Now Reading: ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ the First Modern Fandom, Holds the Secret to Lasting Success


‘Sherlock Holmes,’ the First Modern Fandom, Holds the Secret to Lasting Success

December 21, 20188 min read

Have you ever been so immersed in a book that you find yourself thinking or wishing that it was real? Do you ever get so engrossed that you start imagining characters in real life situations or wishing they were your friends? Have you ever waited and waited for the sequel of a book to come out or prayed that the movie adaptation does it justice?

If you have, then you are probably part of a fandom for a book, book series or character. Fandoms can get pretty crazy these days. I mean there are some really incredible fanfiction and fanart. There are fan accounts on all kinds of different social media platforms, there are podcasts made, friends made through this shared love, and huge events like Comic Con. But, how did this beautiful, but sometimes insane, love for something that isn’t even real begin? Well, the modern fandoms we know today began with Sherlock Holmes.

It all started with the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They became very popular very quickly. People loved Holmes for his genius, wittiness and eccentricities. They loved Watson for being such a good foil, which is a character who brings out another’s good and bad traits, to Sherlock. Watson, in particular, brings out Holmes’ complete unreasonableness at times but also shows how he is a hero. Watson’s uptightness clashes with Holmes’ weirdness perfectly. Additionally, there’s Moriarty, the perfect villain and another fan favorite.

Many people at that time became huge fans, devouring the books. Believe me, I’ll back up that statement in a moment, but believe me, the people loved the books and especially the characters. They were hungry for more, more, more!  And then, Conan Doyle killed off Holmes. 

Fans were completely outraged. I said I’d give you proof of the large readership the Sherlock Holmes series had so here it comes. The Holmes stories were published in a publication called The Strand. When Conan Doyle killed off Holmes, according to records, 20,000 people unsubscribed! That’s a huge number! That’s how many people were subscribed to the magazine presumably to read the Holmes stories. That’s not even counting the people who didn’t have enough money to subscribe to the magazine and heard the stories from secondary sources. Now, back to how angry they were. They sent in vile letters. Some sources claim people wore black on the streets. The people mourned. It seemed insane to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This had never been known to happen before. Sounds like a day on Tumblr to us though.

It kind of reminds me of how I felt when Dumbledore died from the Harry Potter series, or when Matthias died in Six of Crows. I was mad and upset! How could the author do this to me?

Sherlock and Watson from the TV series Sherlock.
Sherlock and Watson from the TV series Sherlock.

The fans weren’t going to stand for it. They decided to write their own fanfiction. According to Scott Brown from Wired, fans started writing fanfiction for the Holmes series as early as 1897! That’s a huge deal! Fanfiction is an integral part of our fandoms today. A piece by Stacy M. Lantagne reports that Holmes fans actually created the term well known in fandoms called “canon.” Canon is defined as the authentic works of a writer. This is because the paper “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” was published in 1911. It imagined that Holmes and Watson were real people and Conan Doyle was simply acting as their literary agent. This fueled much more fanfiction and creativity. When it became hard to keep the original information sorted from the new, the fans started referring to Conan Doyle’s work as “canon.” We still use the term today in modern fandoms. These are just two glaring ways that Sherlock Holmes shaped modern fanfiction. 

The Strand: the magazine Sherlock Holmes was first published in.
The Strand: the magazine Sherlock Holmes was first published in. 

Another important fact about Sherlock Holmes is that it’s still a very popular franchise. There have been two movies made and a third one is coming out in 2020. They star Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. Their interpretations were extremely popular and gave the Sherlock fandom even more to love. Of course, Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Holmes in the TV series, which is also very popular. It’s popular because of the fans, and the fans keep coming back for more.

Perhaps this is why I truly believe that some of the greatest franchises start with some books. I say this for a very simple reason. Books can explore characters, places, and ideas more than any other too, and they give people the time and amount of information needed to truly fall in love with those characters. It’s what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Tolkien, Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Ian Fleming and so many more did, boasting highly successful franchies built off of the books they wrote.  

Sherlock Holmes, the movie.
Sherlock Holmes, the movie.

Conan Doyle wrote enough source material about some unique characters in some unique situations to give people enough to go off of. He not only created the books that created the modern fandom as we know it but also discovered, purposefully or not, the secret to a lasting franchise. So sure, Holmes may have died, but not really. The name is still famous, and it will remain famous for much more time.

So, next time you feel like you’re going to burst with emotion at a book, or a character, and you think to yourself, “Calm down, it’s not even real!” – don’t. Because people have been feeling like this for a long, long time. It’s not just you. Enjoy it. And when you get on Tumblr, or Instagram, or Twitter, and find people that feel the same as you, who are as infatuated as you, thank Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.

Featured Image via: Geek Insider

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Alexi Jones

I’m a 14, soon to be 15 year old girl. I love sports, reading, movies and tv shows, and writing. Some fun facts about me: I love everything pop culture, I have a twin sister, and I’m very accident prone!