'Game of Thrones': Like Sherlock Holmes, will its fans love it to death?

Glamorous characters and monstrous villains. Drama and intrigue presented in regularly occurring episodes. Every installment avidly dissected. Fan outrage over missteps. I know: You're thinking "Game of Thrones."

But for me this synopsis brings to mind the original Sherlock Holmes saga -- and the downside of a bestseller in any era, Victorian or today.

In her column, "Bring Me My Dragons!," this week, the New York Times' Maureen Dowd described her instant conversion to passionate fan of “Thrones.” (I'd insert a catty remark here, except I'm hooked on the "Borgen" saga.) Anyway, Dowd also gave us a glimpse into the dark side: the creator whose works get "loved to death."

George R.R. Martin, on whose books "Game of Thrones" is based, can't keep his fans satisfied. As Dowd wrote: "A 2011 New Yorker profile described the nutty passion of Martin's fans, how they mercilessly mock him on Web forums for not writing faster, and how they keep track of every word.... 'My fans point them out to me,' he told the magazine. 'I have a horse that changes sex between books. He was a mare in one book and a stallion in the next, or something like that.' He added, 'People are analyzing every goddamn line in these books, and if I make a mistake, they’re going to nail me on it.' "

Mr. Martin, does the name Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ring any bells?

"Thrones" fans crashed HBO's streaming service the other night, but equally obsessed fans of a certain literary detective almost killed a magazine 100 years ago.

Sometimes the creation is bigger than the creator.

Back in the (late Victorian) day, a physician and author tossed off some detective stories for quick cash while dreaming of doing “serious” writing.

The Sherlock Holmes adventures penned by Conan Doyle were hugely popular; London crowds lined up to get the next installment in the monthly magazine the Strand (the "streaming" of the time). But after 20-plus stories, Conan Doyle was sick of his creation and decided to kill off Holmes. As he said: "I must save my mind for better things, even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him."

The publication in 1893 of "The Final Problem" probably foreshadows what's to come as the end of "Game of Thrones" looms in a couple of years: Outraged readers wore black armbands mourning the loss of their favorite detective; the author was verbally abused ("You brute!") and tens of thousands canceled their subscriptions to the Strand.

The magazine staff later referred to that precarious time as “the dreadful event.”

In the end, Conan Doyle couldn't say no (though it took years) before he capitulated to public demand -- and a pretty penny -- and resurrected Holmes.

But on another "Thrones"-like note, loyal (obsessive?) fans pointed out discrepancies in the sometimes hastily written stories -- Was Watson wounded in the leg or the arm? When exactly did Mrs. Watson die? -- and began decades of their own interpretations, character lists and theories (early blogging?).

So, you see, Mr. Martin, your complaint isn't new.

You own the creation, absolutely. But in sharing your bestsellers with us -- and capturing our imaginations so entirely -- you've also made us part-owners, whose devotion may outlast you. As, say, for me, the teen who jotted down clues to try to solve the puzzle before Sherlock did (not much luck), or my husband, who does a hilariously dramatic reading of the Holmes stories every holiday.

My advice to Martin? Decide whether that horse is a mare or a stallion. And remember that even Conan Doyle left himself some wiggle room.

He sent his protagonist (and nemesis) over those spectacular Reichenbach Falls in 1893: “a personal contest between the two men ended, as it could hardly fail to end in such a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other’s arms.” (Note: No mention of finding Holmes: "Any attempt at recovering the bodies was absolutely hopeless.")

Conan Doyle left that escape hatch, and indeed, Holmes has lived on for all of us, for a century-plus.


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Sara Lessley is a freelance journalist and editing coach in Los Angeles.

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