Sherlock Holmes Banned from Reading Lists for Being Anti-Mormon

Virginia school board declares 'A Study in Scarlet' to be derogatory

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories have appealed to generations -- but on Thursday the Albemarle County School Board in Virgina voted to remove the detective's A Study in Scarlet from sixth-grade reading lists, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reports, because it is, as the board reported, age-inappropriate. But as the Los Angeles Times notes, "The two gory murders weren't the problem. The trouble was the way the book portrays Mormonism."

The case against Sherlock Holmes began with the parent of a Henley Middle School student challenging the book in May on grounds that it was derogatory toward Mormons. The parent, Brette Stevenson, said, "A Study in Scarlet has been used to introduce students to the mystery genre and into the character of Sherlock Holmes. This is our young students’ first inaccurate introduction to an American religion.” Ultimately the school board agreed and it was deemed inappropriate for the age group, but it will be available for older students.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, the mystery revolves around a corpse found at a derelict house in England with the word "RACHE" scrawled in blood on the wall beside the body. In the second part of the story, it flashes back to 1847 Utah, where a man named John Ferrier and a little girl named Lucy, near death from dehydration, are discovered by a large party of Mormons, led by Brigham Young, who rescue them on the condition that they adopt the Mormon faith. USA Today tries to pick out some of the controversial passages:

(John Ferrier) had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible. He had to seal his mouth on the subject, however, for to express an unorthodox opinion was a dangerous matter in those days in the Land of the Saints.

It's attracted controversy before. According to a 1994 Salt Lake Tribune article, when Doyle visited Utah in 1923, he was asked (via letter) about his depiction of the Latter Day Saints' organization as being "steeped in the assassination of apostates, and that polygamy was white slavery" and so forth:

Sir Arthur responded that in the future he would write of the Latter-day Saints as he found them on his visit. But, he insisted, "all I said about the Danite Band and the murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that tho[sic] it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history. It's best to let the matter rest." That and his praise of the pioneers was as close as he would come to a public apology.

Not everyone was happy about the removal of the book from sixth grade reading lists. Apparently "more than 20 former Henley students turned out to oppose the book’s removal from the lists."

Rising Western Albemarle High School ninth-grader Quinn Legallo-Malone spoke during public comment to oppose removal of the book. He called the work “the best book I have read so far... I was capable of reading it in sixth grade. I think it was a good challenge. I’m upset that they’re removing it.”

The parent who led the censorship challenge, on the other hand, was pleased. “I think the process worked,” she said to the Daily Progress. We wonder what Holmes would have made of this.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.