Watson: Dunderheaded Sidekick?

Photo by Thomas Debray

The Holmes/Watson dynamic…

As a writer, I often think of  Holmes and Watson together as a dual protagonist. Say Arthur Conan Doyle had created a more Watsonish Holmes detective, an amalgam of the two characters. We’d have far less fun, energetic stories with a far less intriguing but more completely human hero. Holmes’ genius insists on objective truth over personal expectation, historical precedent, comfort or sentiment. We meet his brother Mycroft, but he is otherwise a monolithically lone character, excepting the vague French ancestors. The “dull routines” of human existence are no match for the “exultation” Holmes “craves” in A Scandal in Bohemia. Empathetic, tolerant Watson hopes to please. He falls like a brick for the innocent, generous and deeply good Mary Morstan because he is so, himself. He calls Holmes “the best and wisest man,” but Sherlock plays with the good guy bounds for the sake of his work, usually as a trickster. As he admits, he could have been a successful criminal or actor. His many sly disguises are crucial to his strategies. Watson grieves, but he must continue to believe for years that Holmes is dashed to death at the Reichenbach Falls. In “The Dying Detective,” Holmes denies Watson’s medical competence to his face, for the sake of the case. A downright mean Holmes encourages Milverson’s housemaid to develop a crush on him, even going so far as asking her to marry him– in order to get into the villainous blackmailer’s home. Watson is no genius, but he fits into the places that Holmes doesn’t take up–and he fills them out beautifully.

Albert Einstein said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” Though Watson defaults to the stolidly traditional, he can be convinced to “stretch,” as he accompanies Holmes, whereas Holmes is less malleable. Only in music does something else seem to reach him, something bordering on the mystical. Together, Holmes and Watson are a truly dynamic duo, giving the stories something important, a more fully human heroic presence.

Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne Dutton, at Propertius Press*

The Game is not afoot. The Better-Every-Day world of 1895 is gone, even hard to recall, as WWI ends. Holmes fills out entry papers at a rundown psychiatric clinic on the Normandy coast. Now that the law declares his cocaine use illegal, he aims to quit entirely. Confronted by a question as to his “treatment goal,” he hesitates, aware that his real goal far exceeds the capacity of any clinic. Holmes’ scribbled response, never before encountered by his long-experienced doctor, soon churns interlocking mystery and desperate action into the lives of enemies and friends both.

* https://propertiuspress.wixsite.com/bookstore/online-store

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