Home > Books, Comedy, Storytelling, Weekend Feature > How Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried (and failed) to kill Sherlock Holmes

How Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried (and failed) to kill Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

You don’t need me to tell you who this guy is. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for giving us Sherlock Holmes, a detective whose only fictional equal in over a hundred years has been a billionaire with a bat fetish.

Batman and Sherlock Holmes

This looks like a great buddy comedy.

Sherlock Holmes made his debut in 1887 in the novel A Study in Scarlet and earned Conan Doyle a flat 25 pounds and no royalties for his effort. The story was a mild success, so Conan Doyle did one more novel before starting into short stories for The Strand magazine, which catapulted Holmes to a level of fame his creator would come to resent.

The thing was, Conan Doyle saw himself as a historical novelist, and he didn’t want to be in the detective fiction game forever. For him it was a constant struggle between his creative passion and his pocketbook. So when he wanted to give up Holmes for good, he didn’t make it easy on himself.

After a few years writing Holmes stories for The Strand, Conan Doyle tried to scare them off by demanding a whopping (for the time) 50 pounds per short story. He didn’t count on The Strand accepting, which of course they did, signing him up for six more. As he neared the end of that run he told his mom that Holmes “takes my mind from better things” and decided he was done with him. When his contract was up he tried to sabotage his next deal, this time demanding a thousand pounds for twelve stories.

The Strand accepted.


“God damn it.”

Conan Doyle couldn’t resist the payday, but after this one he really wanted to cash out. He also knew he wouldn’t be able to just walk away from Holmes. He had to kill him.

He called his twelfth story “The Final Problem” and created Professor Moriarty as the perfect foil for Sherlock. Ironically, this is Moriarty’s only appearance in the Sherlock Holmes stories, yet he becomes as immortal as the detective himself in later years.

Conan Doyle spends most of the story telling the reader that this will be it, that Sherlock has lived a long full life, and that absolutely everything will be resolved at the end of the case. The story ends with Holmes and Moriarty fighting over a waterfall and they fall off fighting each other all the way down. Maybe you saw this in the 2011 film A Game of Shadows, where Robert Downey Jr. survives thanks to a ridiculous steampunk oxygen tank given to him by his chubby older brother. Conan Doyle wasn’t trying to leave the door open for sequels. He was doing the opposite. This was it. Sherlock Holmes was dead.

Sherlock Holmes death with Professor Moriarty Reichenbach Falls

“Puzzle your way out of this one, asshole.”

Fan reaction was immediate. Subscriptions to The Strand dropped like a detective off a cliff, and fans clamored for Holmes’s return. Think of the reaction old people would have if Law and Order was cancelled, and you get the idea. Conan Doyle tried to move on with his other writings, but he soon learned the lesson every washed up eighties rock band learns: no one wants your new crap, and when you run out of money, the only choice you have is to go back on tour and sell T-shirts.

Guns 'n Roses

“You don’t like our new artistic direction?”

Five years after killing Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle was hurting for cash and he went back to the well with The Hound of the Baskervilles, a story set before Holmes’s death. Two years later, in 1903, he gave in entirely. Because there’d been no body in the swirling whirlpool below the waterfalls, it wasn’t that tough to pull the old fake death excuse, and with that, Sherlock Holmes was back.

This time, Conan Doyle surrendered himself to it and went all-in. He went on to produce a total of four novels and 56 short stories over the course of his career. He tried to retire Holmes in his last story, but that didn’t stick either.

Holmes has long outlived Conan Doyle and is now in the public domain, where anybody can do what they want with him. They’ve put him in books, video games, movies, TV series and comics. He’s been rebooted countless times. Hell, right now he’s got Lucy Liu for a sidekick. People do whatever they want with him. But no matter how ridiculous his stories get, he can’t be killed. You can go write a Holmes story now, if you really want to stick it to Sir Arthur.

Robert Downey Jr. Holmes

The gay fan fiction really writes itself.

  1. October 13, 2012 at 5:01 am

    Reblogged this on nhicksbunao.

  2. katepstollery
    October 13, 2012 at 5:03 am

    Avid Sherlock fan. Great post 🙂

  1. September 30, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: