By Kamilah Bush, PCS Literary Manager

When Sherlock Holmes first hit the presses in 1887, the word “fan” had only been used to describe enthusiasts for less than a decade. To call Holmes readers “fans” however, feels a little light in our current context. These readers were more like what we might call “stans,” or super fans, today. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle announced the death of Sherlock in 1893, subscriptions to The Strand, the magazine in which these stories were serially published, fell by more than 20,000. Doyle’s work created what many consider to be the first modern “fandom” and, feeling pressured by his followers, Doyle resurrected the people’s hero in 1901. Though the author had called the character’s death a “justifiable homicide,” he could not have imagined the many celebrated rebirths that would occur in the century that followed.

The original adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson were the culmination of several artistic movements. As Edgar Allen Poe perfected the macabre mystery and many other writers popularized serialized novellas, Doyle saw an opportunity to elevate both mediums. His stories were thrilling capers, written in such a way that it did not matter in what order they were read — giving readers the freedom to experience Holmes at their own pace.

These stand- alone whodunits not only revolutionized storytelling, they innovated the world of criminal justice and influenced culture. Holmes was the first fictional detective to use a magnifying glass, a symbol now so ubiquitous it has become a cliché. Fingerprinting technology was being developed as Doyle was writing and his inclusion of it in the novellas made its use in real criminal investigations all the rage. Though never exactly uttered by Holmes in the original texts, phrases like “elementary, my dear Watson” and “the game is afoot” are part of many people’s vocabularies.

Holmes and Watson were among the first fictional crime- fighting duos. Over the years, as time periods, genders, and environments have shifted, Doyle’s skeleton has retained its shape: an exceptional but eccentric investigator teams up with an at least seemingly hapless sidekick to solve mysteries and face an elusive nemesis; a savant with a penchant for playing the violin and experimenting with substances meets an almost self-serious former doctor who documents their exploits.


This article was written by Kamilah Bush, Portland Center Stage Literary Manager, and was first published in the Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson playbill. It is published here courtesy of Portland Center Stage. Click here to learn more or read the entire playbill.