Sunday, March 19, 2017

Let's talk about the Watsons.

It's time we had a little honest talk about the Watsons.

What follows may come as a shock to the membership of the John H. Watson Society, whose numbers might descend upon me with righteous furor after this, but it has to be discussed. A simple fact that affects Watsonians, Elementary haters, monogamous Watson defenders . . . really, the entire Sherlockian world, when you come right down to it. And that fact is this:

John H. Watson, M. D., was only involved in three of the sixty known records of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

The seminal A Study in Scarlet. The potentially spurious "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge." And the classic "The Problem of Thor Bridge." How the John H. Watson Society will be able to go on, knowing their entire enterprise is based upon only those three records, I do not know.

But those are the only three stories where John H. Watson is specifically mentioned.

"Don't be silly!" you might protest. "John Watson is mentioned all over the Canon!"

"Nope," I would reply, standing fast. "'Watson' is mentioned. 'Dr. Watson' is mentioned. But 'John,' in reference to Sherlock Holmes's friend Watson? That's it."

So if you consider the preponderance of evidence, fifty-six stories to four . . . Elementary's Joan Watson is practically as Canonical as that guy in BBC Sherlock who goes by "John."

You might notice I said "four" in that last bit instead of "three," because there is that notorious case where Watson has a completely different first name: "James" in "The Man with the Twisted Lip."

So we have a James Watson. We have a John Watson. We have thirty three cases in which Watson is specifically noted as being a doctor. And then we have a whole lot of records where the guy hanging out with Sherlock Holmes is just a "Watson."

She could have been Joan. He could have been the elder brother whom we only know by his initial, H. They could have had a lot of other first names. They could have included a married Watson visiting Baker Street one month, and an unmarried Watson living there the next. They could have included the Watson wounded in the shoulder, and the Watson wounded in the leg.

One could even drift into that dangerous territory of thinking that Sherlock Holmes just called whoever his latest companion was "Watson," in memory of the original John H. Watson who died early on. In that case, even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have been a Watson . . . not a literary agent after all, just the Watson who wrote up the cases from the notes of Holmes and the other Watsons.

But all this is merely conjecture at this point, left to the researchers who diligently follow the path of the great scholar Backnecke from the early 1900s when he theorized about a proto-Watson and a deutero-Watson. How many Watsons might one find in that one thick volume called The Complete Sherlock Holmes? Only those willing to dig deep will be able to tell us.

As a mere blogger, resigned to scraping the surface of things Sherlockian, I doubt I will be one of those brave Jacques Cousteaus in the ocean of Sherlockian scholarship. But I wish them well, and hope they are greeted as the heroes they truly are when their work is done.

Because this "Watson" thing . . . when you realize facts like that he was called "James" out loud more often than he was "John," well, who knows what other accepted truths about Sherlock's best pal might also be in doubt?