Happy 160th Birthday, Sherlock Holmes

January 6, 2014

Okay, we know he’s not real. But according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, Sherlock Holmes was born on January 6, 1854. Celebrate the day (and look forward to season 3 of Sherlock) with these not-so-elementary Sherlock Holmes facts.

Sherlock Birthday• Have you ever come across anyone, real or fictional, named Sherlock? It’s an obscure, Old English name that means “bright hair.”

• A common theme in all Sherlock Holmes books, movies, and other media is the great detective’s use of “deduction” to solve mysteries. Except that he doesn’t really use deduction. Sherlock uses a technique called abductive reasoning. Deduction eliminates possibilities until only one, hopefully correct theory, remains. Abductive reasoning, however, involves careful observation and consideration of evidence and any outside data to create an educated guess.

• Guy Ritchie agreed to direct the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie on two very big conditions: He didn’t want Sherlock to ever say “Elementary, my dear Watson,” and he didn’t want him to ever appear in the iconic, houndstooth double-billed hat. (Technical name for the hat: a deerstalker.)

• In 2011, film director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) staged a production of Frankenstein at London’s National Theatre. Actors Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch switched roles each night, alternating between playing Dr. Frankenstein, and the Monster. Soon after, both actors were cast as Sherlock Holmes in present-day-set TV series—Miller in CBS’s Elementary, and Cumberbatch in the British production Sherlock.

• Unlike most authors who write many books about the same character, Doyle varied how the stories were told. Of the 60 Sherlock books and stories he wrote, 56 are narrated by Sherlock’s assistant, Dr. Watson; two are narrated by an anonymous, third-person narrator; and only two are told from Sherlock’s point of view.

• He was a tireless crime-fighter, but Sherlock Holmes eventually retired—at least in the original, canonical stories of Doyle he did. According to the story “The Second Stain,” In approximately 1904, Holmes moves to a farm in Sussex and writes a book about beekeeping. Although, in Doyle’s 1926, World War I-set story called “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” Holmes comes out of retirement to help England’s war machine.