Holmesian Speculation (also known as The Sherlockian game, the Holmesian game, the Great Game or simply the Game) is the practice of expanding upon the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by imagining a backstory, history, family or other information for Holmes and Watson, often attempting to resolve anomalies and clarify implied details about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It treats Holmes and Watson as real people and uses aspects of the canonical stories combined with the history of the era of the tales' composition to construct fanciful biographies of the pair. The information is not canon to the original stories.
Background and brief history
A popular pastime among fans of Sherlock Holmes is to act as if Holmes and Watson were real people, and to attempt to explain facts about them, either from "clues" in the stories, by combining the stories with historical fact, or by entirely inventing their own material. Early scholars of the canon included Ronald Knox in Britain and Christopher Morley in New York.
When a student at the University of Oxford, Ronald Knox issued "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes", an essay which is regarded as the founding text of "Holmesian scholarship".
That essay was re-printed, among others, in 1928 and the following year, Sydney Roberts, then a professor at Cambridge University, issued a reply to Knox's arguments, in a booklet entitled A Note on the Watson Problem. S.C. Roberts issued then a complete Watson biography. A book by T.S. Blakeney followed and the Holmesian "game", Mrs. Hudson, was on.
In 1934 were founded the Sherlock Holmes Society, in London, and the Baker Street Irregulars, in New York. Both are still active to-day (though the Sherlock Holmes Society was dissolved in 1937 to be resuscitated only in 1951).
Dorothy Sayers, creator of the detective Lord Peter Wimsey, also wrote several essays on Holmesian speculation, later published in Unpopular Opinions, including an interesting discussion of Watson's middle name.
The 56 short stories and 4 novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are termed "the canon" by the Holmesians.
While Dorothy Sayers and many of the early "Holmesians" used the works of Conan Doyle as the chief basis for their speculations, a more fanciful school of playing the historical-Holmes game is represented by William S. Baring-Gould, author of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1962), a personal "biography" of Holmes.
Since 1998, Leslie S. Klinger is currently editing The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library, (Gasogene Books, Indianapolis), which sums up the available Holmesian "scholarship" alongside the original "canonical" texts.
Holmes and Nietzsche
There is also the idea that many characters in the Sherlock Holmes stories were based heavily on real people, particularly Friedrich Nietzsche (who may have been the model for Holmes himself and Professor Moriarty), and that Conan Doyle borrowed from other authors, as many other writers have done. Samuel Rosenberg, in his Naked is the Best Disguise, details the striking references to Nietzsche in the Holmes stories. There is also strong belief that Holmes was based on one George Vale Owen. Owen was a scholar who worked with Conan Doyle, and became a close friend of his. The acknowledged model for Holmes' observational skills was Dr Joseph Bell, whose assistant Conan Doyle had been.
The Holmes family
A particularly-rich area of "research" is the "uncovering" of details about Holmes' family history and early life, of which almost nothing is said in Conan Doyle's stories. In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", Watson states: "I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his early life." But in that story, as well as introducing his brother, Holmes mentions the only facts about his family that are in any of the stories — "My ancestors were country squires... my grandmother... was the sister of Vernet, the French artist" (presumably Horace Vernet). Beyond this, all familial statements are speculation. For example, there is a certain belief that his mother was named Violet, based on Conan Doyle's fondness for the name and the four strong Violets in the canon; however, as Baring-Gould noted, in Holmes' Britain, Violet was a very common name.
It is clear from references to "the university" in "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", and to some degree "The Adventure of the Three Students", that Holmes attended Oxford or Cambridge, although the question of which one remains a topic of eternal debate (Baring-Gould believed textual evidence indicated that Holmes attended both).
The most influential "biography" of Holmes is Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by Baring-Gould. Faced with Holmes' reticence about his family background and early life, Baring-Gould invented one for him. According to Baring-Gould, Sherlock Holmes was born in Yorkshire, the youngest of three sons of Siger Holmes and Violet Sherrinford. The middle brother, Mycroft, appears in the canon, but the eldest, Sherrinford Holmes, was invented by Baring-Gould to free Mycroft and Sherlock from the obligation of following Siger as a country squire. (In reality, "Sherrinford Holmes" was one of the names Arthur Conan Doyle considered for his hero before settling on "Sherlock".) Siger Holmes' name is derived from "The Adventure of the Empty House", in which Sherlock spends some time pretending to be a Norwegian mountaineer called Sigerson. (This hardly qualifies as a clue about the name of Sherlock's father, but in the absence of any genuine clues it was the best Baring-Gould had to work with.)
