Monday, May 27, 2013

The smartest guy in the room.

"The first rule of magic. Always be the smartest guy in the room."

Jesse Eisenberg is uttering that phrase every few minutes in movie theaters across the country this weekend as his movie Now You See Me nears. And while I'd love to discuss how cool that movie is looking in its previews, that line above is what brings the discussion back to Sherlock Holmes.

The magic of Sherlock Holmes has always been that he's the smartest guy in the room.

Readers didn't flock to the original sixty stories for the tale of a recovering war veteran adjusting to urban life. None of us look to Holmes for an example of working well with the official police force. And that drug addict nonsense is sheer tabloid exploitation of a few stray lines.

Sherlock Holmes is an ideal of what the human brain is capable of, given the proper study and application. He's the high bar we set to try to clear, the Mount Everest that's there to scale. He's the spirit of the free-roaming intellect, ranging from field to field and never locking into a single point of view.

Sure, a top expert in a particular field will always display greater savvy in their chosen arena. But the smartest guy in the room? Always Sherlock Holmes.

A puffed up non-fan will often turn up to try to belittle the ideal, try to qualify him, or focus on a single perceived flaw and try to crack it open to discredit that title, but if he wasn't the smartest guy in the room, he just wouldn't be Sherlock Holmes.

And what would be the point of that?

One of the fascinating things about the male side of Sherlockian culture (where I live -- I won't speak for the ladies), is that a goodly share of us are attracted to the Sherlock Holmes stories because we can relate to feeling like the smartest guy in the room on occasion. Whether we're right or whether we're wrong makes no difference, we can always find some evidence for our case. (Heck, every time I write this blog I'm the smartest guy in the room! Why? Because I'm the only one in the room! Explains some of the attitude, doesn't it?) The mix of intelligence, ego, and testosterone can become a less than charming mix sometimes as we get invested in our opinions and try to defend them with all the fervor of an attorney trying to save an innocent from the electric chair. But that's not why bright boys come to Sherlock Holmes fandom. They come because it's refreshing to see Holmes be so right that no one can argue with him, the lucky bastard.

Sherlock Holmes will always be smarter than any of us. We're only human. One reason for Holmes's place as master of detection is his great ability to take a different point of view as much as he needed to get to the heart of an issue, and to put himself in another man's place where necessary. And he can do that kind of thing more easily than the rest of us because he is an ideal, a legend, an avatar of intellect. And the true smartest guy in the room.

The first rule of magic? Let him be that guy.

Magic will follow.


  1. Have you read 'Master-Mind, how to think like Sherlock Holmes' by Maria Konnikova? Explains well why Holmes is Holmes and Watson is Watson - also how we can improve our brains (maybe not to the point of being Holmeslike) but to be less of a Watson. Good reading, but too much work for me to actually try to improve myself!

  2. Ha!

    1. "Superfans"? Well, that's certainly a new way to marginalize those who don't like the show. (And given the variety of ad hominum arguments we've seen so far in that direction, coming up with a new one is an accomplishment.)

  3. Surrounded by idiots everywhere: