Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.

Now Sherlock Holmes is often seen as one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time, and for good reason. The character is interesting, well-written and has a lot of very intriguing mysteries. I mean yes, they do get very repetitive, but on the whole good. But what Sir Arthur Colan Doyle had never written him? What would the world be like without Sherlock Holmes.

Actually in part this is a great way of explaining the universe found in Moffat’s and Gatiss’ “Sherlock” series. In this universe it’s made very clear that the Sherlock Holmes stories were never written, allowing the character to exist perfectly fine without anyone picking up the similarities between the detective and the literary character. So the world without the Sherlock Holmes story is very much the world we should logically see the Sherlock TV series universe. And presumably by extension the Elementary universe, but I’ve never paid attention to that show to really notice. So what is the world like without Sherlock Holmes?

Well to the surprise of perhaps many or no one, Sherlock Holmes did not invent the detective genre. I mean yes it’s one of the earliest modernisers of the genre and set up many of the tropes associated with it, but it’s not the first. No the first comes from horror writer Edgar Allen Poe and his C. Augustus Dupin stories. Having read them my official conclusion is… they’re alright. They could do with a rewrite or two to make it a bit more interesting, perhaps spicing up the story. But what do these stories do? Well one of the big things about Dupin is his method. He puts himself into the mind of the criminal and creates a scenario that fits most of the facts available. For example, he takes the fact that every witness said they heard a different language and deduces that the speaker wasn’t speaking any language. He uses a method of abductive reasoning, different in many ways to deductive or inductive reasoning. To illustrate with a quick shorthand:

Deductive reasoning runs thus: If all men can die, and a knife in the back will kill someone, it is true that the stabbing is what killed the person. By having the propositions be true the conclusion thus must be true. You start with the propositions to figure out the conclusion.

Inductive reasoning runs thus: There is a dead body with a knife in the back. It is probable to believe that the body was at one point alive and it is probable that someone stabbed him in the back. You start at the conclusion and work out the propositions.

Abductive reasoning runs thus: There is a dead man in front of you. If it is true that he has a knife in his back, it’s not surprising that the man is dead. The knife being what killed the man is the strongest possibility. Of course the man could have been killed by swallowing a poison capsule and stabbed after his death, so the method is flawed at best. It simply states that the most likely possibility is probably the most reasonable when measured against the conclusion.

So what if Sherlock hadn’t been written and instead Dupin was the one to take his place? Well abductive reasoning would be the big popular thing that people turn too. The idea that the most likely scenario is true would be the way most detective stories would be written, or at least any trying to hop onto the Dupin bandwagon. Is it a good thing? Well that’s debatable. Deductive reasoning is genuinely thought of as being the most reliable method, with inductive coming in second and abductive being very misleading (or example if the lawn is wet, it may be true that it rained last night, but it could be equally true that the lawn sprinklers did it. Therefore you don’t know if your hypothesis is correct). But that’s just one small section of it. Lets imagine that Dupin gets popular on the level Sherlock Holmes is (who, if I’m not mistaken, is perhaps the most adapted character in film history. Him or Dracula). What sort of fiction would we get?

Well lets start with the obvious one, the Disney example. Instead of Basil of Baker Street we get Fennel of Faubourg Saint-Germain, since Faubourg Saint-Germain is where Dupin lives and fennel is a plant like Basil. So Disney would have made that movie instead. Anime Detective Conan would be called Detective Poe instead (and that’s literally the extent I know of that anime). House of the same named show would probably be a different character, taking on more of Dupin’s traits and characters. Likewise Batman would probably be subtly different, having been inspired by Dupin. But this all works on the logic that Dupin essentially replaces Holmes. Is that what we’re seeing in the Sherlock TV series?

The answer is a ‘probably not’. Sherlock Holmes really captured the public imagination, to the point where it was perhaps the birth of the concept of ‘fandom’ (and the birth of fan campaigns, since it was them that demanded Holmes came back after his death). It’s thanks to Holmes that detectives became popular. He really did set up the entire concept in some ways. Dupin was written just before detectives were a thing, whereas Holmes was set up at just the right time. He was made roughly around the same as Scotland Yard and really shed new light on investigatory techniques. He actually used forensics, rather than the tried and tested method of ‘shaking down witnesses to some poor sap confessed’. Without that detective fiction would have never really taken off, leading to a world that doesn’t really admiring detectives all that much. After all Sherlock Holmes pretty much invented the concept of the detective, and made it cool. Shows like CSI continued with this idea, showing how cool detectives are. We accept that detective is a cool job in this day and age. But without that detective fiction, perhaps detectives aren’t as highly thought of by the general public. Perhaps without this branch of fiction people ignore police work and don’t really care. This would explain why Sherlock Holmes seems more impressive than he actually is. He’s doing something this world has never really seen before.

So there you have it. A brief look at the idea of a world without Sherlock Holmes. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.