Thursday, January 12, 2017

Whose last vow?

With the plotting of BBC's Sherlock revolving hard around a vow Sherlock Holmes makes, so important that it's even featured in the title "His Last Vow," it made me wonder if the Original Canon Sherlock Holmes ever made any sort of vows.

A quick word search with the ever-handy Mr. Moon's Moonfind revealed a lot of vows being made in those stories, of course . . . from vows of vengeance to criminal allegiances to the always-popular vows of love and fidelity. Vows are lovely, passionate things and perfect for a tale of drama. But would Sherlock Holmes, the man of cool analyses and objective observation, make such a statement?

The answer, to cut to the heart of it, is "no."

Sherlock Holmes, as he was first written, made no vows as such.

John H. Watson, however? Ah, here's the man to make a vow. To Mary, of course, right?

Well, no, as we never hear the particulars of his wedding to Miss Morstan, just the engagement, that moment of proposal and acceptance. No vows there.

No, the one vow we read of John Watson wanting to make is this:

"Again and again I had registered a vow that I should deliver my soul upon the subject; but there was that in the cool nonchalant air of my companion which made him the last man with whom one would care to take anything approaching a liberty."

Yes, John Watson's one vow is with a mind to protect Mr. Sherlock Holmes from himself.

It comes early, in the first paragraphs of The Sign of Four. Watson seems to be passionate enough about the subject to make that vow again and again, but is also intimidated by the man he shares rooms with, and doesn't follow through . . . at that time. We know Watson makes good on his vow at many a later date, as familiarity brings enough contempt to break through Holmes's "masterly manner," but at that time, Watson is just moved to keep making vows in silence.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes of BBC Sherlock, forever to be haunted by the "Norbury" pride which broke his vow, John H. Watson of the original Canon keeps his vow. Sherlock Holmes lives long enough and strong enough to involve himself in the first World War, thanks in part or in whole, to the efforts of his friend John.

And the kind of man Watson was? That guy probably didn't stop making vows with that first one. And you can bet he strove to be as successful in every other vow he made as well.

Probably why John didn't ever title any of his stories "His Last Vow." But then, BBC John isn't putting titles on those episodes . . . .

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