There’s been a lot of talk about “toxic fandom” in recent years, following the often-abusive “Release the Snyder Cut” movement, Rick and Morty fans’ dangerous fixation on McDonald’s dipping sauce, and the legions of Star Wars obsessives who think that Disney turned the franchise into a woke hellscape where Luke Skywalker is a dick and two women can be seen blurrily smooching for roughly 0.5 seconds.

But before social media, the internet, or even the friggin’ paperclip existed, toxic fandom was still very much a thing, as evidenced by the readership of Sherlock Holmes. Famously, in the story “The Final Problem” (spoiler alert for a short story that’s old as hell), Holmes was killed off after author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became painfully tired of his own creation

Conan Doyle likely regretted having Holmes tumble off of a waterfall rather than, say, getting unambiguously disemboweled by a grizzly bear because fans immediately demanded that the writer bring Holmes back. They wore black armbands as if a real person had died, and The Strand Magazine, in which Holmes’ adventures were published, “lost 20,000 subscribers.”

Conan Doyle was essentially bullied into writing more Holmes stories; he was “verbally abused, and fans “denounced him as a brute and demanded that he resuscitate their hero.” He also received “death threats” from “outraged readers,” and there was even a report of a woman attacking Conan Doyle on the street with an umbrella. 

So really, our current technological landscape has just amplified something that’s always been present; when a work of fiction is overwhelmingly popular, a certain segment of fans will feel self-entitled and emboldened to be raging assholes if the stories they get don’t align with their expectations. And at least Sherlock Holmes died battling his arch-enemy and didn’t, say, burn Westeros to the ground

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Thumbnail: BBC 

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