“The Red-Headed League” first appeared in a popular British magazine, the Strand, in August of 1891. It was republished in 1892, along with eleven other Sherlock Holmes stories, in the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Its style and structure make it a nearly perfect example of the modern detective story, first devised by Edgar Allan Poe 50 years earlier. Doyle’s ingenious plots and captivating central characters, Holmes and his sidekick Watson, brought the author literary success in his own time. Further, the Sherlock Holmes stories provided later writers with models for their own work. The existence of today’s popular detective tales, whether in the form of books, movies, or television shows, are in large part due to Doyle’s influence.
Doyle eventually tired of composing detective stories, considering them inferior to his other fiction. He wanted to be best known for his writing on more serious subjects. This led him to kill off Holmes in “The Final Problem,” a short story published in 1893. However, so many people complained, and the monetary offers for a change of heart were so tempting, that Doyle was persuaded to bring back his detective in 1902 with “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a case set during the period before Holmes’ death. The resurrection was completed in the next year, when “The Empty House” revealed that Holmes had actually been in hiding during the time he was thought dead. Sherlock Holmes stories continued to appear until 1927, three years before Doyle’s death.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget” are Edgar Allan Poe’s pioneering detective stories. In Poe’s Dupin and the unnamed friend who narrates the stories, readers will find parallels to Holmes and Watson. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the 1886 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, is, like Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, concerned with human psychology and the role of science in society.
Many of Doyle’s works have been adapted for television and film. In 1921 a silent, black and white version of “The Red-Headed League” was filmed for a series titled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This version was produced in Britain by Stoll Picture Productions and starred Eille Norwood as Holmes and Hubert Willis as Watson. “The Red-Headed League” was adapted in 1954 for a British television series of Sherlock Holmes’ cases, starring Ronald Howard as Holmes. It appears on videotape along with the story “The Deadly Prophecy” from Nostalgia Family Video. With Jeremy Brett as Holmes, “The Red-Headed League” also appeared in the 1985 Public Broadcasting System (PBS) series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (second series). This adaptation was produced in Britain by Granada Television.