Did Dr. Watson Really Write Sherlock Holmes?

Insomnia Cured Here, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0
Insomnia Cured Here, Flickr // CC BY SA 2.0

A few years ago, a poll found that 58 percent of British teenagers thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person (meanwhile, 47 percent thought that Richard the Lionheart was not). That may be just a sad statement on the education system, but that doesn’t mean those kids are alone. There’s actually a whole group of people who enjoy the theory that Sherlock Holmes – or at least sidekick John Watson -- was real.

The explanation is simple: Dr. Watson chronicled the work of the London detective Sherlock Holmes and their relationship. Arthur Conan Doyle? He was Watson’s literary agent and helped bring the stories to The Strand magazine and other outlets.

Of course, Doyle wasn’t just an agent. He claims to have based the Holmes character off of his former teacher, Dr. Joseph Bell, who was said to have similarly impressive deductive powers. The Holmes pieces, starting with 1887’s “A Study in Scarlet,” quickly became his most famous works, overshadowing anything else he wrote (a fact that frustrated Doyle and led to his decision to "kill" Holmes in "The Final Problem"). Eventually, Doyle wrote 56 short stories and four novels featuring Holmes across 40 years.

However, Doyle’s presence creates another problem for the Holmesians who believe in the canon. The author was never one to stick closely to his earlier works and said on many occasions that he wouldn’t let the canon stand in the way of a good story. That means dates don't line up and scholars have had trouble putting the cases in chronological order. Likewise, characters meet and re-meet, physical descriptions change and even personality traits disappear or shift as needed.

For example, in several stories Holmes refuses to take a reward, even claiming that “my profession is my reward.” But in other cases, such as “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,” he takes as much 4,000 pounds. This seeming inconsistency has been brushed off with a simple explanation: Holmes only accepts money from wealthy clients when he needs it.

The “great game” of studying the Holmes canon began with Ronald Knox, who sought to apply Holmes’ own methods on the canon in his essay “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.” In it, he tackles the exact order and date of the canon mysteries, Holmes' ever-shifting routine of investigation and even the flaws in Watson's personal history. Knox even offers up an explanation of the inconsistencies in Watson's work:

"I believed that all the stories were written by Watson, but whereas the genuine cycle actually happened, the spurious adventures are the lucubrations of his own unaided invention. Surely we may reconstruct the facts thus."

Interestingly, the idea of believing in canon and acknowledging the author can be applied outside of the Holmes literature. For example, TVTropes.org explains how Doylists and Watsonians exist in TV fandom: a Doylist would understand that an actor had to be recast, while a Watsonian would infer that the character in question had gotten plastic surgery to change his or her appearance.

Save Up to 93 Percent on 8 Gaming Accessories and Enter to Win a Free Nintendo Switch Bundle

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The 12 Best Stephen King Movies and TV Shows You Can Stream Right Now

Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone (1983).
Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone (1983).
Paramount Home Entertainment

In 2017 Andy Muschietti's It—an adaptation of horror legend Stephen King’s 1986 novel—became the highest-grossing horror film of all time. It was a fitting badge of honor for King, the prolific horror novelist who has seen many of his books and stories transferred to film, often with only mixed success.

Fortunately, there's still plenty of King-inspired material that lives up to his name. Take a look at 12 movies and television shows currently streaming that capture the essence of King’s work.

1. Carrie (1976)

The first Hollywood adaptation of King’s work—from his very first novel published in 1974—is drenched in dread. As high school wallflower Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) struggles with an overbearing mother and vindictive mean-girl classmates, her latent telekinetic powers begin bubbling to the surface. When she's pushed too far, Carrie delivers a prom night no one will soon forget.

Where to stream it: $3.99 on Amazon Prime

2. Creepshow 2 (1987)

A macabre King vibe inspired this anthology, a sequel to 1982's Creepshow that the writer collaborated on with horror master George A. Romero. The standout: "The Raft," about a group of college kids who find a sentient sludge at a lake that makes their weekend getaway anything but relaxing.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

3. 11.22.63 (2016)

King’s revisionist take on the Kennedy assassination comes to life in this Hulu original series. James Franco stars as a professor who discovers he can travel back in time to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting at the motorcade in Dallas. Unfortunately, those heroics have consequences in the future.

Where to stream it: Hulu

4. Gerald’s Game (2017)

Carla Gugino’s weekend getaway with her husband turns into an endurance test when she finds herself alone and handcuffed to a bed. Slowly, creeping horrors both real and imagined begin to materialize. To keep her sanity—and her life—she’ll need to escape by any means necessary.

Where to stream it: Netflix

5. In the Tall Grass (2019)

King's 2012 novella—co-written with his son, Joe Hill—is a classic King conceit of taking the mundane and making it terrifying. After chasing a boy into a thick patch of farm land grass, two siblings realize that it harbors dangerous and mystifying entities. Patrick Wilson co-stars.

Where to stream it: Netflix

6. Christine (1983)

In what may be some kind of record, this 1983 adaptation of the King novel was released the same year as its source material. Teenage outcast Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) buys a 1958 Plymouth Fury, a car that appears to have its own plans for Arnie and the high school bullies taunting him.

Where to stream it: $3.99 on Amazon Prime

7. The Shining (1980)

Widely regarded as the best King adaptation of all time, this Stanley Kubrick film is actually not all that well-liked by King himself: He felt it failed to capture key elements of his 1977 novel (in 1997, King remade it as a miniseries starring Steven Weber). But it’s an undeniably rich and evocative horror show, with writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) slowly becoming unwound as he and his family settle in for an isolated winter at the Overlook Hotel.

Where to stream it: $3.99 on Amazon Prime

8. The Mist (2007)

King's 1980 novella casts a group of strangers who are trapped in a grocery store, a malevolent mist outside seemingly obscuring monstrous predators. As their peril increases, the danger inside becomes just as threatening. The ending, changed from King's own, remains one of the biggest gut-punch twists in film.

Where to watch it: $3.99 on Amazon Prime

9. The Dark Half (1993)

King's 1989 novel about a writer who has to fend off a physical manifestation of his pseudonym is brought to eerie life by Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

10. The Dead Zone (1983)

Christopher Walken has the weight of the world on his shoulders as Johnny Smith, a teacher who emerges from a coma with psychic powers. When he encounters a power-mad politician (Martin Sheen) with destructive tendencies, Johnny must decide whether to take drastic action. King's 1979 novel also inspired a USA Network television series starring Anthony Michael Hall, which is available on Amazon Prime.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

11. Children of the Corn (1984)

King's short story from 1978's Night Shift collection imagines a small town in which children are free to explore their most violent impulses without any parental supervision. Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton are a couple who stumble upon their community and quickly come to regret it.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

12. Stephen King's A Good Marriage (2014)

When Joan Allen finds some incriminating evidence pointing to her perfect husband (played by Anthony LaPaglia) being a serial killer, she must decide between the love of her life and a monster who takes lives. The film is based on the novella of the same name in King's 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

This story has been updated for 2020.