Who else went around killing their serial hero?
March 5, 2016 3:40 PM   Subscribe

In December, 1893, Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes at the hands of Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. From interviews at that time, Conan Doyle intended it to be a permanent death. Was this truly unprecedented?

I realize that it is not unusual for a hero to die at the end of a novel. But Sherlock Holmes was the star of two novels and 23 short stories at the time. Had any author before that killed off their main character that had survived through several stories? When was the next time it was done? I know of Hercule Poirot dying, but that was not until the 1970s and fifty years after he'd been invented. Were there other earlier or contemporary equivalents of the murder of Sherlock Holmes?
posted by dances_with_sneetches to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't think of any, but Holmes was an astonishingly popular serial and Doyle basically did it entirely out of personal desperation. I'm not sure where the "I had to kill Sherlock, for he would surely have killed me" quote comes from, but it's illustrative of what he was feeling.

It was somewhat unusual to have that kind of lead character just take over an author's entire life. Usually you could do a few (or few dozen) segments of one story and then something new.
posted by SMPA at 3:54 PM on March 5, 2016

Dorothy L Sayers intended to retire her detective Lord Peter Wimsey in 1931 by marrying him off instead of killing him. But the love interest just plain refused to fall into his arms. It took 6 years and 6 more books for the two to finally tie the knot.
posted by Caravantea at 5:00 PM on March 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: "I had to kill him or he would have killed me." Or a close approximation was a quote of his at the time. Along with it was self-defense, I killed my best friend and I never much liked him.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:16 PM on March 5, 2016

Best answer: In 1850, Alexandre Dumas killed off three of the four musketeers from The Three Musketeers in the last book in the series. Whether that was the third, fourth, or fifth book depends on the edition you choose... which highlights the fact that when dealing with an age when novels were typically serialized, I'm not sure one can really draw a sharp line between "a novel" and "several stories."
posted by Shmuel510 at 5:18 PM on March 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I knew about The Three Musketeers and thought about that as precedence, but I only remembered two books . Thanks.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:26 PM on March 5, 2016

Best answer: It's not exactly comparable, but prior to Doyle I'd say the only literary death that excited comparable interest and outcry was Little Nell in Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop (1840). It was a serialised novel; supposedly the arrival of the edition where he fate was revealed caused a near-riot in New York.
posted by Diablevert at 8:49 PM on March 5, 2016

For whatever it's worth, Cerebus the Aardvark died in the 300th and last issue of his B/W comic.

When Sim started the series he promised his readers that Cerebus would die in the 300th and last issue, "Alone and unmourned". So he didn't surprise anyone with that ending.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:57 PM on March 5, 2016

Best answer: Conan Doyle's brother in law, the crime writer E. W. Hornung, killed off his immensely popular criminal protagonist anti-hero A. J. Raffles in the Boer War. Raffles was in many ways a deliberate mirror image of Holmes and having him killed off in this way was a clear reference to Holmes's death at the Falls. It did for Hornung's career ultimately, though.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:15 AM on March 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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