Popular culture references to Sherlock Holmes

Many writers make references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary creation, the detective Sherlock Holmes, and these often become embedded within popular culture. While Holmes exists predominately in the context of Victorian-era London, he has been mentioned in such outre contexts as the 22nd century[1] or hunting aliens or supernatural enemies.[2] These references are in addition to the innumerable passing references to Sherlock Holmes made in many literary and cinematic works, such as the labeling of a person as a "Sherlock", whether in reference to their intelligence (or in jest or sarcasm).


One of the first attempts was made in response to the "Great Hiatus" (when Arthur Conan Doyle decided not to write any more Holmes stories, to the dismay of his fans). Stepping into the breach, John Kendrick Bangs wrote Pursuit of the House-Boat (1897) [a sequel to his A House-Boat on the Styx(1895)], in which a deceased gentleman's clubhouse boat is stolen, whereupon Holmes arrives to help his fellow-deceased track down the boat by chartering a ship from Hades to London. Bangs' version of Holmes then comments to himself:

"For now," he said, with a chuckle, "I can get back to earth again free of cost on my own hook, whether my eminent inventor wants me there or not. I never approved of his killing me off as he did at the very height of my popularity."[3]

However,in 1894, Conan Doyle decided to return to writing, bringing Holmes back from the dead by claiming he had faked his death in "The Empty House". While Bangs' attempt was reverential, Maurice Leblanc decided to write the short story "Sherlock Holmes arrive trop tard"[4] ("Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late"). In it, Holmes meets the young thief Lupin for a brief time, unaware that he is, in fact, Lupin. After legal objections from Conan Doyle, the name was changed to "Herlock Sholmès" with the pseudonym "Holmlock Shears" in the earliest English versions.[5] Holmes returned in two more stories collected in Volume 2, Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmès, having opened the floodgates to less flattering versions of Holmes. One of the more recent parodies in print is "The Lord Mike Saga", wherein Mycroft Miles (née Mills) is the Holmes figure, with the titles reflecting the styles: "A Study in Varlets", "The Strange Case of the Moth-Eater of Clapham Common", "Happy Times and Places", and "A Cameo Broached". Miles refuses to speak of Holmes, referring to him only as "the other chap".

Frequent speculation as to the "real" Holmes has existed since publication, and Mark Frost's novel The List of Seven (1993) and its sequel The Six Messiahs (1995) are not the first to put a spin on this. Frost has Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as its main character and tells the (fictional) story of how Doyle's Holmes was inspired by Johnathon Sparks, a mysterious man who saves Doyle's life from a mad occultist. The Wold Newton family series connects multiple famous fictional characters together to a mail coach that passed a radioactive asteroid in the eighteenth century - Holmes is a descendant of one of the travelers in that coach.[6]

In his 1967 Man from U.N.C.L.E. novel The Rainbow Affair, David McDaniel inserts unnamed cameos by The Saint, Miss Marple, John Steed, Emma Peel, Willie Garvin, Tommy Hambledon, Neddie Seagoon, Father Brown, and Dr. Fu Manchu. Also appearing is a retired Sherlock Holmes, aged nearly 100, under the pseudonym of "William Escott."


Some of the earliest films use Holmes as a character, notably the early films of William Gillette, the American actor who played Holmes in various plays.

  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) is an early "talkie".

Later films would blur the lines between canon and non-canon, however.

  • In the sci-fi film Time After Time (1979), H.G. Wells uses a time machine to go to 1979 America; he tries to use Sherlock Holmes as a false name, thinking the literary character would be forgotten by then.
  • From 1984 to 1985, Japan's Tokyo Movie Shinsha and the Italian TV station RAI released 26 episodes of Sherlock Hound, a show featuring anthropomorphic dogs in various roles in the Sherlock Holmes world.
  • Walt Disney Pictures released The Great Mouse Detective (July 2, 1986), wherein the character of Holmes is borrowed by a mouse. The name "Basil" is no mere coincidence: one of Holmes's aliases in the original Conan Doyle stories is "Captain Basil". Also, the actor Basil Rathbone famously portrayed Holmes on film. The film is based on the Basil of Baker Street novels.[7]
  • Continuing the print tradition of goodnatured irreverence, the comedy film Without a Clue (1988) presents the premise that Holmes was a fictional creation of John Watson's, who was the true deductive genius. Once the character becomes popular, Watson is forced to hire an out-of-work actor to play Holmes.[8]
  • In the movie The Phantom of Baker Street (2002), Conan goes into a virtual Victorian London a computer simulated Holmes and Watson don't appear due to working on another case (Hound of the Baskervilles), but Moriarty and Irene Adler do.


