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  • David MacGregor


I never wear paper hats.

                              Sherlock Holmes (Pursuit to Algiers)

Stick around long enough, and life will beat the living tar out of you. That's just the way it is. Sometimes you can see the train coming, and other times you can think that your life is perfectly fine, then ten seconds later it has been shattered beyond all recognition. But if you're lucky, in between those moments of horror, pain, and grief there are good things. Chocolate is a good thing. Hot coffee is an extremely good thing. For me, I would include a nice epigram on my list of good things. Brief, interesting, and insightful, epigrams are the amuse-bouches of the literary world. It's unlikely that I will ever work up the gumption to make a deep dive into Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical works, but I do enjoy his epigrams; for example, "A man with genius is unendurable if he does not possess at least two other things; gratitude and cleanliness." Damn straight. Good call on the cleanliness bit, Friedrich.

So in composing this book, the small reward that I gave myself upon the completion of each chapter was trying to find a nice little epigram to put at the beginning of the chapter. It was like a treasure hunt, and best of all, it would be something that I didn't have to write.

For the epigram at the start of the Introduction, I chose my favorite line from all of the Basil Rathbone films—"I never wear paper hats." Holmes says this in Pursuit to Algiers, as he adroitly prevents a dinner party from being blown up by an explosive Christmas cracker planted by a trio of villains straight out of The Maltese Falcon. For me, the absurdity of the line, coupled with Rathbone's characteristic dry and urbane delivery, seems to encapsulate the almost limitless breadth of the Sherlockian universe.

More than anything, that's what I try to convey in the Introduction—just how large the cultural footprint of Sherlock Holmes really is—and why a fictional character justifies our study and consideration so long after his creation in 1887. Beyond the stories, plays, films, TV shows, and comic books, Holmes permeates our world on multiple levels. There are statues, Sherlock Holmes-themed restaurants, stamps, coins, games, socks, Holmes Peak in Oklahoma, a Sherlock crater on the Moon, and NASA's latest expedition to Mars includes SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) and a camera named WATSON. Innumerable writers have borrowed from the Sherlock Holmes stories in their own work, and the list of actors who have played Holmes and/or Watson is a veritable Who's Who of thespians.

Beyond all that there is the famous Sherlock Holmes deerstalker. Where it was once merely a hat that served to distinguish Holmes from all other detectives, it soon came to represent the genre of detective fiction in general. It has now become one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. What it represents, and what Sherlock Holmes represents, is what makes human beings the most constructive and destructive species to ever walk the planet; namely, our desire to understand and control our world.

Humanity's facility for observation, pattern recognition, and logic is not confined to any gender, ethnicity, time, or space, and Holmes' preeminent ability in all of those areas is what helped make the character a global phenomenon whose popularity shows no sign of abating soon. Much like Darwin's Theory of Evolution, it's easy to look at Sherlock Holmes and ask, "Why did no one ever think of this before?" Accordingly, Chapter One will take a close look at the soil from which Sherlock Holmes arose, and what inspired an ambitious Scottish lad by the name of Arthur Conan Doyle to sit down and create the greatest fictional character of all time.


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