Talking about Sherlock Holmes…


More or less, everybody knows him. The world-famous private detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made his début in the 1887 issue of the magazine “Beeton’s Christmas Annual” with the renowned novel “A Study in Scarlet”.


Original first appearance of Sherlock Holmes


From this story till the last one, “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place”, 1927, the author’s work does not seem to know the slightest loss of quality.  In fact the author never fails to keep up the narration on a high level of atmosphere, immersion and thrilling. Yet, even the literary perfection of the Sherlock Holmes original stories hides some curiosities (we dare not call them flaws). Let’s see some.



No doubt, Sherlock’s companion name is John H. Watson. While nobody actually knows what “H” stands for, is a fact that Watson’s wife, in the story “The Man with the Twisted Lip”, calls him James.



Everybody knows that all sort of snakes have their habitat in India. In the story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, a specific Indian swamp adder makes his appearance as the means the villain uses to reach his evil goal. It is also specified that this serpent is “the deadliest snake in all of India”. Problem is that such Indian swamp adder doesn’t exist. The proatheris superciliaris, or swamp viper, is common in east Africa, but no encyclopedia mention it about India. And besides that, India (an especially beautiful country) has just enough troubles of its own.



The Latter-day Saints congregation is nowadays known, among other things, for the generally polite and kind behavior of its members. It’s with a bit of surprise, then, that one can read of them being stepped in enslavement, kidnapping and murder. Yet this is just what one can find in the Sherlock Holmes first story “A Study in Scarlet”, which plot relates with the resulting vengeance across two continents. A few years after Conan Doyle’s death, Mormon’s general authority Levi Edgar Young referred about the author’s apology and his claim that “he was misled by writings of the time about the Church” leading him to write “a scurrilous book about the Mormons”.



Author Isaac Asimov identifies many errors about the chemical competence of Sherlock Holmes, who Conan Doyle specifies as an expert. Just to name two, in “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” Holmes refers to acetone using the plural noun “acetones” as if it would belong to a compound class and not to the specific compound it actually is. In “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” the detective comments about an “amalgam” forgers use to make counterfeit money, but he should have spoken of an “alloy” because the story makes no mention of the mercury needed to create any amalgam.

How important is all this? To us, no important at all. The exceeding literary value of Arthur Conan Doyle works largely overcomes those small errors. After all, let’s think of the stories we used to hear from our grandparents: probably we remember them fondly, and we don’t give a damn about their verisimilitude. The same could apply to most of the great literary works of fiction. If you like, you can call it literary license.

P.S: if you wish to read “A Study in Scarlet”, the very first Sherlock Holmes story, just click the cover reproduced above. You can also read some other Sherlock Holmes adventures in their original first STRAND edition here.

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