Thursday, June 20, 2013

That good *old* Watson.

Once upon a time, when I was young, I compared Sherlockians to Watsons. This was back in a day when Nigel Bruce was still a prime imagine of Watson, so there were those, I'm afraid, who took it as an insult, thanks to that wonderful character actor.

But Nigel Bruce, as much as we like to criticize his goofiness, was still a very loveable Dr. Watson. And he is a prime example of one other trend in Watsons that has been ringing true to me of late.

While the younger Holmes and Watson buddies rule the day in modern incarnations, one of the non-Canonical trends one can't help but see over the last century is the Watson who is an older gentleman. You never see a Watson who is younger than Holmes, and if one of the pair is going to have gray hair, it's going to be Watson. Sure, Holmes may be old enough to look wise in many an incarnation, but Watson? It's not just that war wound that has him sporting a cane.

There's a certain sense to an older Watson, if you think about it. A sense that one can appreciate more deeply with time. We all grow older eventually, and no matter how smart we might have been at one time, eventually, anyone who is not deluding themselves has to give ground to the generations coming along behind us. Sure, they've got stupid members, just as our generation did and does. But there are also those bright lights among them that anyone with eyes to see has to admire. A little quicker than we now are, a little more perceptive, with minds as active as we thought our minds still were . . . and might still be, on a good day.

The older, admiring Watson is not something Hollywood made up just to make Sherlock Holmes look good by putting a dummy next to him. It's also a display of a relationship that crosses generational lines, one where the veteran can appreciate the new methods of the upstart. And the younger fellow still finds the elder worthwhile to have around.

Eventually we might all find ourselves in such a situation . . . if we're lucky. "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself," Sherlock Holmes once said in The Valley of Fear. (I'd also add that narcissism knows nothing higher than itself, either.) "But talent instantly recognizes genius."

And even old Nigel Bruce Watson had that sort of talent. We should all be so lucky one day.


  1. Brad, did you miss the last "Great SH Debate" because you didn't comment on it as far as I remember?

    I only discovered it today and was... but I won't tell what I was cause I'd only end up being rude (again?).

    1. I looked into it late on the weekend it happened and they only had the Downey Jr. slide set up. Haven't had time to get back, which is probably for the best. Summer is a good time for letting certain folks have plenty of rope.

  2. "You never seen a Holmes who is younger than Watson..." Did you mean a Watson who is younger than Holmes?

    1. Yup! Thanks for pointing it out. (Rough week!) Fixed now.

    2. I wondered about that, too. But Russian Watson was younger than Russian Holmes (old series), I believe.

  3. Ian Hunter (32) as Watson to Arthur Wontner's Holmes (57) in SIGN (1932), or as I like to call it, "Sherlock 'n' Son."

  4. As I recall, Nigel Bruce was two years younger than Basil Rathbone. As characters in the Rathbone series, I don't know that their relative ages were ever mentioned.

    I have great affection for Bruce. I have in the past compared him as Watson to Louis Armstrong. No one can legitimately claim that Armstrong was a great singer, but he never fails to bring a smile to your face. The same, for me, is true of Nigel Bruce.

    I do like that all three of the current media manifestations of Homes & Watson have them as pairs of the same age. "Sherlock" works very well as a pair of same-age characters. "Elementary" would not work as well if either Sherlock or Joan were older. But to your point, I liked the older and cranky James Mason as Watson.

    And there are indeed, plenty of young Sherlockian geniuses around these days. You're right, we would be lucky to be older Watsons for them.