The Return of Sherlock Holmes. What is Holmes returning from? Well, The "Return" part of the title refers to Sherlock Holmes coming back from literary death, inflicted by his own bored author. What's up with all this? Well, Holmes's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, got sick of his own creation. Conan Doyle really wanted to write other books and felt that Sherlock Holmes was taking up way too much of his time. He was tired of writing the dude. But rather than take a break from Holmes, Conan Doyle decided that Holmes had to die. So in a story titled "The Adventure of the Final Problem," published 1893, Holmes dies after falling off a cliff while battling his arch-nemesis, the evil Professor Moriarty. The end.
Except not. The reading public of Victorian England flipped out over the death of Sherlock Holmes. See, Sherlock Holmes was a bit like the Harry Potter of his day. So imagine if J.K. Rowling just got tired of writing about Harry after book five and just killed him off and said "the end." All the fans would freak out. And this is pretty much what happened after Holmes died. People wrote angry letters; thousands of people cancelled their subscription to the magazine where the Sherlock Holmes stories were published, The Strand. But, Conan Doyle was able to get away with his (fictional) homicidal ways for nearly a decade.
Conan Doyle never explicitly said why he decided to bring Sherlock Holmes back to life, but he was definitely pressured to do so by both the public and his publishers. So Conan Doyle brought back his creation for a reunion tour in a novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, published in The Strand magazine between 1901-1902. This story, a sort of prequel, was set before Holmes had his unfortunate cliff diving accident, so there was no resurrection just yet.
This novel succeeded in getting everyone hyped up on Holmes once again, and Conan Doyle finally agreed to start publishing new Sherlock Holmes stories. So Holmes rose from the dead and a new series of short stories, collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, were published between 1903-1904 in The Strand magazine, which was thrilled to have it's cash cow detective back in print.
Interestingly, the stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes are set mainly in 1894-5. Holmes "died" in "The Final Problem" in 1891, so in the Holmes universe he had only been fake-dead for three years, not ten. However, Watson himself narrates these stories from the present, 1903-4, after Holmes had retired and had given Watson permission to publish their exploits.
Sherlock Holmes is a pop culture phenomenon, and he's one worth knowing about. After all, Holmes is one of the most popular, and most frequently cited, literary characters of all time. There's clearly something going on there that strikes people's interest.
But what's really interesting is that Holmes is one of those larger-than-life characters that everyone knows, but that few people really know all that much about. Sherlock Holmes has been interpreted and reinterpreted so many times, in movies, TV shows, and even just throwaway references, that it's hard to know exactly who this guy is. The Sherlock Holmes that exists in today's pop culture, and the Watson for that matter, are actually different in a lot of ways from the characters that exist in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. So, by actually reading Sherlock Holmes stories, you can really be in the know. It's good to go back to the original material and see what's up.
It's a good time to read some Conan Doyle too, considering the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. Plus, all those Sherlock Holmes references on TV detective shows will start making a lot more sense. And, since you will be super knowledgeable after reading The Return of Sherlock Holmes, you can both understand and critique all those Holmes references and in-jokes on TV shows like House (Don't believe us? Check out the "Brain Snacks" section), CSI, and Law and Order. Get ready to dazzle your friends with your newfound knowledge, just like Holmes always dazzles Watson with his gigantic brain and his mad crime solving skills.