him good-looking - that is the reason why he drew him accordingly. The great detective owes Sidney Paget his good looks. According to the Canon Holmes is always neatly dressed.
5. -- Sherlock Holmes was gay / was in love with Irene Adler
When Sherlock’s sexual life comes into question, lots of people pair him either with Irene Adler or John Watson. The truth is that he was asexual, he showed no interest towards men or women.
Why some people don’t understand that sexuality did not play an important part in the life of Holmes?
The detective’s attitude consists of several things.
The urge of work: Sherlock’s profession is a dangerous one, and it needs the combination of several branches of science, observation, concentration and logic. In the Canon Holmes tells Watson that he can’t allow himself the feeling of love, because it would divert his attention. His job is the most important thing in his life, it gives it meaning. His famous monologue clearly shows how he feels (beginning with „Give me work! Give me problems!”). Sadly nowadays more people hate their jobs than love it, that is why they find it difficult to understand a totally different attitude.
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Emphasized sexuality: In our modern age media suggests that everything depends on sexuality. You have to be sexy to be successful, even ads are full of sexual references. When Conan Doyle wrote the adventures, sexuality was a strictly private matter. Victorian people thought sex is a hard physical exercise, it makes the heart beat faster, so the conclusion was that sex shortens life. Average lifespan was shorter than nowadays, so it was important for the educated class to save energy.
The lack of friends/friendships: The development of technology brought countless useful things into our lives, but as a disadvantage relationships damaged. Modern-day man is lonely in the middle of the crowd – so real personal contact becomes more and more rare. In Doyle’s age people still had the time to get to know each other and to build true friendships. Friends were real, not virtual, they were there when they were needed. Legendary Sherlock Holmes actor Jeremy Brett shared the opinion that genuine friendships are exceptionally rare, and that is the reason why people don’t understand the friendship between Holmes and Watson.
The main reason:
The fact that modern adaptations stretch the truth: Artistic freedom enables everyone to write a pastiche or shoot a movie starring Sherlock Holmes. Some authors disregarded the fact that the canonical sleuth respected Irene Adler for her cleverness and audaciousness, but he was not in love with her. There are many who are convinced that Holmes and Watson are a gay couple, though the two shared rooms to spare the rent, and they became best friends, without any romantic undertones. Watson was married more than once in the Canon, he was heterosexual. And he moved out from Baker Street while being married and returned when he was a bachelor again. Sadly modern adaptations do not respect Doyle’s ideas and the values he depicted in the adventures.
Summary: Doyle was inspired by an exceptional professor, dr. Joseph Bell, to create the character of Holmes. Job was very important for Bell, he was a renowned lecturer and surgeon thanks to his fantastic abilities. Conan’s hero is a man of brains as well, who can help teach people how to think consistently. So Sherlock is far from the pleasures of the flesh, he is a genius – as he puts it to his friend in the Canon: „I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix.”
Recommended article: Sherlock Holmes was not gay or homosexual
6. -- Sherlock Holmes used drugs on a daily basis
There are films that suggest that the detective needed drugs to be able to investigate, but this is ridiculous. The truth is that solving cases gives meaning to his life, and he is bored when his brain has nothing to do. He uses cocaine to stimulate his brain during periods devoid of new cases – and this fact is in the Canon as well. Holmes talks about a seven percent solution, and Watson always expresses his disapproval and warns him of the negative effects of drug use.
7. -- Sherlock Holmes showed no emotions, he worked like a robot
Sherlock has a dangerous job, and he often has to cover his emotions. But this doesn't mean that he lacks feelings. He is able to show a wide variety of emotions, but he is the master of self-control. The sleuth created his own profession, and he worked up his own working method to be the most effective. He follows this scheme and he loaths to change it. This behaviour may seem too automatic for others, but Sherlock just does what proved to be right countless times. This is clearly traceable in the adventures, Doyle showed it several times. In some adaptations we can see a gentler Holmes, who has a kind heart - for example in Murder by Decree with Christopher Plummer and in CBS Elementary series with Jonny Lee Miller.
More information: The sleuth was an emotionless machine
8. -- Sherlock Holmes was an ateist
Sherlock Holmes believed in God - the best proof of that is his famous and beautiful rose speech in The Naval Treaty. In The Empty House Sherlock mentions he spent some time in Tibet, where he met the Dalai Lama and had a pleasant conversation with him. You find detailed information on his faith following this link: Sherlock Holmes and God
9. -- Sherlock was better than the police because he cheated
The detective was more effective in crime solving because he was a genius and it also helped him a lot that he used methods that were unconventional. He never withheld evidence, never competed with the police and never wanted fame - the solved cases, the saved lives were his true rewards. Sadly some adaptations show a competely altered picture about the sleuth, and in most cases they portray him worse than he truly is.
