Sherlock Holmes Unique Features

Examine some of the unique features that put the Sherlock Holmes short stories in a category by themselves.

Pre-Introductory Pronouncements

A unique feature of the Sherlock Holmes tales is the Pre-Introductory Pronouncements - a well-conceived element missed by most readers. This is a statement made by Watson or Holmes in the pre-introduction that intimates the ending of the story. Look for the subtle hint buried in the first paragraphs.

Sherlock Holmes Pre Introductory Prouncements

3 Different Types of Sherlock Holmes Openings

Doyle gifted his readers with three different types of openings in the sixty stories.

1. Watson's Dilemma

A common opening is a lengthy statement by Watson that boils down to something like this:

In choosing which case to write about, I have decided not to publish cases that are not ABC (adjective) but rather showcase Holme's XYZ abilities. This story I am about to tell does/does not do either ABC or XYZ. (my paraphrase)

The ABC and XYZ change slightly but usually represent something like the following: On face value, these meditative statements by Watson are the least interesting of Doyle's openings. But Reader be on guard, they are most likely to give the pre-introductory pronouncement that gives a hint to how the case may close.
For those of you with a bent for algebraic reasoning, Watson's Dilemmas and the subsequent plot can be boiled down to four possibilities: So now you can join the analysis-team whenever you come across Watson's Dilemma and determine which of the four possibile case-types this story entails.

2. Baker Street Scene

Ah, the classic opening: the camera zooms in on Holmes at his Baker Street flat, bent over a test tube, lounging on the sofa in his dressing gown, throwing down the newspaper in disgust. In addition to watching the master detective in his opening act, we also get to listen to a dialogue between the Watson/Holmes duo. Listen carefully before they are interupted by their next visitor for the nuggets of sarcastic wit dropped by Holmes may indeed be the answer to the client's puzzle.

3. Power Statement

These are my personal favorite starts to a Sherlockian tale. Who can ever forget such starters as "To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman." Or mayber even better: "Mrs Hudson, the landlady of Sherlock Holmes, was a long-suffering woman." Character descriptions riddled with humor, irony, and amateur psycho-analysis follow. Such opening statements and the sentences that follow provide rich fodder for the Sherlockian analyst.

Note: A number of stories have more than one type of opening in the pre-introduction (the part prior to the arrival of the client and the introduction of the case.)

Action Plot Diagram

Doyle developed a basic plot structure that he used in his stories, and deviated from time to time to serve his literary purposes. The typical Sherlock Holmes action plot included these parts of the story:
  1. Pre-introduction - Watson describes Holmes or his case or methods
  2. Introduction - A visitor arrives at 221b Baker Street and explains his/her problem
  3. Rising Action - Holmes hits the field to investigate. He alludes to his theory but does not expound it.
  4. Climax - The solution is announced as the culprit and motivation are unmasked.
  5. Falling Action - Sherlock explains his reasoning to Watson and we learn what happens to all the parties.
  6. Denouement - Final details are explained, Holmes issues a philosophical or flippant remark as the case closes and he moves on.
See the link above to investigate these parts closer. Doyle adds variety by changing things up in many of his stories, while others follow that plan to perfection.

A Closer Look At Holmes

A flawed genuius. His black silhouette is recognized by every child, yet his colorful personality has been analyzed and cross-analyzed since his name first appeared in print.

To say that Holmes is a round character or complex personality does not begin to describe him. Almost every story in the canon provides at least one or two sentences that reveal the mosaic nature of Holmes.

You might enjoy reading direct quotes about Sherlock's personality from various stories.

Or you might want to read Character Analysis of Sherlock Holmes along with other biographical information.

Dr. Watson's Role

Of course Dr. Watson is the narrator of the Sherlock Holmes' short stories - his most obvious role and a very literary one. Movie producers, on the other hand, struggle to account for the presence of the super-sleuth's side kick.

Watson plays an essential role in the narrative which is not so obvious when reading a single short story. In the individual stories, in fact, he is basically a flat character. In the outer frame, however, Watson is a round, complex character. But it is from those individual stories we extract the points that paint this multiplex personality.

Read more about the many roles of Dr. Watson - both in Holmes' detective practice and in the story as a whole.

Fictitious Transparency

Doyle employs circular transparency in his narrative as Watson purports to publish Holmes' cases. These Watson-written stories are then folded into the Doyle-written story as an element rarely applied in literature.

The Watson-written stories add a certain depth to the narrative. For instance, many of the openings begin with Watson musing what case he should publish next and why. Watson's published accounts are sometimes a topic of dispute between he and Holmes in the pre-introductory phase of Doyle's stories as Holmes ridicules Watson's romantic story-telling.

As a reader, perhaps you have chuckled under your breath as Holmes reassures a new client that Watson's discretion can be trusted as much as his own, while Watson jots down notes for his next narrative.

Watson, as a biographer, meanwhile creates a new role for himself that is rarely explicitly explored. In introducing Sherlock to his writers, he is making Sherlock famous. So much for being nothing but an assistant: Sherlock owes his popularity with the public to Watson.

Let's look at three different groups of "readers":
  1. Watson's readers: those who read the tales in an unstated publication and admired their London detective
  2. Doyle's original readers: those who eaglerly awaited the next story published in The Strand Magazine
  3. The rest of us: most of us recognized Holmes prior to reading our first grade primers
Note that those first two groups were actually the same people. Dr. Doyle made his fortune, not by seeing patients, but by writing about Sherlock Holmes. And how did Dr. Watson make his money? Of course we never learn how much money Watson makes from his narratives. For that matter, we don't really know how much Sherlock made either.