Sherrinford had a significant role in the Doctor Who crossover novel All-Consuming Fire by Andy Lane, which also featured a cameo by Siger.
Some other versions of Holmes' parentage
- In Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution Holmes' mother was cheating on his father, and so his father killed both his mother and himself. It also stipulates that it was his maths professor, Professor Moriarty, who brought the news of the tragedy to young Holmes. This not only explains his career choice, but also (in an appropriately Freudian manner) his hatred of Professor Moriarty.
- Ian Charnocks' Watson's Last Case names his father as Sherlock Holmes, Sr.
- Robert D'Artagnan's Sherlock Holmes's Last Case names his father as Mark Moriarty and gives Sherlock's true name as Joseph Moriarty, explaining that he was adopted at age four by Gregory C. Holmes and his wife Lydia Mycroft Holmes. This would make him a younger brother of Professor James Moriarty.
- Michael Harrison's I, Sherlock Holmes names his father as Captain Siger Holmes of the British East India Company.
- Cass Lewis' Dead Man's Confession names his father as Robert Holmes and his mother Carla "Violet" Holmes.
- Mona Morstein's The Childhood of Sherlock Holmes names his father as David William Holmes and his mother Catherine Simone Lecomte-Vernet.
- Nick Rennison's Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography names his father as William Scott Holmes and his mother Violet Mycroft.
- Fred Saberhagen's The Holmes-Dracula File gives his true father as the lover of Mrs Holmes: The vampire Radu the Handsome, a younger brother of Vlad III Dracula, who had succeeded him as a ruler of Wallachia. This would make Sherlock a nephew of Dracula (against whom he was pitted in Loren D. Estleman's novel The Case of the Sanguinary Count).
- Christopher Leppek's The Surrogate Assassin named Sherlock's father as a younger brother of Mary Ann Holmes, a historical figure better known as the mother of John Wilkes Booth. This would make Sherlock a first cousin of Booth.
- Thaddeus Holt's "The Sixth Napoleon" identifies Holmes as great-grandson of Napoleon I, his father, the child of a secret marriage of Napoleon's son the Duke of Reichstadt, having been exchanged as a baby for the child who grew up to be Archduke Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico.
- Nancy Springers books on Sherlock's supposed sister, Enola Holmes, mention his father as a logician and his mother, Eurdoria, as a suffragist.
The Holmes family and the Wold Newton family
Based originally on the writings of Philip José Farmer, the concept of the Wold Newton family is the construction of a giant genealogical tree which connects many fictional characters to each other and to a number of historical figures. Additions to this tree are based on the writings of the original creators, pastiche writers, and "Wold Newton scholars." Sherlock Holmes has been one of the central characters of this tree. The Holmes family and its various generations have been the subject of many Wold Newton articles. Sherlock himself has been described as born as William Sherlock Scott Holmes on 6 January, 1861 to Siger Holmes and his wife Violet Rutherford. He was one of eight siblings, including Mycroft, whose descendants include many other characters. The detective has been given as the father of at least eight children, including Nero Wolfe. Sherlock Holmes is also thought by many to be an ancestor of Spock of Star Trek, through his mother, Amanda Grayson (Captain Spock attributes a Holmesian aphorism to an ancestor of his in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; since Holmes is a fictional character with respect to the Star Trek universe, it is more likely that the reference means that he is matrilineally related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Holmes is revealed to have a great grand-niece named Shirley Holmes in the television show of the same name. But of course, Conan Doyle himself never called his creation any more than "Sherlock Holmes" so everything else is pure invention.
- Baring-Gould, William S. (1967). The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York & John Murray Publishers, London. ISBN 0-517-50291-7
- Klinger, Leslie S. (2004-5). The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York & London. ISBN 0-393-05916-2
- Holmesian.net An interdisciplinary message board dedicated to well-rounded discussions of the Great Letters of Mary
- The Ocular Helmsman A Vade Mecum Upon the Personal Effects & Environs of Mssrs. Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson of 221B Baker Street for the Victorian Layman.