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Sherlock Holmes and the Reichenbach Falls

Sherlockian Holmesian


Author: SherlockExtra - Translator: Revati

Let’s begin an interesting journey with the greatest detective of the world, the genius Sherlock Holmes, to the realm of life and death and to the realm of water. Everyone knows that the master sleuth’s name and Reichenbach Falls are inseparable, and many people visit the scenic tourist attraction. But the cascade has a much deeper meaning behind the spectacular natural phenomenon. Our life begins surrounded by water in the womb, and our thinking cannot be perfect without this amazing element….


One of the most fantastic authors of the world, the prominent Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy thought who loves life, loves God as well. Though some think Sherlock Holmes was an ateist, it is clearly seen in the Canon that he believed in God (Common misconceptions: Sherlock didn’t believe in God). Conan Doyle had been raised religiously, dr. Joseph Bell, who was an inspiration for the character, was religious as well, and Doyle’s close friend, legendary American actor William Gillette – who played a major part in „resurrecting” the character - also had faith in God. Aside from the people who had a positive effect on the creation and the development of Sherlock Holmes and based on Tolstoy’s wise saying it is obvious that the detective loved God. Just have a look at his life. When he has a case, when he has something to occupy his mind, he enjoys life. He never takes drugs to brush away boredom when he investigates. He knows very well that he needs his special abilities so he has to take care of himself. He trains his body (with fencing and baritsu), he drinks alcohol soberly and he smokes a pipe because of its stimulating effects (We have to note that his creator, Conan Doyle liked to smoke a pipe too, but in the Victorian era people were not yet aware of the harmful effects of smoking. More information on the topic at this link: The pipes of Sherlock Holmes). We already arrived at God’s two greatest gifts: life and brain.

As far back as ancient times settlements were formed close to lakes, rivers and seas. Life is impossible without water. Much of our body consists of it, and the majority of the Earth is covered by waters as well. We can live up to a month without food, but we can stay alive only for a couple of days without water. If we don’t drink enough, it may have negative effects such like paralytic muscles, lean skin, headache and hallucinations. Blood congeals, micturation stops and different illnesses may evolve. Optimal blood supply is important for our brain and cerebrospinal fluid is vital for it. So it is crucial to drink adequate amounts of water to remain healthy and to be able to think properly. Though Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character, his fans talk about him as if he was alive – it is a way of showing how much we respect him. He talks about himself as a brain in the Canon. When he speculates on a case, he spares no time for eating. But presumably he took care to drink enough to remain on the top mentally.

His profession gave Sherlock the greatest joy in his life, and we must not forget that there was a time when water meant work. In ancient times people walked long distances or travelled to wells, fountains and streams. Nowadays we take it granted that all we have to do to get water is to turn a tap, but accessible drinking water is the result of many people’s hard work. Formerly people knew that water is valuable and they have to economize it. They used rainwater as well. For a long time they were forced upon economizing because of the lack of the sewage system – the cleaning and handling of wastewater was not established yet. But this kind of saving was based on the wisdom of many thousand years – it was staidness. Or, if you want, it was true rationalism, what is the hallmark of Sherlock’s logic as well.

Our ancestors looked upon water as the result of hard work, as the gift of God, not as something one can waste. Water has a central role in every religion, and in many of them rivers are respected as holy places. There are celestial and earthly waters in the myths, and these are ruled by God or gods, who divide them at the beginning of creation. Many tribes have raindances. Enemies were often separated by rivers and seas, these were natural defense lines. In some legends holy people had the ability to create flowing waters, we all know epics about the great floods, and several magical healings are attributed to fountains. It was a common belief that the fountain of rejuvenation and eternal life exists somewhere, and that there is an endless sea at the ends of the earth. Our ancestors deeply respected such phenomena of nature. The rituals of baptism and the washing of the feet symbolize the washing away of all our sins. Water was valuable for the soul as well, and it wasn’t just a tool.

Exupéry The Little Prince water heart

Sensitive artists knew this in latter times too. In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella, The Little Prince the pilot cannot repair his plane’s engine for eight days, and he had almost run out of water. The little prince suggests to try to find a well in the desert, but the grown-up thinks this is nonsense, but they start off. They wander for hours, darkness falls and stars appear on the sky. Then the little prince says:”Water may also be good for the heart…” And he adds:”What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.” He becomes tired and drops off, so the pilot takes him in his arms. At daybreak he finds a well and pulls up some water. Then the little prince says:”I am thirsty for this water. Give me some of it to drink…” And the pilot writes:”And I understood what he had been looking for. I raised the bucket to his lips. He drank, his eyes closed. It was as sweet as some special festival treat. This water was indeed a different thing from ordinary nourishment. Its sweetness was born of the walk under the stars, the song of the pulley, the effort of my arms. It was good for the heart, like a present.”

