Gideon’s Corner

Fact of the Month

February: Sherlock Holmes was (Kind of) a Real Person

Gideon Tyree

A recent poll reminded me of Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective who used his amazing powers of deductions to find seemingly impossible conclusions in the smallest of clues. However, Holmes is not quite so fictional as he seems.

Although no detective named Sherlock Holmes ever existed, he was based on a real person: Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell was a professor at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, England, which was a medical school. It was there that a young Arthur Conan Doyle was impressed by Dr. Bell’s astounding ability to tell students their entire life story when first meeting them–so impressed, in fact, that he would later write a novel, A Study in Scarlet, featuring a detective based on him. The novel was unsuccessful at first, but the editor of an American magazine liked it and hired Doyle to write another. This one was more successful, and Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, went on to become household names.

Dr. Joseph Bell

Dr. Bell would often deduct the occupations of new students and also tried to teach his students to use observation and deduction to diagnose patients, though none were ever as proficient as he. However, although Sherlock Holmes owes his origin to Dr. Bell, Doyle was the real detective. Doyle would later ask his former teacher for ideas, but Bell proved make a poor detective. Arthur Conan Doyle, however, helped to solve several real world mysteries.

Sherlock Holmes, although fictional, was based on a real person. During the height of his fame, however, many people thought he was a real person. Holmes’ fictional apartment received countless letters asking for his assistance; when he retired to the country in a later book, housekeepers began applying for a job. It shows the genius of Arthur Conan Doyle that he could make a fictional character seem almost real.

January: You Breath Fluids

By Gideon Tyree

As long time readers of Paw Prints know, our very first Holidays This Week article discussed, in part, National Maple Syrup Day. That day, of course, celebrates that time-honored liquid, maple syrup. Maple syrup is a fluid that is traditionally used on pancakes and waffles. Notice that I used fluid and liquid interchangeably. They’re the same thing, right? WRONG!

The dictionary defines a fluid as “a substance that has no fixed shape and yields easily to external pressure.” As science students know, that can apply to both liquids AND GASES! That means that, technically, all gases–even the air you breathe–are in fact fluids. Isn’t that just the most useful thing you’ve heard all day?

It’s Who You Know

As many of you know, Paw Prints recently conducted a survey of 100 students, teachers, and staff in order to determine which fictional characters are the most recognized. The results are as follows:

Clifford the Big Red Dog: 89% Recognition
Harry Potter: 87% Recognition
Blame the elder gods!
Cthulhu: 28% Recognition
Barney: 87% Recognition
Figment: 21% Recognition
The Martian Manhunter: 27% Recognition
Ebenezer Scrooge: 72% Recognition
Jane Eyre: 31% Recognition
Percy Jackson: 82% Recognition
Popeye: 86% Recognition
Mickey Mouse: 89% Recognition
Daffy Duck: 88% Recognition
Bugs Bunny: 88% Recognition
Barbie: 88% Recognition
James Bond (a.k.a. “007”): 86% Recognition
Count Dracula: 79% Recognition
Donald Duck: 88%
Mr. Monopoly: 81% Recognition
The Invisible Man: 57% Recognition
Dr. Jekyl: 46% Recognition
(Also in picture: Mr. Hyde)
Felix the Cat: 49% Recognition
Asterix the Gaul:  8% Recognition
Tarzan: 87% Recognition
Tintin: 66% Recognition
Sherlock Holmes:  88% Recognition
Merlin: 45% Recognition
Robin Hood: 87% Recogntion
Billy the Goat: 41% Recognition
Shrek: 88% Recognition
Santa Claus: 86% Recognition
Peeves the Poltergeist: 21% Recognition
Mulan: 80% Recognition
Blue from “Blue’s Clues”:  87% Recognition

The most recognized characters, at 89%, were Mickey Mouse and Clifford, with Shrek, Sherlock Holmes, Barbie, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny tied for second place with 88% recognition. That means that there are more people who recognize Clifford than there are who recognize Santa Claus. By contrast, Asterix the Gaul, the star of a long running comic strip and 13 movies and whose first volume was listed in a 1999 poll as the 22nd greatest book of the twentieth century , was recognized by only eight people.

Of course, it seems like with 89% recognition, Mickey Mouse is known by all, but that also means that there are eleven people who have never heard of Mickey Mouse. And while it is true that only 41% of people recognized Billy the Goat, that’s pretty good considering that he was made up for this survey. That’s right, Billy the Goat is not real. Well, none of these characters are real because they are fictional characters, but Billy the Goat isn’t even a real fictional character. Yet somehow, more people claimed to be familiar with him than there were who knew of Jane Eyre, one of the most celebrated literary heroines. If this survey is any indication, were he ever picked up by a company, Billy would already have a strong fan base.