Looking back of course. His approach is always extremely rational and analytical. Our Sherlock Holmes. We know him. Even without having read the books. Most definitely. We don't need to explain anything more. Because more than 200 films, played by more than 70 actors, are about this distinguished detective. Not bad. Or in other words: Sherlock Holmes appears in more films than any other fictional figure. We see and hear him in plays, musicals, talking books, TV series, comics, cartoons and even in a ballet. Not to forget all the pastiches about Holmes and Watson. It's no wonder then, that the Guinness Book of World Records lists him as the most portrayed film character in history.
56 short stories and three novels about Holmes and Watson follow «A Study in Scarlet». And we don't need to mention the fact that they made their creator, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1859-1930) into one of the most successful authors of his time. He wrote the stories between 1886 and 1927.
At least that's what 58 percent of British people thought according to a survey by UKTV Gold in 2008. The master detective is omnipresent. That can cause us some confusion. Winston Churchill isn't as successful: 23 percent of people asked assumed that the British statesman was a fictional figure. We won't comment on the English education system, we'll focus on praising the way in which Conan Doyle was able to breathe life into his stories.
...or the reason why Meiringen has a special place in the hearts of most Holmesians.
Disappointed readers in London tie black pieces of fabric or ties around their upper arm. Over 20,000 customers cancel the subscription to «The Strand» – the magazine in which the Sherlock Holmes stories appeared. One reader wrote the following directly to Conan Doyle: «You brute!». The author can definitely be happy that there was no social media at this time. What a shitstorm that would have created. Dislike. Thumbs down. And it goes without saying: Queen Victoria is also «not amused». But what happened?
«The Final Problem», the last story in the anthology «The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes», appears in the December edition of «The Strand». That sounds good. But: At the beginning of the story there's an illustration of Sherlock Holmes and professor Moriarty. Both are entangled in a lethal hug next to the Reichenbach Waterfall – with the title: «The Death of Sherlock Holmes». Okay. We admit it. That is unexpected. We could not have uttered more than a «whaaat?» of disbelief either.
Sidney Paget (1860-1908) illustrated the pictures of Sherlock Holmes in «The Strand». The role model was supposedly his younger brother. His older brother denied this adamantly. Now then, perhaps there's a little jealousy involved here? Whatever the case, the checked deerstalker hat which Holmes wears in many pictures can be traced back to Paget's preference for exactly that hat. And it looks elegant. Conan Doyle on the other hand, only once described it in «Silver Blaze» as «an ear flapped travelling cap». The rest comes from the British illustrator.
Sidney Paget did a total of 356 drawings for 37 short stories and the novel «The Hound of the Baskervilles».
The answer is quite simple: Conan Doyle wanted to write historical novels and serious discourse more.
But this Sherlock took up too much time, as every story needed as much of a clear and original storyline as a whole book. But: Readers unconditionally wanted a new series. Only one trick would help. Without further ado, Conan Doyle demanded a huge sum (one thousand pounds!) from «The Strand» for the designated series «The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes». In the hope of course, that those responsible wouldn't go in on it. Hmm, bad luck. The magazine paid the full amount immediately. A blessing in disguise. Therefore the logical consequence was: the death of the master detective. There was simply no other way out. Sherlock Holmes had to go. Forever.
Arthur Conan Doyle,
on his decision to let Sherlock Holmes die.
In August 1893 he went there with his wife, who was suffering from Tuberculosis, for spa treatment. Following a visit to the Reichenbach Waterfall, everything went quite fast. The inspiration seemed to just come out of nowhere. The «Napoleon of crime» was brought to life. A machiavellian, criminal superbrain. Professor James Moriarty. Holmes' alter ego. They fight at the Reichenbach Waterfall and fall into the depths at the end of «The Final Problem». That's it. The end. Game over. Problem solved.
Conan Doyle stayed at the «Hotel zum Wilden Mann», today's «Parkhotel du Sauvage». In 1893 the owner's name was Alexander Seiler – possibly an inspiration for Peter Seiler from «The Final Problem»?
So that there's no confusion with the dates: Conan Doyle visited Meiringen in 1893. «The Final Problem» was set two years earlier though – in 1891. Just so we can differentiate between reality and fiction. Again, as a reminder: Conan Doyle really did exist, Sherlock Holmes didn't.
Whatever, fiction or not, for many Holmesians it's still 1891 in Meiringen. And nothing will change there. That's for sure. Because their bubble bursts here on this fateful 4th of May 1891.
The temporary collapse of a fictional world becomes a godsend for Meiringen.
There he is. Sherlock Holmes meets professor Moriarty. What does he do? Of course, he writes a last letter to his loyal helper Dr. John Watson. Behind him, the Reichenbach Waterfall goes thundering into the depths. That's it. The end. We know the story. They're never found.
Sherlock Holmes comes a couple of years too early – the tracks of the nostalgic railway doesn't get laid until 1899. His arch enemy completely takes advantage of this of course and tricks Dr. Watson into coming back to Meiringen. The poor guy has to walk the whole way. To professor Moriarty's joy – now he can talk to Sherlock Holmes alone, without interruption.
By the way, it's the highest of the three waterfalls at 120 metres which serves as the scene of the legendary struggle. A star marks the spot. However, the Reichenbach Waterfall is a painting in the TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch, where Sherlock Holmes is responsible for its recovery.
Dr. John Watson,
on the Reichenbach Waterfall from «The Final Problem».
On 25th October at 7.30 am, a fire breaks out in a house above the Brewery in the district of Stein. The oldest Haslital resident, the föhn, a warm wind from the mountains, doesn't think twice and leaves the districts of Stein, Meyringen, Eisenbolgen and Hausen in ashes. How would Sherlock Holmes have died if Conan Doyle had walked through Meiringen a couple of months later?
The full extent of the destruction only becomes clear a day later.
He's returned and wants to stay in Meiringen.
Back to the present, we have to open our eyes. That's enough. Then we see him. On every corner. Everywhere. Sherlock Holmes with his deerstalker and pipe. Unmistakable. Even the absolute amateur detectives among us should at least have visited the life-sized bronze statue in «Conan Doyle Square» – without a magnifying glass hopefully.
We are not surprised that Conan Doyle's stories belong to the tradition of realism. The descriptions are so detailed that the office of Holmes and Watson can be found in the basement of the English church.
The Sherlock Holmes museum presents valuable original objects, provides background information and gives interesting insights into the crime and police history of the 1890s in London. Unbelievable that people think this detective didn't exist. Really.
In 1991 it happens. Sherlock Holmes gets his museum. The Sherlock Holmes Museum is opened in the crypt of the English Church under the patronage of the «Sherlock Holmes Society of London» and Lady Jean Conan Doyle. When? On the hundredth anniversary of his death of course. On 4th of May.
Conan Doyle is not the inventor of detective stories (this honour goes to Edgar Allan Poe), but his figure is more realistic than some people who have really lived. A figure that defeated death and made a return. Each year on 4th of May, this is especially noticeable.
In accordance with Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes uses the method of deduction to form his conclusions. That's not new to us. That's the «ascent from the particular to the general». This would be a good approach for discovering the Haslital. «In general», the area offers a lot, but when we look further to «the particular», we discover a wonderful, fictional world in the middle of the real mountainscape of the Haslital.
But anyway. Back to the beginning. How did he know about Afghanistan? «Elementary, my dear Watson.»
Photos: Jungfrau Region; Otto Kehrli
Story: André Wellig
Tourist Center Meiringen
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