Unfortunately modern-day people do not really think about how much work is needed to have easily accessible water, and to clean wastewater. It is extremely important to be environmentally conscious and use water keeping this in mind, but nowadays many people don’t value this true gift we have. Once it was the important task of women and girls to carry water from the wells, where they met each other and heard news. Water carrying taught one to be temperate. As American writer Karen Hawkins said:”When I was a little girl, I wanted to carry water from the fountain each and every morning to our little hut standing at the top of the mountain. While I was carrying the bucket, I learnt no matter how long the distance is, you can only make one step at a time.” So it taught patience, discipline and protection. Water was essential for many works around the house, so men could see that women play an important role as water carriers (Recommended article: Sherlock Holmes and women).

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

There are lots of things that we can thank for water. Everybody knows about its refreshing effect – we only have to wash our face when we are tired or sleepy or when we want to concentrate better. For example, during the cold war, when the situation was quite tense because of the rockets in Cuba, all his counsellors advised President John F. Kennedy to declare war on Russia, telling him this is the only possible solution. But, surprising everybody, the President apologized and retired for some time – to swim in the pool. When returning, he decided not to respond to the letter of Khrushchev. This way the situation did not worsen – thanks to the beneficial effects of water on Kennedy. According to political experts this was a strike of genius and helped a lot settle the situation.

Our ancestors respected water as a gift from the higher realms. They strongly believed the world God created to be holy. This can be experienced studying the life of Arthur Conan Doyle and the character of Sherlock Holmes. In ancient times it was a mystical thing that wells flush from the deep. Sherlock likes mysterious things, his profession is about riddles. Though he lives at Baker Street and spends much time in his flat, he spares a huge amount of time to studying his environment, he experiments with chemicals, and different liquids are very important for these (Link: Sherlock Holmes and chemistry). Who is surrounded by nature, that man’s awareness grows. The detective genius has extraordinary abilities, and these are supplemented with the love of life, curiosity, observation and deduction. Let’s continue our quest.


The first trauma during our life is our birth. The mother losts lots of blood and water, and both her and her baby has to be cleaned after it. The army doctor, John H. Watson has his first talk with Sherlock Holmes about blood - the latter makes an experiment with the tracing of haemoglobin when they meet for the first time, and excitedly reports his findings. So Sherlock’s first appearance is associated with blood. Later Watson gets to know his thoughts, his profession and his frame of mind by means of water, as the following long qoute shows from A Study in Scarlet:

„Then I picked up a magazine from the table and attempted to while away the time with it, while my companion munched silently at his toast. One of the articles had a pencil mark at the heading, and I naturally began to run my eye through it.
Its somewhat ambitious title was "The Book of Life," and it attempted to show how much an observant man might learn by an accurate and systematic examination of all that came in his way. It struck me as being a remarkable mixture of shrewdness and of absurdity. The reasoning was close and intense, but the deductions appeared to me to be far-fetched and exaggerated. The writer claimed by a momentary expression, a twitch of a muscle or a glance of an eye, to fathom a man's inmost thoughts. Deceit, according to him, was an impossibility in the case of one trained to observation and analysis. His conclusions were as infallible as so many propositions of Euclid. So startling would his results appear to the uninitiated that until they learned the processes by which he had arrived at them they might well consider him as a necromancer.
"From a drop of water," said the writer, "a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it. Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the enquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems. Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation, and teaches one where to look and what to look for. By a man's finger nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boot, by his trouser knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt cuffs—by each of these things a man's calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent enquirer in any case is almost inconceivable."
"What ineffable twaddle!" I cried, slapping the magazine down on the table, "I never read such rubbish in my life."
"What is it?" asked Sherlock Holmes.
"Why, this article," I said, pointing at it with my egg spoon as I sat down to my breakfast. "I see that you have read it since you have marked it. I don't deny that it is smartly written. It irritates me though. It is evidently the theory of some arm-chair lounger who evolves all these neat little paradoxes in the seclusion of his own study. It is not practical. I should like to see him clapped down in a third class carriage on the Underground, and asked to give the trades of all his fellow-travellers. I would lay a thousand to one against him."
"You would lose your money," Sherlock Holmes remarked calmly. "As for the article I wrote it myself."
"Yes, I have a turn both for observation and for deduction. The theories which I have expressed there, 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."
"And how?" I asked involuntarily.
"Well, 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.”