  • In the VeggieTales episode "Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler", Larry the Cucumber play the roles of Sheerluck Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson. In this parody Sheerluck is portrayed as a dimwit who is credited for solving cases usually solved by the more intelligent Watson, and his early refusal to acknowledge his partner leads to a brief rift between the two.
  • In The Fairly Odd Parents episode "Shelf Life", Sherlock makes an appearance because Timmy summoned him to write his book report even replying Let's just poof Mr.Fancy hat out here. Sherlock doesn't want to even replying "Are you dumb? I'm a detective not a babysitter". Then he leaves to Timmy's house. When Timmy got his grades at the end of the episode for stopping Tom Sawyer. Timmy forgets something which was putting him back in his book. Then the camera pans he is with Mr and Mrs. Turner.

Sherlock Holmes appears in

Video games

  • Robin of Sherlock for Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum is a 1985 video game (a parody: the game is not sherlockian) that mixes the universes of Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood.
  • Wizard101's world Marleybone stars Sherlock Bones, and Dr. Meowiarty as a reference to Holmes and Moriarty.
  • Mario Party Advance, a video game released in 2005, includes a character named Shroomlock, a mushroom version of Sherlock Holmes.[14]
  • Detective Pikachu has a lot of references to Sherlock Holmes stories.
  • Dr. Doyle & The Mystery Of The Cloche Hat is a 2017 video game by PnC Narratives set in Southern England which features mystery themes and main character's name is inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle.[15]


In the Italian comic book Martin Mystère and spin-off series Storie di Altrove/Stories from Elsewhere Holmes is a historical character.[16] In late 1880s he worked on the case of Jack the Ripper and met professor Richard Van Helsing, a vampire who destroyed Count Dracula. Along with Professor Challenger, Holmes visited a secret valley of dinosaurs in South America in 1896, which became the basis for Doyle's novel The Lost World. The same year he worked with the American Secret Service "Elsewhere" to stop paranormal threats from another dimension. In 1910 he discovered a life extension serum. At the beginning of World War I he had a final confrontation with Professor Moriarty. After the war, he moved to Ukraine, giving Arthur Conan Doyle the task to convince everyone that he was just an imaginary character. With the help of his serum, Holmes prolonged his life for several decades. In 1990s he indirectly helped Martin Mystère to capture a villain who found a formula of his serum.


  • The song "Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes" (1943) by American jazz string band Spirits of Rhythm imagines a comic dialogue between the two title characters.[17]
  • Sherlock Holmes is the subject matter in the song "Sherlock Holmes" by American rock band Sparks, on their eleventh album Angst in My Pants.
  • "Searchin'" (1957), a song recorded iby the R&B group The Coasters, makes reference to Holmes and other fictional detectives.
  • The Kinks song "Village Green Preservation Society" name checks both Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty.
  • The B. A. Robertson song, "Bang Bang" name checks Sherlock Holmes.

Spoken word

Further reading

  • Cawelti, John G. (1976). Adventure, mystery, and romance : formula stories as art and popular culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-09866-4.
  • Saler, Michael (2003). "ABSTRACT: Clap if you believe in Sherlock Holmes. Mass Culture and the re-enchantment of modernity c. 1890–c. 1940". The Historical Journal (46): 599–622.


  1. "Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (a children's cartoon show)". Dicentertainment.
  2. "comic book series". Predator:Nemesis.
  3. Bangs, John Kendrick (1897). The Pursuit of the Houseboat. Harper & Brothers. p. 57. Retrieved 28 Nov 2009.
  4. Leblanc, Maurice (June 15, 1906). "Sherlock Holmes arrive trop tard". Je Sais Tout (17).
  5. Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 32. ISBN 9780857687760.
  6. Farmer, Philip Jose (2013). Tales of the Wold Newton Universe. Titan Books. ISBN 978-1781163047.
  7. Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 69–71. ISBN 9780857687760.
  8. Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 298–300. ISBN 9780857687760.
  9. Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 286. ISBN 9780857687760.
  10. Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 39–40. ISBN 9780857687760.
  11. Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 263–264. ISBN 9780857687760.
  12. Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9780857687760.
  13. "Review: Family Guy "V is for Mystery"". Bubbleblabber.com.
  14. "Mario Party Advance Instruction Booklet" (PDF). Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  15. "Solve a Mystery with Dr. Doyle in New Point and Click Adventure". Hardcore Gamer. Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  16. Martin Mystère: The shadows of Baker Street Archived 2011-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
  17. https://archive.org/details/SpiritsOfRhythm-Dr.WatsonAndMr.Holmes1943
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