The Cannon Part II


By Frank Connell

Extracanonical works

Since the author’s death, professional and amateur Holmesians have discussed endlessly the expansion of this canon, to include other works by Doyle, including works in other media, into the current complete adventures.  Rumours have always surrounded lost works, and in recent years further investigations have revealed more to the traditionally collected canon. As there exists no definitive body to argue what is, and what is not canon beyond the already established novels and stories, it is unlikely that any piece, no matter how good its claim to be “canonical” will ever be popularly received into published versions of the Complete Sherlock Holmes. However, as many as eighteen works have been cited as possible entrants. These works include plays, poems, essays on the character, and even short stories.

Published collections of extracanonical works include: Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha, edited by Jack Tracy; The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Peter HainingThe Uncollected Sherlock Holmes, edited by Richard Lancelyn Green; and the final volume of Leslie S. Klinger‘s Sherlock Holmes Reference Library titled The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes. These works, each with slightly different contents, discussed several titles and their place in the canon.

Noncanonical works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In addition to the canon, Doyle wrote (occasionally with a co-writer) a number of vignettes, play adaptations and essays involving Holmes, and two short stories in which Holmes makes a possible cameo appearance. Most were published in various places during his lifetime; another has only come to light since his death. These are listed below with further detail.

Short stories

“The Field Bazaar” (1896)

Main article: The Field Bazaar

“The Field Bazaar” was written for an Edinburgh University fundraising event. Doyle had been requested by his university to contribute a short piece of literature for a charity magazine. In the story, Watson has received a similar request and whilst he reads the letter at breakfast, Holmes correctly deduces the sender of the letter and Watson’s thoughts with regard to the letter. It has many similarities with the canonical stories, most notably the metafictional twist in which Watson supplants Doyle as the author publishing his own stories in a magazine. It also plays upon not only the famous skill of Holmes’ observations producing apparently miraculous results, but also the notion of the “traditional breakfast scenes” which open many Holmes short stories.

“The Story of the Man with the Watches” (1898)

Though Doyle had killed off his character in “The Final Problem” (1893), he still wrote other short stories for publication in The Strand Magazine, including “The Story of the Man with the Watches” (published in July 1898, with illustrations by Frank Craig). It was collected in Doyle’s Round the Fire Stories (1908) and Tales of Terror and Mystery (1922). The story concerns the appearance of a dead man in a railway carriage, with six pocket watches in his jacket. An explanation is offered by an unnamed “well-known criminal investigator”, but the narrator notes that it is flawed, as it doesn’t take into account all the facts. A man involved in the accidental murder of the victim writes a letter to the detective, saying that it was a “mighty ingenious” solution but entirely incorrect and continues to share the true events of that day. Some commentators have proposed that the unnamed detective is Holmes. The story shares the same backing for categorising as a Sherlock Holmes story as “The Story of the Lost Special“, and appears in French anthologies. The story was adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 2009 as “The Thirteen Watches”, in an episode from The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The number of watches was changed because the new title came from a reference (in the Holmes story “The Noble Bachelor“) to Holmes’ involvement with the watches incident. The story was also adapted for radio in 2012 as “The Addleton Tragedy”, an episode of the Imagination Theatre radio series The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

“The Story of the Lost Special” (1898)

Main article: The Story of the Lost Special

“The Story of the Lost Special” was published in The Strand Magazine in August 1898.  It depicts a seemingly inexplicable mystery in which a special train and its few passengers disappear between two stations. After the mystery is described in full, it is stated that a letter appeared in the press, giving a proposed solution from “an amateur reasoner of some celebrity”. As with “The Story of the Man with the Watches”, it is possible, and has been proposed by Haining, Tracy, and Green, amongst others that this “amateur reasoner” was Sherlock Holmes. The strongest clue to this is the quotation, “once one has eliminated the impossible…”, used by Holmes throughout his deductions. However, this suggested solution is proved wrong by a confession from the organising criminal once he is later arrested for an unrelated crime. Haining suggested that Doyle was “getting out some Holmes” during the series hiatus, but given the failure of the unnamed detective it appears he was parodying his most famous creation. The story was published in book form in Doyle’s Round the Fire Stories (1908), and has for years appeared in French editions of the complete adventures.

Plot for Sherlock Holmes Story (c. 1900)

When searching through Doyle’s papers, Hesketh Pearson, a biographer of his, came across a plan for an unwritten story. As Richard Lancelyn Green notes, “there is no evidence to show that it is by [Doyle] and strong internal evidence to suggest that it’s not”. Various authors have attempted to complete the story (named “The Adventure of the Tall Man” by Peter Haining) and put it alongside the canon. Some are very close to Doyle’s plot, others include variations from it. However no ‘official’ completion has been made (In the same way as The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes was intended as an official continuation of the canon).

“How Watson Learned the Trick” (1924)

Main article: How Watson Learned the Trick

In 1922, several authors were approached to contribute to the library of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Doyle wrote a short Sherlock Holmes story, just 503 words long, onto the tiny pages of a specially constructed miniature book: “How Watson Learned the Trick”. The story was later published alongside works by other authors in The Book of the Queen’s Dolls’ House Library (1924). Though written 28 years after “The Field Bazaar”, this is almost a companion piece to that story. Like “The Field Bazaar”, this story is a breakfast scene, during which Watson attempts to mimic Holmes’ style in guessing his thoughts. Watson’s intuitions are proved wrong, however. Unlike almost all parts of the Sherlock Holmes story it is written in the third person, presumably due to its length.


