Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Killing Sherlock Holmes

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 28•17

Imagine if JK Rowling hated Harry Potter. Hated him so much that she killed– ok, bad example.

But there is one author out there who killed off the protagonist of his best-known work because he actively hated the character. That author is Arthur Conan Doyle.

Doyle’s extended family came from wealth, though thanks to his own father’s alcoholism, his immediate family was impoverished. Thanks to his uncles, he was able to attend boarding school and eventually college.

He took a break from studying to be a doctor in order to work as a ship’s surgeon, first on a whaler in the Arctic, then on a steamer to West-Africa.

His adventures brought him as close to death as Sherlock Holmes would have come during one of his adventures. During the Arctic job Doyle fell into icy water and nearly froze to death. His trip to West Africa involved close calls with malaria, sharks, crocodiles and a shipboard fire.

Later, as he struggled to make ends meet establishing his practice, Doyle turned to writing. First accounts of his trips, then novels. During this time he wrote A Study in Scarlett.

In writing A Study In Scarlett, Doyle was dipping his pen into a new kind of genre: the detective story.

Just a short time earlier, Edgar Allan Poe penned a story called The Murders In The Rue Morgue. The protagonist was a detective with unique talents far beyond those of ordinary men.

In writing A Study in Scarlett, Doyle’s Holmes acknowledges Poe’s stories. Yet Doyle also based Holmes on a real person, a doctor who he had served as an assistant to: Dr. Joseph Bell.

Like Holmes, Dr. Bell could make deductions based on a person’s mannerisms, speech patterns and other tiny clues. To a generation raised on CSI, this kind of thing seems elementary. But to the Victorians reading the Holmes stories, the notion was sensational.

Sensing that he had something in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle switched to shorter works that he could write quickly and sell easily to the magazine market. Because in those days, one could actually make money writing short stories. (Did unicorns exist back then too?)

Then an awful thing happened. (Hand wringing, clutching the pearls, swooning on the fainting couch.) The stories became popular. Holmes captured the public imagination and held it.

Doyle, who wanted to be known for writing serious historical accounts, instead felt pressured to crank out Holmes story after Holmes story. Plus he had to devote mental energy to plotting each mystery so that it would satisfy the reader with it’s complexity.

And while Sherlock Holmes was popular, Doyle didn’t receive the respect he wanted. His name wasn’t emblazoned alongside the names of literary giants. He was a writer of popular fiction, and disregarded as such.

So he killed off his greatest creation. Pushed him over a waterfall. And good riddance.

Except it didn’t end there. Fan backlash like that wouldn’t be seen again until Bella chose Edward over Jacob. . . Or so I heard.

Men wore armbands in mourning. A woman attacked Doyle with a handbag. But eventually money won out. Doyle brought Holmes back in 1902. By 1927 when Doyle published his last Holmes story, he’d written 4 novels and 56 short stories about Holmes and his ever-present sidekick Watson.

Doyle’s adventures continued outside the scope of his detective stories. He served as an army doctor in the 1899 Boer War and wrote a best-selling history of the conflict. He was knighted, not for his Holmes stories, but for his service in the war.

Twice he ran (unsuccessfully) for parliament. He pushed for reform for divorce law, led the move for an English Channel tunnel, and (ironically) got involved in the spiritualism movement (which I touched on in my podcast about the Fox sisters).

Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, but Sherlock Holmes has taken on a life of his own. Since his inception, the famous detective has appeared in additional stories, movies, tv, plays and even a ballet. As of this writing there is a BBC series and one on CBS, both set in contemporary times. There was also recently a medical drama in which a doctor is loosely based on Holmes, as well as two movies.

In writing Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle created an enduring character who appeals to every generation. Too bad his creator hated him.

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