Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sherlock Holmes and Mormons

I thought it worth mentioning as Sherlock Holmes makes a renewed place in the cinema this season that there is a long tie-in between Mormons and Sherlock Holmes.

The first Sherlock Holmes mystery, A Study in Scarlet,, features Mormons -- including Brigham Young, as villains.

Such portrayal was par for the course in 19th century fiction. Many novelists, including Zane Grey and Jack London, wrote stories with Mormons as villains.

If there are more adventures involving Sherlock Holmes at the movies, and such is clearly intended, I wouldn't expect Mormons to crop up, thankfully, but one never knows.

Note, based upon a comment -- and the comment was right -- I have modified this post. Thanks.


  1. I'll cut Doyle some slack on this one. He was taking advantage of the (mis)information available to him at the time.

  2. So typically Mormon to assert that, had it not been for Mormons there likely would not have been a Holmes. Utter nonsense of course because, if there hadn't been Mormons Doyle would have written his first SH story about something else.

    Typical also that the good old 19th century gets it in the neck for concocting and believing those wicked old tales about Mormons. Only Mormons could bring themselves to blame a whole century. The problem with that argument is that Doyle was no slouch when it came to his research, was an intelligent and well-travelled and informed man and would never have written his Study in Scarlet in such a way as to entirely misrepresent Mormons; he had more integrity.

  3. Mike, your point is appreciated and well-taken. Thanks. My hook was awkward. I meant not to center Mormonism at the center of the universe but to tie it all into some kind of overall blog theme. I wrote too quickly. I will do better -- A better approach would have been softer -- However, there may be slight merit to my awkward point -- and it was loosely on my mind after something I read recently.

    Mormon historian Leonard Arrington associated that book with both Artemus Ward and Mark Twain. If I remember the argument correctly, neither Ward nor Twain became the icons they became until their humor centered on Mormons -- Roughing it and the famous lectures that Ward did on Mormonism. Zane Grey's most popular works had Mormons as villains as I recall, so there seems to me at least a little to the argument to suggest what my hook did, however uncarefully.

    In fairness to Doyle, he likely relied on the best of the times' research.

    As for 19th century portrayals of Mormonism. I would recommend Terryl Given's important work, The Viper on the Hearth. In many ways, anti-Mormonism of the time had the tone of anti-Catholicism, anti-Islam, etc. Jan Shipps, the non-Mormon scholar, suggested that by the end of the 19th century there were effectively no positive portrayals of Mormonism anywhere in the national literature -- for lots of reasons, including that Mormons had isolated themselves out West. I believe, therefore, that the 19th century, in this regard, deserves to take it a little on the chin, if you will.

    thanks for reading and posting.

  4. I thought it worth one more thing. This wikipedia post centers on A Study in Scarlett and asserts that Doyle was ultimately confronted about his portrayal and never apologized, but was much more kind later on.