If you’re a fan of House M.D. and Gregory House’s fantastic wit, intelligence and deductive, problem solving ability, you may wonder whether he takes anything from the classic literary detective Sherlock Holmes. Both are excellent problem-solvers, rational minds that are faced with mysteries deemed unsolvable by even the more experienced members of their chosen profession. The similarities between Dr. House and Mr. Holmes don’t end there, by any means.
House has a cushy job at Princeton Plainsboro, heading the “Department of Diagnostic Medicine,” a department formed solely to accommodate his own particular band of genius, and taking around one case a week. House is too intelligent to be put to work on the run-of-the-mill medicine, and is handed only the bizarre and intriguing cases, which would have often resulted in the patient’s death, were it not for the medic’s talents.
Holmes, in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, is a “consulting detective,” working, like House, on cases that are an absolute mystery to ordinary detectives. Both characters use narcotics, are portrayed as unemotional, form excellent deductions in moments of idleness, and deliver them with a sense of drama. The links between the two are abundant (House/Holmes and Wilson/Watson; the character of Sherlock Holmes was based on Joseph Bell, Doyle’s lecturer at medical school; House’s patient in the series’ pilot is named Adler, after Irene Adler from “A Scandal in Bohemia”), and the two characters teach us many valuable lessons about logic, rationality and deductive reasoning.
A particularly great moment from the House series which displays his deductive talents in a humorous (and Holmesian) fashion comes from series six, in an episode entitled “5 to 9.” The episode centres on House’s boss, Cuddy, who has to deal with her general day’s problems throughout the episode. In one memorable scene, an employee who Cuddy fired for stealing from the hospital reveals herself to be unemotional, cruel, and utterly sociopathic in a private interview with Cuddy. Later, she is stressed from her day, and finds herself sat next to House. She has the slightly scary meeting with the employee playing on her mind, and asks House what he thinks of her. He bluntly states “She’s a sociopath.” Cuddy is shocked, and asks how he knew. He responds, “I didn’t, but have you seen the way she opens the mail?”
To anyone familiar with either House or Holmes, this is likely to raise a smile. What the characters teach us is that the minutest details, properly reasoned from, can tell us intimate details about a person or situation. House is able to tell a sociopath from how she opens a letter, and Holmes is frequently able to tell what people have been up to from a quick look over their clothes. He utters a similarly mind-blowing deduction when he first meets Watson in A Study in Scarlet, “You’ve been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”
Just as Holmes brought deductive reasoning and rationality forward from Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin, House M.D. proudly takes the torch into the 21st century, giving the students of deduction and logic a modern hero that they can be proud of. The Holmes stories are timeless and classic, and House’s medical mysteries are destined to become the same. Logic never goes out of fashion.