Sherlock Holmes never actually utters the line ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’ in any of the sixty stories that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about him. However, this has become one of the many details that have become associated with Sherlock, and one of the many ways that he is referenced to in homage in books, television, movies and other works.
Sherlock is a character that fascinates us. He has been portrayed in over 200 movies by 75 different actors – the first film being made in 1900, the most recent being released just last year. In opera, every soprano wants to play Mimi from ‘La Boheme’; it seems that Sherlock is the movie equivalent. Everyone wants to give their take on Sherlock, show him in their way, in a different light.
Perhaps this is because he is such a mysterious character within the books. We don’t really know much about him – even Watson seems to know very little about his friend. The fact that Watson is his friend is peculiar in itself, as Sherlock seems to have no other friends and does not enjoy being around people. He behaves strangely, he does not care for social norms other than as a way to deduce criminal activity, and his intelligence is beyond compare. He is a strange figure, and he baffles us a little, and perhaps this is why so many people wish to portray him on film. They wish to offer some sort of explanation of him to themselves, and by playing him, they can find the meaning behind his strange behavior, his peculiar characteristics. However, he is not just portrayed on film.
Books, too, take him and try to reinvent him, or continue on his stories when Arthur Conan Doyle finished. Several different authors have attempted to write follow on novels about Sherlock’s adventures. Neil Gaiman has written a story setting Sherlock in a parallel universe. Television, too, has reinvented him – recently the BBC has brought out an excellent series called ‘Sherlock’, which puts Sherlock and Watson in modern-day London. But Sherlock Holmes can be referenced in more subtle ways than recreating the characters or the stories in full – every time someone wears a deer cap, or tweed, or says ‘Elementary, my dear such-and-such’, people think of Sherlock Holmes.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Sherlock Holmes stories are considered classics. They were one of the first of their kind, for sure, but it is their constant presence in popular culture, and their constant reinvention that makes them considered classics. Sherlock Holmes is a classic because his presence is always around us.