Popular culture references to Sherlock Holmes

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Main article: Sherlock Holmes

Many writers make references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary creation, the detective Sherlock Holmes, and these often become embedded within popular culture. While Holmes exists predominately in the context of Victorian-era London, he has been mentioned in such outre contexts as the 22nd century[1] or hunting aliens or supernatural enemies.[2] The versions of Holmes wearing the deerstalker hat appear only a few in the original Strand pictures, as opposed to the far more common top hat. Holmes frequently says, "Elementary, my dear" to other characters. These references are in addition to the innumerable passing references to Sherlock Holmes made in a very large percentage of all literary and cinematic works, such as the labeling of a person as a "Sherlock", whether in reference to their intelligence (or in jest or sarcasm).[citation needed]


One of the first attempts was made in response to the "Great Hiatus" (when Arthur Conan Doyle decided not to write any more stories, to the dismay of his fans). Stepping into the breach, John Kendrick Bangs wrote Pursuit of the House-Boat (1897) [a sequel to his A House-Boat on the Styx(1895)], in which a deceased gentleman's clubhouse boat is stolen, whereupon Holmes arrives to help his fellow-deceased track down the boat by chartering a ship from Hades to London. Bangs' version of Holmes then comments to himself:

"For now," he said, with a chuckle, "I can get back to earth again free of cost on my own hook, whether my eminent inventor wants me there or not. I never approved of his killing me off as he did at the very height of my popularity."[3]

However,in 1894, Conan Doyle decided to return to writing, bringing Holmes back from the dead by claiming he had faked his death in "The Empty House". While Bangs' attempt was reverential, Maurice Leblanc decided to write the short story "Sherlock Holmes arrive trop tard"[4] ("Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late"). In it, Holmes meets the young thief Lupin for a brief time, unaware that he is, in fact, Lupin. After legal objections from Conan Doyle, the name was changed to "Herlock Sholmès" when the story was collected in bookform in Volume 1.[citation needed] Holmes returned in two more stories collected in Volume 2, Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmès, having opened the floodgates to less flattering versions of Holmes. One of the more recent parodies in print is "The Lord Mike Saga", wherein Mycroft Miles (née Mills) is the Holmes figure, with the titles reflecting the styles: "A Study in Varlets", "The Strange Case of the Moth-Eater of Clapham Common", "Happy Times and Places", and "A Cameo Broached". Miles refuses to speak of Holmes, referring to him only as "the other chap".[citation needed]

Frequent speculation as to the "real" Holmes has existed since publication, and Mark Frost's novel The List of Seven (1993) and its sequel The Six Messiahs (1995) are no the first to put a spin on this. Frost has Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as its main character and tells the (fictional) story of how Doyle's Holmes was inspired by Johnathon Sparks, a mysterious man who saves Doyle's life from a mad occultist. The Wold Newton family series connects multiple famous fictional characters together to a mail coach that passed a radioactive asteroid in the eighteenth century - Holmes is a descendant of one of the travelers in that coach.[citation needed]


Some of the earliest films use Holmes as a character, notably the early films of William Gillette, the American actor who played Holmes in various plays.

  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) is an early "talkie".

During the Second World War American producers linked Holmes with the Allied war effort, defeating Nazi villains, and Moriarty who sells his skills to the Germans, e.g.

  • Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942).[5]

Later films would blur the lines between canon and non-canon, however.

  • In the sci-fi film Time After Time (1979), H.G. Wells uses a time machine to go to 1979 America; he tries to use Sherlock Holmes as a false name, thinking the literary character would be forgotten by then.
  • From 1984 to 1985, Japan's Tokyo Movie Shinsha and the Italian TV station RAI released 26 episodes of Sherlock Hound, a show featuring anthropomorphic dogs in various roles in the Sherlock Holmes world.
  • Walt Disney Pictures released The Great Mouse Detective (July 2, 1986), wherein the character of Holmes is borrowed by a mouse. The name "Basil" is no mere coincidence: one of Holmes's aliases in the original Conan Doyle stories is "Captain Basil". Also, the actor Basil Rathbone was one of the first to portray Holmes on film.
  • Continuing the print tradition of goodnatured irreverence, the comedy film Without a Clue (1988) presents the premise that Holmes was a fictional creation of John Watson's, who was the true deductive genius. Once the character becomes popular, Watson is forced to hire an out-of-work actor to play Holmes.


  • In the Dark Horse Comics two-issue miniseries Predator: Nemesis, Sherlock Holmes is mentioned by his older brother, Mycroft Holmes, in a cameo appearance. The Diogenes Club also makes an appearance, a fictional investigative agency that is a fixture in the Sherlock Holmes mythos. It is hinted at that the Diogenes Club and (most likely) Sherlock Holmes himself is aware of the existence of the Predator race, as Mycroft says: "Besides, who else in the Empire has more experience of such creatures as the gallant Captain Soames?" Also, as the Predator's butchery is mistaken in the papers as Jack the Ripper's work, Mycroft states: "[the Ripper returning to his old haunts] is pure journalistic fancy", hinting that the Diogenes Club had dealt with the Ripper but did not elaborate on his identity.