BBC Sherlock Holmes deduction water facts

There is a substance that can be chemically synthesized by burning rocket fuel, that is one of the primary ingredients of pesticides and herbicides and all serial killers admit to drink it – that substance is water. Water, what is vital, and all these things that are listed about it are facts. When someone alludes to facts, he/she may say a lie at the same time. It is a great trick of the smartest tricksters to tell facts but to withhold those that contradict their statements – so they say either a convincing lie or an ignominious half-truth. Sherlock Holmes is the fiend of facts, he always collects as many information as possible to make things clear, to make a clean breast of it – or as we say it in Hungary , to pour clean water to the glass. One secret of his success is that he is able to search for facts, to interpret and conjugate them and then to come to a rightful conclusion, because he sees the whole picture. Rumours and supposed evidence don’t deceive him, he takes the whole personality of others into consideration (For example, instead of all evidence he believes in the innocence of John Hector McFarlane, Alice Dunbar or James McCarthy in the Canon). By gathering information he enlarges his literacy and reduces the chance of making mistakes. So in the case of Sherlock Holmes water symbolizes clear reality and hard work, but deadly facts are hidden behind it as well.

We have to note that Sherlock’ brilliant deductive skill is the result of the fact that he occupies his mind only with quality thoughts. His opinion is that our brain is a „little empty attic” that we should fill solely with useful thoughts. This theory originates from A Study in Scarlet, and it is modelled relevantly with fluids in Elementary, where Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) demonstrates it to Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). Keep in mind another deadly fact: many people died because of false thoughts, and also many were honoured with Darwin Awards for them.

Elementary Sherlock Holmes brain attic theory

Sometimes life not only begins in water, butt also ends in it. Many people die by drowning, and washing the corpses is a holy ritual. Though Sherlock Holmes brought enormous fame and a considerable wealth to his creator, Conan Doyle became tired of him after a while and he felt that the character restrains his creativity, so he decided to kill him off. He had already been in Switzerland and he was struck by the dangerous beauty of Reichenbach Falls. He thought it would be the ideal scene for the death of Holmes. Beautiful and deadly at the same time. Reichenbach Falls is the fascinating gift of God that swallows the two masterminds. Water is the symbol of purity as well, and we have to bear in mind that though James Moriarty is the leader of the world’s largest criminal organization, he stands face-to-face with Holmes, which is a fair thing to do. The reason for that is that he respects what Sherlock had achieved. The detective asks his allowance to write a short note for Watson, this way he has some time to settle his thoughts before their final duel. The water of Reichenbach Falls has other functions as well: it washes off the charge of murder of Holmes, purifies James Moriarty from his dreadful sins, it symbolizes life and death, and the fans of the great detective can contemplate a little bit when visiting this tourist attraction. Water also symbolizes hope for those who are thirsty, or for those who want to settle down. The fact that no dead bodies were found in the Reichenbach Falls gave rise to the hope that Sherlock Holmes may once return (and some pastiches deal with the return of Moriarty as well). The sleuth has always been the symbol of hope. (You can read more about this topic in our article I believe in Sherlock Holmes). And today is a wrong day to die.

Sherlock Holmes and the Reichenbach Falls

Sherlockian Holmesian

Keywords: Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock Holmes, live, dies, waterfall, deduction, Switzerland, death, water, die,
Watson, analysis, consulting detective, deadly, dangerous, return, birth, character, Sherlock series, BBC Sherlock,
Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Jim Moriarty, fall, Jeremy Brett, Granada series, Final problem, Empty House, kill,
James Moriarty, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Canon, dr. Joseph Bell, brain, genius, jump, logic, dead bodies, facts, blood, hope,
Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, brain attic, a little empty attic, A Study in Scarlet, CBS Elementary tv series, theory, mind, knowledge

Sherlockian Holmesian


1. Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy: War and Peace
2. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince
3. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes stories
4. The episode „The gift of God – Waters in Hungarian tradition” from Hungarian documentary series „Legacy”
5. Pictures Facts about water – from the internet

Author: SherlockExtra - Translator: Revati
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