Angels of Darkness (c. 1889)

Unpublished until 2000, this play was written shortly after A Study in Scarlet was published. It is essentially a rewrite of the American chapters of A Study in Scarlet, with the London action moving to San Francisco. Holmes is not present, but Watson is, in a very different form. He acts discreditably and even marries another woman. The publication of this play was at first suppressed, Doyle’s biographer, John Dickson Carr stated that it would do no good for the public to read this, a view that Haining endorses readily. The play is notable for its contrasting sensationalist and comic scenes, and it is contained in Klinger’s Apocrypha.

Sherlock Holmes: A Drama in Four Acts (or Sherlock Holmes) (1899)

Main article: Sherlock Holmes (play)

Promotional poster for Sherlock Holmes: A Drama in Four Acts, first performed in 1899.

The original Sherlock Holmes play written by Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette had a successful run of over 30 years. It has many original parts which are not found in the short stories but borrows many events from the canonical adventures, namely “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Adventure of the Final Problem“. Also, it had elements from A Study in ScarletThe Sign of the Four, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery“, “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter“, and “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty“. It includes the very first mention of the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson”. While Doyle wrote the original version, it is unclear how much of his material survived in the play as performed, which was written by Gillette. Doyle and Gillette later revised the play together; it has since been revised by others twice.[citation needed]

The Speckled Band (or The Stonor Case) (1902)

Around 1902, Doyle wrote and produced a play based on his short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band“. It premièred 8 years later, at the Adelphi TheatreLondon on 4 June 1910, with H. A. Saintsbury as Sherlock Holmes and Lyn Harding as Dr. Grimesby Roylott. The play, originally entitled The Stonor Case, differs from the story in several small details, such as the names of some of the characters and the timeline is also changed. Holmes mentions Mary Morstan, who had already proposed Dr. Watson, twice and Charles Augustus Milverton also appears as a character.

The Crown Diamond: An Evening With Mr Sherlock Holmes (1921)

“The Crown Diamond” is an alternate version of the short story “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” though it predates its counterpart by some time, Sometime during the original run the short story was adapted from the play, this is the reason that the narrative is told in third person rather than by the traditional narrator Watson. Some claim that the play originally appeared in an early draft of “Sherlock Holmes” (above) and was later removed, with some elements finding their way into “The Adventure of the Empty House” before the entire play was resurrected, some years later, into “The Crown Diamond” and “The Mazarin Stone.”

Essays and retrospectives

Arthur Conan Doyle rarely gave interviews or publicly discussed his character. However, the following is a list of Doyle essays on his character which are currently in publication, either in Green or Haining’s book or in standard editions of the Complete Stories:

“To An Undiscerning Critic” (1912)

Guiterman first published his homage in America in Life (5 December 1912) and then in London Opinion (14 December 1912), and in his collection The Laughing Muse. Doyle’s answer appeared in the 26 December 1912 issue of London Opinion and was reprinted in the memoir of the editor of London Opinion, Lincoln Springfield. The late Dean Dickensheet appears to be the first to print the poems together, in An ‘Undiscerning Critic’ Discerned.

“Some Personalia about Mr. Sherlock Holmes” (1917)

This essay was featured in The Strand Magazine as a Christmas treat to its readers. It talks of the way Holmes had caught the public imagination and Doyle’s view on his character.

“The Truth About Sherlock Holmes” (1923)

An essay from Collier’s Weekly, in which Doyle explains exactly where Holmes came from. It contains, at the end, J. M. Barrie’s “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators”.

“Mr. Sherlock Holmes to His Readers” (1927)

This appeared in The Strand Magazine to introduce a competition to name the best Sherlock Holmes adventures. The same essay, with two paragraphs cut, appears as the preface to The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.

“How I Made My List” (1927)

This is the sequel to the article mentioned above. In it, Doyle listed what he thought were the best Holmes adventures. He noted that had he been able to include stories from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes he would certainly have included “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” and “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client“.  The list is as follows:

  1. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
  2. The Red-Headed League
  3. The Adventure of the Dancing Men
  4. The Adventure of the Final Problem
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Adventure of the Empty House
  7. The Five Orange Pips
  8. The Adventure of the Second Stain
  9. The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot
  10. The Adventure of the Priory School
  11. The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual
  12. The Adventure of the Reigate Squire

Richard Lancelyn Green’s The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes also includes five prefaces to the various editions of Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, Doyle’s speech at the Stoll Convention Dinner (1921), some chapters from Doyle’s autobiography Memoirs and Adventures, and several interviews.

Works of interest by other authors

These are works which have in the past been thought to have been written by Doyle. Some have been conclusively proved to have no Doyle input, the composition of others still remains unclear.

The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (1954)

Main article: The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes

The Wisteria Lodgers: The Sherlock Holmes Society of Edmonton


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