For Sherlock Holmes, the most important date on the calendar is Christmas—and not just because the latest film to feature him comes out on Dec. 25.
In a sense, literature's most famous detective was born on that day: The first story Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote about Holmes, an 1887 novel called "A Study in Scarlet," appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual. Another entry in the Holmes canon, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," is a Christmas tale. Doyle's devotees often cite it as a personal favourite.
Later, when Doyle tired of Holmes, he killed off his character during the yuletide. In "The Final Problem," the fatal encounter between Holmes and his archnemesis, Moriarty, takes place in the spring, but the story itself appeared in the December 1893 issue of the Strand Magazine.
How will Holmes fare this holiday season? The answer isn't so elementary. Judging from a movie trailer full of fisticuffs, explosions and sexual innuendo, the big-budget action film will thrill fanboys who don't realize that the Baker Street Irregulars appeared on the printed page before the silver screen. Anguished purists, meanwhile, may choose to cover their faces with deerstalker hats.
Except that the most faithful followers of Holmes know that his legacy is already a mishmash of invention and reinvention. Take those deerstalker hats. Almost nothing is more associated with Holmes than the checkered twill cap with brims in front and back and a pair of ear flaps on the sides. In Doyle's stories, however, there is precious little evidence that Holmes ever wore such a thing. It entered the popular imagination because of Sidney Paget, a magazine illustrator whose work accompanied Doyle's fiction.