10. - Holmes was sloppy
This misconception is mainly the result of the Guy Ritchie movies, that sometimes show Sherlock looking like a homeless. The canonical Holmes was as clean and neat as a cat, he was always elegant, except when he was in incognito and wore disguise.
11. - Sherlock and Watson are elderly men
In some classical adaptations the main characters are portrayed by middle-aged or even older actors. In reality they are around their early thirties when they meet for the first time.
12. -- Holmes wore a deerstalker usually and had a calabash pipe
Sidney Paget was the first who gave Sherlock a deerstalker. Both attributes of the great detective originate from William Gillette, he used these when he played Holmes onstage. Sherlock wears a deerstalker only in the country, and he has different types of pipes, he smokes them according to his mood. Interesting fact that Holmes never had a calabash pipe in the Canon, it is a spectacular pipe, that is why it is often used onstage and in film adaptations.
More information: Deerstalker hat and Sherlock Holmes pipe
13. -- Sherlock inconditionally trusted Watson
We almost automatically think about the great friendship when we hear the names of Holmes and Watson. Yet the situation is that the detective did not fully trust Watson, or not as much as the good doctor trusted him. Some may find this odd, but the explanation is simple considering Sherlock’s personality and profession.
14. - The great detective solves all his cases fast and he never fails
Sherlock Holmes is a genius and he is portrayed in many adaptations to know everything and to solve all his cases. But all crimes are different. That is why there are cases in the Canon that Holmes needs lots of time to close (in His Last Bow, for example, he infiltrates into a gang for two years) – this shows Doyle new exactly how things are going, and his hero was steadfast in chasing villains. It may seem from Watson’s reports that his companion is extremely fast at solving the problems of his clients. It is due to the fact that the sleuth is very effective in mapping out his time and he follows a method he developed and perfected during many years. This makes him more productive than the police. Usually he works fast, and has a fantastic career, and he is the greatest detective of the world – but occasionally he has long investigations, and he even fails.
15. - Moriarty was the detective’s only adversary
Professor James Moriarty was Sherlock’s most dangerous, yet not his only enemy. They meet but once before their famous encounter at Reichenbach Falls. During his crime-solving practice Holmes faced several villains – Moriarty excels them because he was the most powerful and influential, and because he was the only who was a match for the genius. Holmes tells about him "He is the Napoleon of crime", which shows how much he appreciated his mental abilities.
16. - Holmes was illiterate – Watson describes his companion precisely
Shortly after their first encounter Watson pens a little summary of what he knows about his strange flatmate. Among the points he mentions that the sleuth is unaccustomed to literature. This is false, as he later experiences, Holmes is a well-read gentleman who often cites famous authors. No wonder that the doctor described his friend incorrectly, they have known a little about each other at the time when his characterization was born.
Read more: Dr. Watson's deceptions regarding Sherlock Holmes
17. - The detective was xenophobic
This misconception was born in connection with the adventure entitled The Three Gables. In it Holmes talks scornfully to a black boxer named Steve Dixie. Some people say it proves that Doyle was a racist and portrayed Sherlock to be racist as well, but they are wrong. We deal with this topic in a separate, detailed article on our Sherlockian site. You can read here: Sherlock Holmes was not racist
18. - He said „Elementary, my dear Watson”
This sentence doesn’t appear in the Canon in this form. The sleuth says several times that something is „elementary”, and he often talks to the good doctor using the phrase „my dear Watson”.
19. - Sherlock’s full name is William Sherlock Holmes Scott
Doyle tried another name before he decided to call his hero Sherlock Holmes. Though an extended version of it - William Sherlock Holmes Scott - shows up in some adaptations, you cannot find it in the Canon.
The full story is here: The name of Sherlock Holmes
20. - Holmes is an icon only for Great Britain
Though the sleuth is British and he lives in London, many nations are proud of him and hold him their own. Americans and Russians have made their own Holmes series, and the character is extremely popular in almost every country of the world.
More information here:
You find a more detailed list of the misbeliefs here:
Common misbeliefs about Sherlock Holmes
You can read more about the great detective and about the listed misconceptions following these links:
Sherlock Holmes, I believe in Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson's deceptions regarding Sherlock Holmes
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