3 Reasons to Read Sherlock Holmes to Your Kids

Needlework by my mum

Needlework by my mum

Uncle Irv gave me a copy of The Junior Deluxe Sherlock Holmes in 1966. In the years that followed, I have been diagnosed as a certifiable Sherlockian. I have the complete canon on paper and Nook. I own Dining with Sherlock Holmes, a cookbook in which recipes for many of the meals upon which Holmes and Watson dined can be found. I own a needlepoint portrait of Holmes done by my mother. Much to the chagrin of my loved ones, rare is the day when I do not find a reason to quote or make allusion to the Great Detective. Yet, it was not until a few days ago that I realized how beneficial Holmes might be as one raises one’s children.

Ergo, three reasons why you should read Sherlock Holmes with your kids.

  1. The benefit of contemplation. I firmly believe that a portion of one’s day, every day, should be spent in contemplation. Not in perseveration, or worry, or obsession, but contemplation. Who am I? What am I about? If you cannot recall a time in your life when you did not consider your place in the world, then I suspect you may want to consider that issue as a life issue. More importantly, it is in contemplation that we are at our best – our best at problem solving, our best at creativity, our best at seeing ourselves as we truly are. Consider the following passage from The Man with the Twisted Lip, in which Holmes wrestles with the problem of a man’s mysterious disappearance:

Sherlock Holmes was a man, however, who, when he had an unsolved problem upon his mind, would go for days, and even for a week, without rest, turning it over, rearranging his facts, looking at it from every point of view until he had either fathomed it or convinced himself that his data were insufficient. It was soon evident to me that he was now preparing for an all-night sitting. He took off his coat and waistcoat, put on a large blue dressing-gown, and then wandered about the room collecting pillows from his bed and cushions from the sofa and armchairs. With these he constructed a sort of Eastern divan, upon which he perched himself cross-legged, with an ounce of shag tobacco and a box of matches laid out in front of him. In the dim light of the lamp I saw him sitting there, an old briar pipe between his lips, his eyes fixed vacantly upon the corner of the ceiling, the blue smoke curling up from him, silent, motionless, with the light shining upon his strong-set aquiline features. So he sat as I dropped off to sleep …

Has there ever been a more perfect explanation of how one’s mind, when set free, is at its creative best? In Zen terms, he created a zafu, a sitting cushion, as well as an object of meditation. In creative terms, he gave himself the freedom to let his mind roam free, whilst simultaneously holding it to a task. Have you ever wondered why you have you have your best thoughts in the shower?

I often said to my now 22 year old son as he wrestled with a problem, “Don’t try harder. Try different.” It is exactly at such moments, watching one’s self think and holding on loosely to one’s task, that creative breakthroughs take place.

Minus the pipe smoke, Holmes offers our children a lesson in the creative process.

  1. The benefit of critical thinking – As I wrote in I Hate the Internet, never before in the history of the world have we possessed the ability to spread unsubstantiated rumor, gossip, innuendo, and just plain BS as in today’s internet age.

It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

Never before has the need to teach our children critical thinking skills been more important. Unless you want your child to believe in three breasted women who drink water with the wrong hydrogen bond angle sold to them by men who have proof that vaccinating a Yeti gives you a computer virus and causes your computer to crash, you better teach your kid the skills required to tell bullshit from melted chocolate pudding.

Every day, the evidence is laid before us. Intelligent, reasonable people become quicker than Usain Bolt to believe any cockamamie bit of ‘information’ laid before them in print, on screen, or in broadcast. Why do people want to believe weird stuff? Why do people refuse to change their mind, when confronted with overwhelming repeatable evidence to the contrary?

Michael Shermer wrote a great book about it – Why People Believe Weird Things. The psychological issues that drive this are deep. Perhaps you want your kids to believe in an adult version of Santa Claus, i.e., an image of a guy with his lottery ticket and a caption which states if you SHARE with your friends, he may give you five percent of his winnings. Perhaps you want your adult children to miss the humor from the Pastafarians and their stance that a dearth of pirates has caused global warming. If not, you better teach your children that demonstrable and repeatable facts are what matter.

As I often said to my students, “Remarkable claims require remarkable proof.” I also favored Christopher Hitchens dictum “That which can be accepted without proof can just as easily be dismissed without proof.”

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

  1. The benefits of “Following one’s bliss”- Volumes have been written, and Successories built a retail empire, upon the idea that one needs to find one’s true calling in order to have true happiness in life and work. As far back as Confucious, it has been said, “Find what you love to do in life, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

And that is true.

Those who are absorbed in a field, who become rapt within their work, who find great satisfaction in their livelihood, they do not watch the clock in anxiety throughout the day as the minute hand inches forward. Rather, they look up at the clock as the day winds down, and wonder how the time flew past.

Yes, I have a turn both for observation and for deduction. The theories which I have expressed in that article, and which appear to you to be so chimerical are really extremely practical – so practical that I depend upon them for my bread and cheese … I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I’m a consulting detective, if you can understand what that is. When the Government detectives are at fault, they come to me, and I manage, through my knowledge of crime and deduction, to put them on the right scent. (A Study in Scarlet)

Sherlock Holmes discovered his métier, mastered his craft, invented a position, lived each working day to its fullest, and became a wealthy and supremely happy man.

Take your kids on a trip back to Victorian England- ride a train, hear the clippity-clop of horses, treat them to a world in which a telephone was a rarity, and the telegraph the equivalent of the internet. Share a world with them in which men can truly be friends. In the two instances in which Holmes used cocaine, and in the ways that the role of women has changed, latch onto those as teachable moments. Whether you choose to share your evenings in bed with your kids, Holmes, and Watson, or not … read to your kids.

And read some more.


The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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