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Sherlock Holmes, the world’s most famous fictional crime solver, died on December 1, 1893.

That’s the date of the publication of “The Final Problem,” the last entry in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  Holmes expired dramatically, locked in arm-to-arm combat with his evil arch-enemy Dr. Moriarty. The two plunged into the frothy abyss of the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, never to be seen again. 

Or so it was assumed.    

As Professor James Krasner points out in Sherlock Homes: Beyond the Elementary, the British sleuth was actually murdered by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Doyle was tired of Holmes.  And he was deeply frustrated.  Yes, this single imaginary character had made him rich and famous.  But Doyle didn’t want to be typecast as a mystery writer, which he thought was an inferior art form.  He wanted to be renowned as a writer of serious historical fiction. 

So he wrote Holmes out of his life by sending him over the Reichenbach Falls.  He later told his mother, “I must save my mind for better things, even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him.”

Doyle thought he could get away with murder.  But millions of readers who adored Sherlock Holmes had other ideas.

The public went crazy.  The magazine that published Doyle’s fiction almost went bankrupt because readers canceled their subscriptions.  His mailbox filled up with hateful letters.

Krasner notes that Doyle is just one of a number of artists who have discovered that fans, once they become loyal to a character or a storyline, do not easily let go.  Star Wars devotees loved everything invented by George Lucas – until they experienced his three prequel movies, which most regarded as dreadful.  Game of Thrones held America in its grip until the final episode aired in May 2019, which landed with an epic thud. 

Loyal readers were furious that Conan Doyle had the audacity to kill off a character they adored.  Why would he do such a thing?

A.A. Milne had the same struggle.  While it was evident that everyone loved Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger, too), Milne felt stricken that no one would take him seriously as a writer of “grown-up” books.  Judy Blume (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing) and R. L. Stine with his horror books for kids had similar experiences.  Their reputations as children’s authors limited their popularity as writers of adult fiction.

Having succeeded as an action movie hero in Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson tried doing Hamlet.  Fans refused to take him seriously.  He returned to the Lethal Weapon franchise. 

Stephen King brilliantly illustrated these realities in his book Misery.  A novelist who is tired of his Victorian-era heroine, Misery Chastain, is injured in a car wreck in a remote area and rescued by his “number one fan.”  When she discovers that the author intends to kill off Misery in his next book – he wants to devote himself to more serious fiction – she keeps him imprisoned until he writes a new ending.  It’s not wise to disappoint one’s fanbase. 

In a 1986 skit on Saturday Night Live, guest host William Shatner shows up as Captain Kirk at a Star Trek convention.  These nerd-fests, which began in the 1970s, annually bring together fully costumed fans who are obsessed with the most minute details of the TV series’ imaginary world.

In the skit, Shatner loses his cool after fielding a series of trivial questions.  “Get a life, will you, people?” he blurts out.  “For crying out loud, it’s just a TV show!  You turned an enjoyable little job that I did as a lark for a few years into a colossal waste of time.”  When the convention organizer whispers to him that he’s about to forfeit his appearance money unless he plays along, Shatner declares that his outburst was “a recreation of the Evil Captain Kirk from Episode 37.” 

Nine years after murdering Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle – who also had lost patience with his fans – finally decided he had better play along.  Especially if he wanted the royalties to keep coming in.

He brought back the brilliant detective (who had somehow survived his plunge down the falls) in The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Having learned his lesson, Doyle kept adding to the Sherlock Holmes canon for another 25 years.

Sometimes human creators become weary of their creations.  It’s a good thing that never happens to the Creator of the cosmos. 

But anyone who has ever dived into the book of Genesis knows that after things run off the rails in the Garden of Eden, human history quickly devolves into a hot mess:

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.  So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’” (Genesis 6:5-8)

This is a startling moment.  Does God feel like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, intent on killing off his greatest creation?

Here we need to contrast the creation account in the Hebrew Scriptures with every other creation story in the ancient world.  Human beings are typically described as nobodies – or, more accurately, nothings.  According to the Sumerians, men and women were created as a slave race.  Our only job is to meet the needs of the gods.  In the Bible’s narrative, by contrast, human beings are made “in the image of God.”  Men and women have value, dignity, and purpose.  They are worth saving

And that’s exactly what God does. 

God saves Noah and his family from the Flood, then launches a whole new global redemption initiative through Abraham, a Semitic herdsman who is eligible for Social Security.  One day one of Abraham’s descendants will be the Messiah. 

As Scripture continues to unfold, it becomes clear that God is never going to write off the Human Project – even when we ourselves have our doubts.

“Zion said, ‘God has left me.  My Master has forgotten I even exist.’  [But the Lord answered] ‘Can a mother forget the infant at her breast, walk away from the baby she bore?  But even if mothers forget, I’d never forget you – never.  Look, I’ve written your names on the back of my hands’” (Isaiah 49:14-16).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to hang on to Sherlock Holmes because it made financial sense. 

God hangs on to us for a different reason.

An unquenchable love.