You might have heard the story about the black crepe mourning bands worn by London fellows after the death of Sherlock Holmes in the pages of The Strand Magazine. It's not documented well enough for a few skeptics out there, but personally, I believe it has some roots in truth, even if it was only one guy, and the story grew as it was retold over the years. Sherlock Holmes fans existed in 1893, and some of them were certainly upset to see him go.
So, one can understand that someone somewhere surely had a reaction strong enough to pull out the black crepe mourning band for a day.
We now know, of course, that Conan Doyle was lucky.
Listening to an interview with comic book writer Dan Slott last night, telling of death threats and bodyguards immediately after a comic book came out where Peter Parker died and Dr. Octopus took over his body and life, I couldn't help but think of Conan Doyle. The Peter Parker death was in a comic book, with decades of history of superheroes dying and coming back as a prelude, so you'd think it wouldn't have been a thing. But it was. And Conan Doyle, with his ground-breaking serial detective, had no such foreshadowing. What was different in the 1890s?
No social media.
No immediate reactions shared with the world. No pundits trying to fill air-time by saying Doyle was imposing his beliefs in chaos by killing a champion of law and order. No legions of fellow fans who experienced that Reichenbach moment at exactly the same time as you -- since your home probably only had one copy, even family members could not fully sympathize until twenty minutes later after they had read it. Even the craziest of fans might have had time to cool down a bit.
And given that any death threats had to actually make it into an envelope, into a mailbox, and to Conan Doyle's hands, well, plenty of additional time to cool down there. By the time Doyle wrote his memoirs in Memories and Adventures, the worst he could recall was some lady addressing him as "You brute!" Maybe there were worse letters. The subscriptions drop that The Strand Magazine experienced definitely indicated some strong feelings on the matter. Perhaps the equivalent threats to those a writer like Dan Slott got in 2012 did happen, they just weren't spread beyond Doyle's dustbin.
I often wonder how Sir Arthur would fare in the world we find ourselves in today. He was an active, involved sort of man, and would definitely have raised some strong opinions far beyond those resulting from just killing Sherlock Holmes only to bring him back later. But it's probably better for us if we don't do a "Bill and Ted" and get him into a time machine to current times. (Should I have said a "Time after Time?" I fear that film is losing its currency among our younger peers. Bill and Ted at least got a recent sequel.) Someone of us would surely be unhappy with him.
At least he would have probably been pro-vaccine, being a doctor and all . . . though that has gotten at least one doctor some death threats in the last year. And would the FBI count orange pips as a credible threat, or just a fan thing?
Who knows? It's definitely been a long road from 1893 to 2021.