The Game’s Afoot

Sherlock Holmes jumpstarts fandom, despite his creator’s wishes.

Cat Webling
Jan 16 · 2 min read
A picture of people walking along the street in front of the storefront for the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.
A picture of people walking along the street in front of the storefront for the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum is still a wildly popular location to visit in London today. What might Doyle think of his detective’s impact? Via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s some debate over what the first “official” fandom was in the modern sense of there being a community cropping up around a specific piece of media. Most people agree that the best place to start looking for the real original modern fandom is to look at the first pieces of widely published and consumed media, which were serial fiction pieces published in magazines rather than expensive-to-produce bound books. One of the first series in this format to blow up spectacularly, to the point of still being wildly popular to this day, are the original tales of Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle originally published his stories about the legendary detective that could tell you your life story from a single look in the Strand Magazine, a popular London literature periodical in the 1800s and early 1900s. In this popular format, these episodic adventures nearly always ended on a cliffhanger in order to interest readers in buying the next magazine so that they could read the next part of the story. None of the other stories in this format had as huge an impact on the public as Holmes’ exploits. Readers were rabid for the next installment.

Neil McCaw breaks down the interesting and ever-changing story of Holmes and his world, built up by the fans who adapted it.

Amusingly, Holmes was not a creation in which Doyle took a lot of pride. Sir Arthur actually detested the detective, stating on multiple occasions that his continued existence and popularity were a huge distraction from his more serious historical works. In fact, when Doyle decided to kill off his brilliant Brainiac in The Final Problem, which was released in December of 1893, there were public demonstrations in retaliation. People wore black bands of mourning and held mock funerals, even going so far as to create their own stories to continue Holmes’ legacy. Finally, giving in to the public demand (and the need to pay the bills), Doyle reluctantly brought back Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House.

Even after his return, Holmes’ fans continued to write their own versions of his and Watson’s adventures through Victorian London, calling these stories “pastiches” or “parodies.” They even met up in fan societies on occasion. One such society was the Baker Street Regulars, founded by Christopher Morley, who said of the Holmes canon that there were “endless minutiae to consider!”

Holmes’ fans have grown with the cultures that loved him. From his iconic hat and coat in the original films to the mega-popular BBC adaption from 2010, Sherlock Holmes has become a staple of fandom popularity, with some of the most devoted detectives scrounging for every detail of his stories. His outcast nature, blunt reactions, and long-suffering supporting cast have made him a hero to those who feel even a little like they understand what it’s like to be in his shoes.

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Cat Webling

Written by

Hello! I’m Cat, author and amateur fandom historian based out of Georgia. I write about literature, theater, gaming, and fandom. Personal work: catwebling.com.

FanFare

FanFare

pop culture conversations

Cat Webling

Written by

Hello! I’m Cat, author and amateur fandom historian based out of Georgia. I write about literature, theater, gaming, and fandom. Personal work: catwebling.com.

FanFare

FanFare

pop culture conversations

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