Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And the reply is . . . ?

The second morning after Christmas is nigh upon us, the time which Dr. Watson called upon Sherlock Holmes with the intent of wishing him the compliments of the season. Just like that. No quotation marks around "compliments of the season," no indication that Watson was intending to use just those words. And yet Sherlock Holmes fans have been using "Compliments of the Season" as their chosen holiday greeting since "The Blue Carbuncle" was originally published.

Had Fox News instituted its silly "War on Christmas" agenda in 1892, Conan Doyle would surely have been pilloried for not having Watson specifically wish Holmes a hearty, "Merry Christmas!" Or not. We really don't know exactly what compliments Watson intended to wish Sherlock Holmes for the season. Happy Hannukah, Happy Christmas, Happy Solstice, Happy Boxing Day, Happy New Year's . . . so many to choose from. And yet, with all the research, all the time and care that Sherlockians have put into ferreting out details of Holmes and Watson's lives, we've allowed the vague, generality of "compliments of the season" to stand, decade after decade. And why not?

How many other fandoms have their own private all-purpose Christmas greeting, though? It's the sonic screwdriver of holiday wishes! A wonderful thing, really.

But it struck me this year that we have Watson's intentions, as unspecifically worded as they may be, we don't even come close to knowing Sherlock Holmes's reply. Especially as Watson never got to wish Holmes those compliments. But I think the answer is there, if we look closely enough.

With Watson, we have the intention but not the words. With Holmes, we have the opposite: the words but not the intentions.

"You are engaged, perhaps I interrupt you," Watson winds up saying, instead of his compliments.

"Not at all," replies Holmes. "I am glad to have a friend with whom to discuss my results."

Yes, Holmes is busy with a little intellectual puzzle. But his first reaction to Watson's interruption?

To invite Watson to join him.

And that isn't just Holmes being full of Christmas spirit for a few winter days. That spirit is the spirit of friendship that Sherlock Holmes always showed John H. Watson. Despite what this or that poor reading of Holmes and Watson comes through second-hand adaptations on occasion, Sherlock Holmes always treated Watson as a friend, the way men do at their best. And that is a spirit for the whole year 'round.

So if you're getting wished the compliments of the season, you can meet Watson with Watson, and wish some compliments right back. But there's also a Sherlock Holmes option to remember as well, a reply to compliments of the season as Sherlock himself would do . . . an invitation to come on in and join the adventure.

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