But we can say that neither Sherlock, nor Watson, nor Doyle were hurting for cash once the stories gained in popularity. We might say that Doyle and Watson conspired together to create Sherlock. It is part of their fictitious transparency.

Sherlock the Writer

We can't let Watson get all the credit as a published author; Sherlock himself had multiple professional articles written. He calls them monographs (writing on a single subject.)

Dating of Sherlock Tales

For those of you who think the date is merely a piece of demographic info, welcome to the tangled times of Sherlock tales! Each story possesses FOUR separate dates for starters:
  1. The date the event occurred (identified by month and year in MOST stories. Beware the contradictions!)
  2. The date which Watson wrote and published the story for his fictitious readers (sometimes stated in terms of length of time since the events transpired.)
  3. The original publication date of the story (usually in The Strand Magazine.)
  4. Publication date in book form, which occured when Doyle had published enough individual short stories to make a collection. It could have been the same year as the magazine publication, or as long as 9 years later.
There is a loose correlation between the first date (when the event occured) and the third date (when Doyle originally published) for the first 3 collections of short stories.

Contradictions in the Text

Ask any honest Sherlockian and they will tell you, the stories contain contradictions from time to time. Dates, names, even the location of Watson's injury. How can this happen with a detective who leaves every clue unexamined?

The Sherlockian Gamers (fans who spend considerable energy finding explanations so that the entire canon is a true history) will blame typographical errors, temporary lapses in memory, even additional wives for Dr. Watson in order to make everything work out perfectly.

I can offer to you a simpler explanation, though one that does not play the game of making a real history out of a fictitious character. The truth is that all writers have to go back and make changes in their story to make them fit. In Sherlock's case, Doyle published sixty stories as he wrote them. Unlike an author of a sixty chapter book, he could not go back and change the information in chapter one to make it fit with the information in chapter sixty. It was already published.

Actually, it was more than simply published. It was consumed by an expanding and adoring public in over forty languages. No corrections were possible. So Doyle just shrugged his shoulders and kept writing. If a few details didn't line up, he didn't seem to lose much sleep over it. Neither should we.

The Ending of the Story

In the majority of stories, the tale ends with a remark by Sherlock. Much of the time these are flippant remarks which stand in contrast to the austere and somber persona for which he is known.

But Doyle does throw in other types of endings.

For more fun, note how the ending ties (or doesn't tie) to the pre-introduction.

The Singular Use of the Word "Singular"

"Singular" appears to be Sherlock's single favorite word. Or perhaps it was Doyle's. It is used at least once (and in many cases, only once) in each story.

In The Adventure of the Six Napoleons singular was used six times. Coindicidence?

I don't know. But it is singular.

Irrelevant Intrusions

Sherlock often frustrates and amazes his clients and readers by throwing unexpected questions at them when they least expect it.

This irrelevancy occasionally leads those in the official force to doubt his professional ability, or even his sanity. But have no fear, he is way ahead of everybody in cracking the case.

But just WHAT could he be thinking? You have to wait until he is ready to give his own explanation to find out.

The Baker Street Treasure Hunt

At one point, I noticed that many of the stories contain a reference to interesting objects that Holmes keeps in his Baker Street apartment. Most stories contain one such reference to something found nowhere else. So just for fun, we have a Baker Street Object Hunt. See if you can find the object in your reading. Or better yet, are you such a dedicated fan of the series you can identify the objects with the stories? We will have a quiz here for you in a bit. So come back and join the Baker Street Treasure Hunt.

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Sherlock Holmes Pages

A catalog of our pages on Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock: The Unit Study Sherlock Holmes Unit Study
8 popular stories for Middle or High School
The Speckled Band Speckled Band
Compelling mystery of the whistle in the night
Silver Blaze
Who, where, and why of a dead man and missing horse
The Red Headed League Red Headed League
A silly-looking prank masking an international crime
The Engineer's Thumb Engineers Thumb
Is this one of Doyle's best - or worst - stories?
Crooked Man
Crooked Man
A truly crooked man in a twisted tale of betrayal
in Bohemia
Scandal in Bohemia
Multiple scandals in this drama of love gone wrong
The Dancing Men Dancing Men
Irony of honor in one of his saddest cases
The Final
Final Problem
Doyle's daring decision and the outcry that followed
More About Sherlock Consulting Detective
Interesting tidbits about the world's only consulting detective
More About Dr. Watson Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes
There's more to Dr. Watson than readers first see
Super Hero Prototypes Holmes and Watson: Superheroes prototypes
Are Holmes and Watson the super hero protypes?
List of All Short Stories List of Sherlock Holmes Short Stories
List of stories and longer books
Sherlock Holmes Quotes
Famous quotes, brilliant sayings, and intriguing insights
Action Plot Summary Summary of Sherlock Action Plot
The unique action plot made Sherlock stories a classic.
Who Is the Best
Sherlock Actor?

Sherlock Holmes best actors
If you want to watch, find who portrayed him the best.
Kids and

Sherlock stories for kids
Most appropriate Sherlock stories for kids
What makes Sherlock #1 Sherlock Holmes popularity
Why is he fiction's most popular character?
What about women?
Sherlock Holmes and Women
An armchair quarterback in the battle of the sexes

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