“Oh SHERLOCK, SHERLOCK, he’s in town again,
That prince of perspicacity, that monument of brain.
It seems he wasn’t hurt at all
By tumbling down the waterfall.”
So went the ditty that P.G. Wodehouse published in 1903, upon Holmes’s miraculous resurrection from his deadly descent down the Reichenbach Falls. This return from the dead was a momentous event indeed, and well worth Wodehouse’s commemoration: when Arthur Conan Doyle had killed off his famous detective almost ten years earlier, in “The Final Problem,” the news was, to put it mildly, not well received. The Strand—for many years, Holmes’s home—was inundated with letters from jilted readers. Conan Doyle found himself the target of angry mail and vitriolic attacks. It’s even said that City of London clerks wore black armbands to mourn the detective’s passing.
Still, Holmes’s creator stood firm. Holmes was gone for good. “Killed Holmes,” he wrote simply in his diary the December that “The Final Problem” appeared in the Strand Magazine. And Holmes would not be back.
But in the end, despite all his reservations, Conan Doyle succumbed. The pressure was just too great. And so, Sherlock Holmes was born anew. It may not have been the most graceful of returns—as Wodehouse wrote, “The explanation may be thin”—but you know what? Nobody much cared. Just as long as their hero was once again alive, any explanation, however vague on detail, would do. (“But bless you! We don’t care a pin, / If he’ll just give us back our SHERLOCK,” continues Wodehouse’s poem.)
Arthur Conan Doyle had learned a valuable lesson: you cannot kill Sherlock Holmes. It simply isn’t done.
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