  • Lozenge and Hampshire, an online adventure game series by James Evans, spoofs Sherlock Holmes.
  • Wizard101's world Marleybone stars Sherlock Bones, and Dr. Meowiarty as a reference to Holmes and Moriarty.


  • In the manga Embalming -The Another Tale of Frankenstein, the characters go to the Diogenes Club to accept a job from Mike Roft, a play on Mycroft Holmes, who remarks: "if you are looking for someone, my younger brother is quite good at that type of thing". Sherlock only makes a very brief appearance.[citation needed]
  • In the manga series Shaman King, the design of character Lyserg Diethel is heavily influenced by Sherlock Holmes. In his debut, the character is seen reading a book titled The Adventures of Warlock Holmes, a spoofed name of the Conan Doyle book. He is also seen in his regular attire wearing a Sherlock Holmes green-plaid cape and desires to become the world's greatest detective. His father, Liem Diethel, is also seen to have the same look.



  • Sherlock Holmes is the subject matter in the song "Sherlock Holmes" by American rock band Sparks, on their eleventh album Angst in My Pants.
  • "Searchin'" (1957), a song recorded iby the R&B group The Coasters, makes reference to Holmes and other fictional detectives.

Spoken word[edit]


Sherlock Holmes, as he appears in The Real Ghostbusters

Television was invented later than Conan Doyle's original writing, but the strength of Holmes has ensured that he has been referenced, or appeared in on TV in new forms. The original books have also been dramatised, notably the Granada Television adaptation.[citation needed]


  • Hidan no Aria is a Japanese anime (which premiered on 15 April 2011) based on a light novel of the same title. The story is about a girl named Kanzaki Holmes Aria, also known as Holmes. She collaborates with Kinji Toyama to solve mysterious attacks led by the Butei Killer, Riko Mine, later revealed to be Lupin. Additionally, Holmes appears as the primary antagonist of the fifth volume of the said series.
  • Tantei Opera Milky Holmes is a Japanese anime (which premiered on 7 October 2010) about a girl named Sherlock "Sherly" Holmes and her three friends, who are based on other famous detectives. They retrieve their toys, or special powers, as they attend a detective academy. The anime has spawned a video game, trading card game, and a manga.


Cartoons were quick to pick up on the potential, so Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty appear in

The timing of both episodes may have been a factor in the brand war in which the two series were engaged, and alludes to the cultural power of Holmes as a character.[citation needed]

Series episodes[edit]

  • On the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode, "Trials of the Demon!",[citation needed] Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson appeared to meet Batman. Sherlock completed Jason Blood's magic spell, which brought Batman to 19th century, after the mob framed Jason Blood a.k.a. Etrigan for the "missing souls" of the women. After rescuing Jason Blood, Holmes, Dr. Watson, Batman, and Etrigan hunt for Gentleman Ghost, who was responsible for the missing souls. At first, Dr. Watson suggests that maybe James Moriarty is responsible.
  • In the Prison Break season 4 episode, "Eagles & Angels", Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell pretends to be Cole Pfeiffer, a top salesman for a corporation called GATE. He is assigned a corner office, in room 122B. The numbers 122 are the reverse of 221, a sly reference by the episode's screenwriters to T-Bag's Holmesian powers of reasoning and deduction, yet whose powers have been twisted and corrupted toward evil ends. Ultimately, T-Bag is a cleverly created anti-Sherlock Holmes, a stock character whose personality is shaped (in certain key facets) to be the polar opposite of Holmes'. Indeed, T-Bag is a modern-day descendant not of Holmes, but of Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty.
  • The medical drama House, M.D. makes much of the fact that the protagonist, a brilliant doctor solving medical mysteries of his patients, has a drug addiction, a man named Moriarty shoots Dr. House in the second season, the name Adler appears frequently through the series, House has a similar name to Holmes, and he lives at apartment 221B.[citation needed]
  • Sherlock Holmes is the focal point of two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In season two, episode three, "Elementary, Dear Data", the holodeck is being used for crew members to engage in Sherlock Holmes mysteries. The ship gets into trouble when a Professor Moriarty villain is created to rival Data not Sherlock Holmes. This storyline is revisited in the sixth season, episode twelve, "Ship in a Bottle", wherein Moriarty returns and takes control of the Enterprise but is eventually outsmarted by the crew.

