Study Guide

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Return of Sherlock Holmes Introduction

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.

What is The Return of Sherlock Holmes About and Why Should I Care?

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.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes Resources

Websites

Official Sherlock Holmes Website
This is the official site for the trademarked Sherlock Holmes brand, which has forums, some cool images, and background info and Conan Doyle and Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes Online
The official website of Conan Doyle's literary estate, which has information on the author, his writing, and film adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Sherlockian
Official website of a major Sherlock Holmes society, with a ton of information on the stories and Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes Atlas
Cool site where you can find out every geographic reference made in every Sherlock Holmes story. Holmes really was a globe-trotter.

Sherlock Holmes on Masterpiece Theater
Site for the Masterpiece Theater production of "Sherlock Holmes and the Silk Stocking." This site has interviews with the actors and lots of info and links about Sherlock Holmes.

Dr. House = Sherlock Holmes
Fun site comparing how Dr. House of the TV show House has a lot in common with Sherlock Holmes.

The Strand Magazine
Official site for The Strand, where most of the Sherlock Holmes stories were published. Includes lots of historical background on The Strand and the Sherlock Holmes legacy.

Did Sherlock Holmes Really Exist?
Great article that gives a rundown of the publishing history of Sherlock Holmes and explores fan reactions and questions over the years, including people who play the "Great Game," or pretend that Holmes is actually a real person.

Sherlock Holmes Timeline
Timeline for Holmes, Watson, and Conan Doyle, organized into a handy chart.

Crime and the Victorians
BBC history website with tons of information on crime, criminals, police, and detective fiction in the Victorian era.

How Safe Was Victorian London?
Article on VictorianWeb about crime and literature in the Victorian era.

Victorian Detective Fiction
Site with lots of background info on Victorian detective fiction, as well as the evolution of detective fiction over time and into the present.

Best of Sherlock Holmes
Fun website that includes news, top 10 lists, and quotes from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Movie or TV Productions

Sherlock Holmes, 2009
IMDb page for the new Sherlock Holmes movie directed by Guy Richie and starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1986
TV adaptations of stories from The Return of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett.

Historical Documents

University of Indiana Sherlock Holmes Site
A site for the school's special collections library that has lots of source material on Conan Doyle and Holmes. The site has sections on all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, organized by year published, as well as cool images of things like Conan Doyle's letters and original manuscripts.

Complete E-Text
Read The Return of Sherlock Holmes for free online or search for quotes in this Project Gutenberg e-text.

Video

Sherlock Holmes (2009) Trailer
Trailer on the Apple website, which you can view in HD.

Sherlock Holmes Playlist
YouTube playlist for The Return of Sherlock Holmes TV series, which includes lots of the stories featured in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the book. Tip: try searching "Return of Sherlock Homes" on YouTube; you'll come up with clips from nearly every story featured in the book.

Interview with Arthur Conan Doyle
Footage of a 1930 interview with Conan Doyle, where he talks about Sherlock Holmes.

The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes
Hour-long documentary on YouTube about Sherlock Holmes in radio, film, and TV over the years.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper
A trailer for the video game. This is either crazy awesome or a sign of the apocalypse. We're not really sure.

NPR on the Annotated Sherlock Holmes
An NPR interview with the editor of the two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

Complete Audiobook
A free audiobook of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which you can stream or download. This one features a professional reading by a guy with a fun British accent.

Images

Holmes by Sidney Paget
Famous illustration of Holmes by Sidney Paget, who illustrated the Sherlock Holmes stories that appeared in The Strand magazine.

Wikimedia Sherlock Holmes Collection
Huge collection of images, including Paget's illustrations for all thirteen stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, famous Holmes sites around the world, and images from film adaptations.