After ten years of blogging without a comment section, this past year of doing so with that added feature has really made me consider Dr. Watson's position in a new light.
We all have our perspectives on the good doctor. His level of intellect. His relationships. His feelings about Holmes. His weight and height. Every one of these characteristics could be charted from Sherlockian to Sherlockian, and I doubt we would find that many mental images of John H. Watson, M.D. that are exactly alike.
Devoted husband and father or childless polygamist? Limping bitter atheist or able runner of hopeful faith? Confused sidekick or contributing partner? Watson has been considered in so many different lights over the years that he is as much an everyman as we shall possibly ever meet. And why?
Because we haven't met him. Because John Watson isn't our Facebook friend, he isn't tweeting away from Baker Street, and he doesn't show up at our parties. Sixty stories and done, that's our John H. Watson.
Can you imagine how different the world of Sherlock Holmes fans would be if Watson was connected to the internet? If the minute "The Red-headed League" or some other story was published, his readers could tweet their immediate reactions to him?
"No, Mary's still alive," he would have to write. "She just had nothing to do with that case."
"Yes, Mary's still speaking to me. She didn't get jealous after the way I described Irene Adler last month and kick me out. I just overnighted on Baker Street because we got back late. I'd sent her a telegram earlier."
"I do not put veiled political comments about the Afghan campaign into Holmes's cases, and I'm sorry if you interpreted it so."
"I do not own a single pair of red underpants, thank you very much."
Of course, those are just some possibilities spun out of my particular view of Watson. He could be espousing liberal causes, railing against England's gun laws, or promoting spiritualism in his online presence -- we just don't know. If there was a solid, living, breathing single point of John H. Watson-ness out there to measure our thoughts against, life as a Sherlockian would be a completely different thing. We might not even like the guy.
If Watson decided to tweet something rudely against or ardently in favor of marriage equality just before publishing The Hound of the Baskervilles, he would probably lose a few readers on one side of the issue or the other. Thanks to the internet and twenty-four-hour news cycles, we're all still adapting to having viewpoints so different from our own constantly on our radar. Thirty years ago, you could get into a debate at a social event, sure. You could write into a publication and read someone's arguments against your point weeks or months later. But now, a connected life gives one a constant awareness that our personal views don't always line up with everyone else's, often strongly and immediately.
Unlike Watson, all of those people with such unbelievably strange opinions, are real people, who are out there, living lives we know nothing of, 24-7. Their paths have been quite different than our own, and have led them to very different destinations a lot of the time. And we don't get to decide who they are or tweak them to our tastes, as we do with our friend Watson.
Which is probably why we go to everyman Watson for relaxation, and are a little bit happy he's not out there tweeting away. And that is just fine. Occasionally, however, we have to get out there and deal with those nutty real people, and that is where the internet now challenges us to be better human beings than The Strand Magazine did with its readers. At least that's what's happening with me these days.
But I know how I'm dealing with it, for better or worse. It's Dr. Watson I wonder about.
And probably always will.