Characters modelled on Holmes[edit]

  • The comic book character Batman was partially inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Over time the characters of the Batman family have started to assimilate certain characteristics of Doyle's characters. Batman resembles Holmes himself, making use of his wide knowledge of peculiar things in order to solve cases, as seen most prominently in Detective Comics. Also like Holmes, Batman has an immense knowledge in different hand to hand combat techniques that range from boxing to Asian martial arts. Alfred Pennyworth was retconned and now is a former British Army Medic who serves as Batman's confidant in moments of doubt and in head-scratching cases, and in Superman/Batman it is revealed that he writes about Batman and his cases. Alfred also often shows concern for Batman's health. The character thus parallels Dr. Watson in many ways. Dick Grayson, the former Robin, was first conceived as Batman's "Watson" as then Batman writer and co-creator of Robin, Jerry Robinson, thought Batman "needed someone to talk to". Another former Robin Tim Drake was introduced as an amateur detective who emulates Batman's methods and wants to learn from him. In this Tim resembles Inspector Stanley Hopkins. However, Batman is his own character, and most of these similarities have come naturally rather than forced. Indeed the similarities between Batman and Holmes could be compared to the similarities between C. Auguste Dupin and Holmes.[citation needed]
  • The character of Gil Grissom from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has a more than passing similarity to Sherlock Holmes. Like Holmes, Grissom is dispassionate with a fierce devotion to logic and little regard for societal norms of behavior; Grissom once smashed mustard jars in a grocery store to illustrate a theory; similarly, Holmes once practiced spearing a pig at a market to determine how strong a man would have to be to transfix a man with a harpoon. Grissom has a partner, Catherine Willows, who is his Doctor Watson, and Captain Jim Brass, who acts like Sherlock's Inspector Lestrade. Grissom also possesses a Moriarty-like nemesis, Paul Millander, whom he pursues in several episodes. Coincidentally, "Paul Millander" has the same initials as "Professor Moriarty". Additionally Grissom takes an unusual interest in Lady Heather, who almost always wears Victorian dresses reminiscent to Holmes' era; her and Grisom's relationship is similar to that of Irene Adler and Holmes. Both Irene and Lady Heather enchant Holmes and Grissom with their beauty, wit, and resolution.
  • The main character in House M.D., Gregory House, is based on Sherlock Holmes, particularly with regard to drug use and his desire (and capacity) to solve the unsolvable. House uses Holmesian deductive techniques to diagnose his patients' problems. References to the sleuth range from the obvious (House's apartment number being 221B) to the subtle (his friendship with Dr. James Wilson and the similarities between the names House and Holmes, and Wilson and Watson). In the very first (pilot) episode the patient's last name is Adler, and in the last episode of season two, a character named Moriarty appears and nearly kills House.
  • The characters and basic structure of the television series Monk were inspired by the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.[14] Adrian Monk's name is intended to be unusual like the name Sherlock Holmes. Other characters correspond to Holmes equivalents: Sharona Fleming and Natalie Teeger are the equivalents of Dr. Watson, SFPD Captain Leland Stottlemeyer is the equivalent of Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade, and Adrian's brother Ambrose Monk corresponds with Sherlock's brother, Mycroft Holmes. It was even revealed in one episode that Adrian's detective skills were brought about when his father read him Sherlock Holmes stories every night before bed when Adrian was little. He was apparently able to solve the crime early on in the story.[citation needed]
  • The character of Shawn Spencer from Psych has the power of observation but pretends to be a psychic when aiding the Santa Barbara Police Department, as he doesn't want to lead a commonplace life. He thrives on using his powers of observation to solve problems and keep things exciting, just as Holmes did. Shawn also has his own “Watson", Burton “Gus” Guster, a pharmaceutical salesman and Shawn’s longtime best friend. Gus acts much in the same role as Watson does, lacking Shawn’s observational skills but possessing his own unique abilities and point of view, helping to support Shawn in his outlandish schemes, often to Gus' own detriment. The detectives in the series (Carlton Lassiter and Juliet O'Hara) rarely have an idea of what is really happening (much as in the Holmes mysteries). As a consultant, Shawn basically feeds them solutions via his psychic role.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cawelti, John G. (1976). Adventure, mystery, and romance : formula stories as art and popular culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-09866-4. 


  1. ^ "Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (a children's cartoon show)". Dicentertainment. 
  2. ^ "comic book series". Predator:Nemesis. 
  3. ^ Bangs, John Kendrick (1897). The Pursuit of the Houseboat. Harper & Brothers. p. 57. Retrieved 28 Nov 2009. 
  4. ^ Leblanc, Maurice (June 15, 1906). "Sherlock Holmes arrive trop tard". Je Sais Tout (17). 
  5. ^ See also Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes Films
  6. ^ Martin Mystère: The shadows of Baker Street
  7. ^ Martin Mystère: The Return of Jack
  8. ^ Stories from Elsewhere: The creature from the fog
  9. ^ Stories from Elsewhere: A woman who lived two lives
  10. ^ Martin Mystère: The impossible world of Sherlock Holmes
  11. ^ Martin Mystère: The impossible world of Sherlock Holmes
  12. ^ Jeon, Hey-jin; Lee, Ki-ha (2012). "Lizzie Newton: Victoria Mysteries (English translation)" 1. p. 168. ISBN 978-1-935934-80-6. 
  13. ^ Jeon, Hey-jin; Lee, Ki-ha (2013). "Lizzie Newton: Victoria Mysteries (English translation)" 2. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-937867-08-9. 
  14. ^ Erdmann, Terry J.; Paula M. Block (2006). Monk: The Official Episode Guide. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 2. ISBN 0-312-35461-4.