Jewish World Review Sept. 18, 2003 / 21 Elul, 5763

Richard Lederer

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The Return of Sherlock Holmes | The most universally famous of all literary characters may well be Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, the world's first consulting detective.

The intrepid sleuth's deerstalker hat, Inverness cape, calabash pipe and magnifying glass are recognized by readers everywhere, and the stories have been translated into more than 60 languages, from Arabic to Yiddish.

In December of 1887, Doyle, an underemployed novice medical practitioner, brought Sherlock Holmes into the world in Beeton's Christmas Annual. When, not long after, The Strand Magazine began the monthly serialization of the first dozen short stories entitled "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," the issues sold tens of thousands and the public furiously clamored for more.

Donate to JWR

At the height of success, however, the creator wearied of his creation. He yearned for "higher writing" and felt his special calling to be the historical novel.

In December, 1893, Doyle introduced into the last story in the Memoirs series the arch criminal Professor James Moriarty. In "The Final Problem," Holmes and the evil professor wrestle at a cliff's edge in Switzerland. Grasping each other frantically, sleuth and villain plummet to their watery deaths at the foot of the Reichenbach Falls.

The normally staid, stiff-upper-lipped British public was first bereaved, then outraged. Conservative London stockbrokers went to work wearing black armbands in mourning for the loss of their heroic detective. Citizens poured out torrents of letters to editors complaining of Holmes's fate. One woman picketed Doyle's home with a sign branding him a murderer.

Finally, Doyle could resist the pressures from publisher and public no more. A hundred years ago, in September of 1903, ten years after the "death" of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle's detective rose up from his watery grave in the Reichenbach Falls, his logical wonders to perform again.

"The Adventures of the Empty House" demonstrated that Holmes had not really perished at Reichenbach. He had only faked his death in order to avoid retribution at the hands of Moriarty's henchmen.

"The Return of Sherlock Holmes," the series of 13 stories that brought back Doyle's hero, was greeted eagerly by detective- starved British readers. The author continued writing stories about Holmes right into 1927. When in 1930 Arthur Conan Doyle died at age 71, readers around the world mourned his passing. Newspaper cartoons portraying a grieving Sherlock Holmes captured the public's sense of irreparable loss.

Such is the power of mythic literature that the creation has outlived his creator. However many times the progenitor tried to finish off his hero, the Great Detective lives, vigilant and deductive as ever. Sherlock Holmes can never really die. His readers will never let him.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


05/15/03: Language at the cellular level
05/08/03: I don't duck spelling debates
05/01/03: Find the hidden cats
04/10/03: The cat's got your tongue
04/03/03: Play Ball!
03/20/03: Categorizing Cat Words
03/13/03: Stood up by Oprah
03/06/03: The Word Circus: The Barker
02/27/03: Ana Gram, the Juggler
02/20/03: Spook etymology on the Internet
02/06/03: What's in a President's Name?
01/30/03: Twice in a Blue Moon
01/23/03: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
01/16/03: Retro-active words
12/19/02: Why I deserve welfare --- actual letters
12/05/02: English for -- make that "by" -- foreigners
11/21/02: Humorously Inclined Informational Products
11/14/02: Disorder in the Court: a Collection of 'Transquips'
10/31/02: Oxymoronology
10/24/02: The Bandwagon
10/17/02: Is life a movie? We all speak their lines
10/03/02: Brave New Words
09/26/02: English is a Crazy Language!
09/12/02: How wise is proverbial wisdom?
09/05/02: A celebration of presidential prose
08/29/02: Food for thought
08/22/02: Jest for the pun of it
08/08/02: Hop up to the kangaroo words
08/01/02: A pouchful of synonyms
07/11/02: Poli-Tickle Speeches
06/27/02: Suppository questions
06/20/02: George Orwell is looking at you
06/06/02: Jest for the health of it
05/30/02: It is truly astonishing what havoc students can wreak on the chronicles of the human race
05/16/02: A bilingual pun is twice the fun!
05/09/02: What's in a president's name?
05/03/02: Slang as it is slung
04/25/02: Abstemious words
04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect

© 2003, Richard Lederer