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Modern Mythology: includes myth of Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Lone Ranger and many others

Updated on June 23, 2015


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Bigger than life

When a literary or popular character from books, movies, television or comic books outshines its creator it becomes something of an icon and, I think, part of our mythology.

What stands out the most to me is the literary character that becomes bigger than life and who is better remembered than its author or creator.

Sherlock Holmes stands out as a prime example. Unless you are a student of literature, you probably do not think of Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Holmes, when you see Sherlock homes in a movie, television, and comics. And Holmes was modeled after Doyle’s mentor Dr. Bell. Even more interesting is that Holmes, the fictional character of the19th century foreshadows the popular fictional shows such as CSI, NCIS and other shows based on forensics. Holmes insistence on precise scientific study of evidence was the forensic expert of that time. Furthermore, in real life Dr. Bell was a direct pioneer in real life forensic science. As an icon and a myth Holmes has been portrayed in just about all media that I can think of. Modern writers are still creating books about Holmes and the other characters in the Doyle stories. His image is constantly used to portray the concept of a detective. This is the character that the author tried to kill off, but the readers insisted on more stories.

How many people think of Edgar Rice Burroughs when they see Tarzan? Many people probably don’t even know that the “man of the Jungle” was first seen in a book. The image is persistent. Like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan has entered our mythology. He has gone through a number of reincarnations. Different actors and different interpretations have kept this iconic figure “alive.”

Tarzan came up as part of our classroom lecture in college. I believe it was a psychology course but I don’t really remember, but the point raised was interesting. Roughly speaking, in the original Tarzan story an upper class English family was shipwrecked. They died leaving a baby behind. The child was found by some apes that raised the child. Tarzan learned from the apes and lived as one of them, but felt something missing in his life. He returned to the site of the shipwreck and found books and papers and taught himself to read from them. A far cry from the Johnny Weissmullerthat I saw and thought was Tarzan as a child. In the book Tarzan goes to England and claims his inheritance. In 1984 this was reflected in the movie “Greystoke, Legend of Tarzan.”

Our class interpretation was that the story illustrated the social science concept of nature vs. nurture or nature vs. environment.. One may not agree with the premise of the story but it does indicate that the author had a serious intent, which has been lost. But the character has overshadowed the creator.

Many comic book characters fall into this description. Who really cares who created Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman? They are reincarnations of old myths and gods from the Romans and Greeks, but they have become a modern mythology as well. Other media icons I think have entered the culture and part of our folklore or mythology. James Dean has become a symbol for at least one generation and has been a role model for other culture heroes such as Elvis Presley who deliberately copied his publicity style i.e., the rebel.

The Lone Ranger, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock have somewhat transcended the fictional role into icons that dominate over the actors. Leonard Niamey, who played Spock, was concerned about this when he wrote a book titled “I am not Spock.”

I am sure much could be added and I invite readers to contribute comments and observations. I would like to hear them.


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks KoffeeKlatch Gals. I guess I like Holmes in the abstract as I don't really watch very many of the shows. I do love when characters become grater than their authors though.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I am a lover of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. I've watched over the years as Holmes has been portrayed by many different men. To me the first Holmes would be the closest to the original. They now have a new show coming on this fall about Holmes and Watson. I guess when literature is good they keep bringing it back to life from time to time.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for your comment. You seem to have knowledge of this subject and your input is appreciated.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 8 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Very nice Hub, Dahoglund. I'm a big reader of Doyle's Holmes Cannon but Holmes has been reimagined in so many variations that he's become more of a concept than a written-in-stone character. The new Downey version promises to be the biggest departure from the classic Doyle Holmes yet.

      Similarly, ERB's Tarzan has rarely, if even, been subject to an adaptation that does justice to his literary origins. Some people may say "Greystoke" was an accurate adaptation but really it only covered the first third of the book and the final chapter of the book, cutting out the interesting middle sections.

      Dracula, Robin Hood, King Arthur, James Bond and other house-hold names have become so iconic that they've been infinitely revised for successive generations.

      Comic book characters are, in many ways, the mythological Gods of our time. They have superhuman powers and preform incredible deeds.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Peggy W

      Thank you for your comment. I ddo believe Conan Doyle was bothered by Sherlocke Holmes becoming so much in demand that he tried to kill him off but had to bring him back to satisfy the readers. I guess it is a bit like actors becoming typecast.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      As you say, the characters take on a life of their own and morph into other incarnations at times. I would think that the authors would be pleased when they become iconic figures which all started due to their imaginations. Interesting hub.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Mythbuster:I haven't seen it but there is a movie "Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle"the Dark beginnings or Sherlock Holmes"

      There is more than one book on the subject but I noticed this one on Amazon: "The patients eyes:The dark beginnings of Sherlock Holmes" by David Pirie

      any search for Dr Joseph Bell should yield results.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 8 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      This is a great hub - an excellent reminder to read more critically in order to get under surface actions and 'the obvious' in literature.

      After reading this hub, dahoglund, I'm prompted to dig up some information about Doyle's mentor, Dr. Bell. Are there any good links you know of and can offer on this mentor?

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I'm glad you liked it. I have a couple of partially wriiten novels but I'm having trouble bringing them to a conclusion.

    • Tracey Dockree profile image

      Tracey Dockree 8 years ago

      As a reader I am most enamoured by a character that feeds my imagination, and that imagination is what I hope will feed my fictional characters when I write. And yet the characters that become mythical are the ones about whom little is known - they are enigmas; playthings of the mind because they do things differently and don't conform, somehow noble and honourable but elusive.

      I love this article. I hope to write a novel and you've given me a few things to think about I hadn't considered before.