Looking back at anything from the future, where timelines compact, there is no waiting between specific events, and we all know how things came out, it's always hard to imagine how it was for the folks who had to live through those events at the time. One of my personal experiences of that was that one really depressing season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was a nightmare to deal with one-episode-per-week, yet binge-watchers plow through relatively unscathed. "You weren't there, you don't know the misery we went through!" I tell them, but they can't begin to know. Such fan experiences are very personal.
As I perused another round of "this TV series didn't end how it should have" complaints on a more recent finale, my mind drifted back to that series innovator, Arthur Conan Doyle, and his fans.
Whether it's Star Wars or BBC Sherlock, the creators and the fans come to some pretty stark disagreements upon character arcs, but none can nearly be so bad as what Doyle pulled in 1893.
"Enjoying Sherlock Holmes every month? Had a great two year run, you've been enjoying, right?"
"Yes! It's great!"
"Too bad. He's dead. Series over."
Had there been an internet in 1893, Conan Doyle would have taken such heat that come 1901, even his mama probably couldn't have talked him into bringing back Sherlock Holmes.
Seen through the lens of hazy history, Conan Doyle is the kindly old grandpa-looking guy with that walrus moustache with "Steel true, blade straight" on his tombstone. (Why it was so important we know he was straight, I'm not sure. Also . . . kidding! Don't "@" me!) But if you were a Sherlock Holmes fan in 1893?
Not enough swear words to toss at the man.
The by-line distance of published stories and no over-familiarity with a creator as the internet gives us now, Sherlock Holmes fans of 1893 might not have had an image of Conan Doyle strong enough in their minds to poke verbal voodoo pins into. And monthly short stories might not have developed the tight bonds that a binged series does in the modern day. Victorians were mostly just concerned with surviving and working their long-day jobs, with no expectation that a good thing might last -- life was hard in 1893.
A hundred and thirty-five miners got blown up in Yorkshire. Lizzie Borden was worried about her trial. Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii was getting overthrown by U.S. Marines. Thomas Edison was building a movie studio. Grover Cleveland had mouth cancer. And if you thought Ford's Theater treated Abraham Lincoln badly, talk to the ghosts of twenty-two war department clerks that the theater caved in on and killed.
We may have been through a tough year in old 2020, but not so tough that we still don't have the time and energy to gripe about what creators are doing to our favorite characters. Conan Doyle didn't know how lucky he had it. Nor do we, really, with our sixty story Canon all neatly wrapped in a bow with no surprises left at this point.
And I think we're all okay with that, as much as we'd love a new tale.