Sherlock Holmes hasn’t ever really stepped out of the spotlight of popular culture since A Study in Scarlet came into being, and a great many people are familiar with the look and manner traditionally associated with the detective, both its canonical and extra-canonical elements.
When it comes to specific stories from the canon, however, it’s obvious that public attention has generally focused on a few favorite tales and largely ignored many others. Stories of which people in general seem widely aware include The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Scandal in Bohemia, as well as The Final Problem and The Empty House.
The general knowledge of Hound, at least in the United States, can be partly attributed to the story’s frequent inclusion in secondary school literature curricula, and Scandal is an obvious choice because of its atypical and quasi-romantic (as close as the detective ever comes) subject matter. People’s actual knowledge of the specific content of these stories is debatable, but many at least know of their existence. Final Problem and Empty House are known even less specifically, but their existence is at least hazily evident to those who know about the death and resurrection of the character.
Other stories this reader has encountered in US culture include The Speckled Band and The Engineer’s Thumb, which seem to have been singled out because of their suspenseful and sensational plotlines.
I’m curious about others’ experiences with canonical stories in popular culture. Which stories do you encounter most frequently outside of a Sherlockian context, and why do you think they’re more popular than others? Has the public’s taste changed over the years, or have preferences remained consistent?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this; let me know in the comments.