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Why is John Watson a Hedgehog? [2018] Meme Investigation!

Why is John Watson a Hedgehog?

Last week we discussed why Sherlock Holmes is depicted as an otter throughout the Sherlock fandom. Given the huge success of that meme, you may not be surprised that John Watson has also been given an animal doppelganger. In fact, he’s been given three – a kitten, a pug, and a hedgehog – but hedgehogs have won out by far. You’ll see hedgehog caricatures everywhere, tucked into the background of fanart, fanfiction and memes.

But, why hedgehogs? And what does the actor who plays John, Martin Freeman, think about it? Let’s start at the beginning, which really means going back to when Benedict Cumberbatch was first declared an otter.

What do otters have to do with anything?

On March 19, 2012, a tumblr blogger named Red Scharlach jumpstarted a meme by publishing a photo series of otters in some of Benedict Cumberbatch’s most iconic poses. We talked about where that went last week but we skipped over one big question: what happened to John? Well, you can probably guess – hedgehogs happened to John. John was depicted as a huge range of furry animals beside Otter!Sherlock, but none of his furry doppergangers got much traction compared to what happened on March 21st 2012, when reddit user tone_is_everything posted a photoset on r/Sherlock with various shots of hedgehogs side-by-side with Martin Freeman in similar poses.  It was a perfect match for the then famous photoset of “Otters that look like Benedict Cumberbatch”. The similarity of the hedgehogs’ expressions and the popularity of the two posts on reddit propelled this meme into the fandom mainstream – and “John Watson is a Hedgehog” was born.

So where are the hedgehogs now?

This meme has become absolutely ubiquitous in the fandom. It pops up in funny photosets on Tumblr,

John Watson (Martin Freeman) vs. Hedgehog by NatalieDoering.com

Martin freeman is a hedgehog (believed to be by Katrinat46)

Celebrity Twitter posts,

Tweet by the Graham Norton Show

and of course loads of adorable fan art! If you thought the otters alone were cute, just wait until you see this:

Artist Luna used etching and aquatint techniques to create this charming print of “The Hedgehog of Baker Street,” featuring a tiny hedgehog seated in John’s favorite chair in 221B.

Deviant Art user biolminescentbunny made this whimsical print that shows Otter!Sherlock and Hedgehog!John cuddling up while working on a case.

Where is John Watson Hedgehog found in fanfiction?

Fanfiction writers love this meme because it gives them a great opportunity to explore the idea of John and Sherlock adopting a pet in 221B. Author Lunabunni ran with this idea in the fic “If thou remembre’st (not the slightest folly)”, where Sherlock first adopts a hedgehog but before long has taken on an entire menagerie, much to John’s confusion:

John watched Sherlock pet the hedgehog for a few more moments before talking.

“Sherlock, this is…odd.”

“How so?” the detective shot back, focusing his attention on the animal in his hand.

“Well,” began John. “I would expect you to have brought a hedgehog home for the sole purpose of cutting it up into pieces to examine under a microscope. I would have never thought you could be this…this…” John struggled to find the right word. “Caring.”

     – If thou remembre’st (not the slightest folly) by Lunabunni

Another fanfic, “Sherlock and the Hedgehog” by TheWhovianSherlockian, imagines that five-year-old Sherlock adopts a hedgehog named John much to the annoyance of his older brother Mycroft:

“Sherlock!” yelled Mycroft, “What is this dirty animal that you have just allowed to leave mud prints all over my work?”

“I was trying to tell you, Mycroft. He’s my new pet. He is an Erinaceaus europeaus, a European hedgehog.”

     – Sherlock and the Hedgehog by TheWhovianSherlockian

Wouldn’t it be just like tiny Sherlock to know the genus and species of his new pet?

If you want to see more fanmade works for this meme, there are multiple websites dedicated solely to the Otter!Sherlock and Hedgehog!John memes, like Pictures of Hedgehogs Tagged as Martin Freeman, Otter-Batch, and Martin Freeman, he is a Hedgehog

The best part?

This meme doesn’t require a picture of Martin’s face or any imagery from the show to be understood. And that matters – because it means it’s not under copyright or trademark protections. And that means freedom, a lot of freedom – which generates a lot of art. Fan artists have reveled in this meme, creating t-shirts, sweatshirts, stickers, laptop skins, and more to celebrate our favorite woodland creatures/crime solvers.

– T-shirt



Laptop Skin

Does Martin Freeman know about Hedgehog!John?

Yes. In fact, according to Amanda Abbington, Freeman’s partner for over 15 years and Mary Morstan on Sherlock, the answer is actually “oh God, yes.” Check out this hilarious Twitter exchange below:

Amanda seemed to really get a kick out of this meme, bringing it up again with Twitter posts like this:

Martin Hedgehog

So can we assume from Amanda’s revelations that Martin might not have been totally thrilled with the hedgehog comparisons?

That’s not clear, but if we weren’t totally sure Martin Freeman knew about it before, we certainly are now; he had an interview with Graham Norton about our beloved hedgehog meme in December 2013.  We must say, in that interview anyway, Martin Freeman looked at least resigned, if not enthusiastic about his dopperganger.

However, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) was excited to find out about the Martin/hedgehog connection in a 2012 Popsugar interview, exclaiming “Is John a hedgehog? I haven’t seen the hedgehog. When did that happen? Is it due to Martin’s hair? Because if it is, I’ll be really happy about that”.

Was Hedgehog!John referenced on Sherlock BBC?

Maybe. Believe it or not, an important scene from the first episode of season 3, “The Empty Hearse,” could have been inspired by the hedgehog meme! In that episode, which first aired in January 2014 on BBC1, John is kidnapped and trapped in a bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night.

What does that have to do with hedgehogs?

Savvy fans pointed out that in the UK it is common for hibernating hedgehogs to curl up in piles of logs around that time of year, making them at risk for being accidentally caught in a bonfire. So could Martin’s hedgehog meme have inspired that heart-thumping scene in the highly-anticipated season 3 opener? It’s a stretch, to be sure, but we like to think so.

And why not? We’ll certainly take what we can get when it comes to hedgehogs that look like Martin Freeman. Regardless, the meme is surely here to stay.

Curious about the meme that started it all? Check out our post on

Why is Sherlock Holmes an Otter?

Or read John Watson’s Jam for more Martin Freeman memes!

Are you in the know when it comes to BBC Sherlock? Sign up to our mailing list to get more meme backgrounds and fandom in-joke explanations.

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ThinkingViolet has been an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes since she first read The Hound of the Baskervilles at age 7. She loves baking, kickboxing, and trivia nights with friends. ThinkingViolet is currently writing a Labyrinth fanfiction called "A Friend in Need.

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