Woke up to a great little bit of internet Sherlockiana, thanks to Vince Wright, one of the very very few Sherlockians left on my Facebook feed (what can I say, I kinda like Vince's non-Sherlockian side, which is the part of me that lives on Facebook). The article had the very fun title "Sherlock Holmes could kick your ass."
The article had me at the outset, of course, with the line "and that show they literally only made because they couldn't get the rights to Sherlock," but moves on to remind us that Sherlock Holmes was capable of some incredible physical feats when he set his mind to it.
And I don't just mean "set his mind to it" as in "figured out some clever way to out-maneuver a foe." No, I just mean, as the article's headline says, just kicking someone's ass.
Sure, Sherlock Holmes was and is a genius, as adept in his field as those dweebs from the sitcom Big Bang Theory. And he's generally thought of as a skinny guy. But Sherlock wasn't sitting in his dorm room playing D&D in college. "Bar fencing and boxing, I had few athletic tastes," he says about those years.
Bar fencing and boxing. Okay, maybe you can get away with the poke-poke of fencing and be a scrawny nerd -- lord knows, I did -- but boxing? Nobody lasts long as an active participant in boxing without some real toughness. And nobody especially lives a long, healthy life with a genius I.Q. without being very good at that sport and not taking too many shots to the head.
We often think of how Holmes "would have made an actor, and a rare one." But how often do we consider McMurdo's words from The Sign of the Four: "If instead o' standin' there so quiet you had just stepped up and given me that cross-hit of yours under the jaw, I'd ha' known you without a question. Ah, you're one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have aimed high, if you had joined the fancy."
This was a prize-fighter's view of Sherlock Holmes. And the view of a prize-fighter who had spent three rounds in the ring with Sherlock.
And even without the training that would have kept Holmes from having "wasted your gifts" as McMurdo says, he's still one tough customer. When a bully and thug known by the name of "Roaring Jack Woodley" goes after Holmes in a bar in "The Solitary Cyclist," Sherlock Holmes actually considers it a good time.
"He ended his string of abuse by a vicious back-hander which I failed to entirely avoid. The next few minutes were delicious. It was a straight left against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart."
Like all of the greatest action heroes, Sherlock Holmes doesn't flaunt his ability to bend fireplace pokers or punch out criminals. And Watson didn't write sixty stories of Holmes just beating the crap out of criminals like he's some comic book vigilante. (Yeah, Batman, I'm talking about you.) Sherlock just goes about doing his brilliant detective work while quietly holding a straight left and a cross-hit under the jaw in reserve, like his pistol, only to be used as needed.
Robert Downey Jr.'s movie Sherlock Holmes displays that from the outset, as director Guy Ritchie works in the palette of ass-kicking characters. Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock tends to hold his skills in reserve a lot more . . . the scene in "A Scandal in Belgravia" where he takes down some armed villains just seems to come out of nowhere. And Ian McKellen's Mr. Holmes is just too old to even know what his martial skill-set once was . . . which is why we're very glad from all of Sherlock Holmes's other skills.
Opening up a can of whup-ass on someone is a younger man's game, even though there are definitely exceptions to that rule. Sherlock Holmes, being portrayed usually as an older and wiser fellow over the last hundred years, hasn't had much chance to bring out his fighting side, which hasn't been crucial to his popularity. But now that we're seeing him as a man who was a great detective when he was young, as well as in his later years, we have the chance to see this side of him more often . . . like any hunter lying in wait, keeping those abilities quietly ready, but when that moment strikes?
So does Sherlock Holmes.