Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Watson, the gateway genius.

Perhaps we should quit considering Dr. John H. Watson as an ordinary man quite so much.

Yes, ever since Nigel Bruce got his hand stuck in a cookie jar, we've been arguing that Watson wasn't stupid. But in arguing that he wasn't stupid, it seems like we're just raising him up to the level of "normal." He is everyman, one of us, a regular guy . . . only he's not.

John H. Watson is both a doctor and a popular writer, a man with the abilities of a Michael Crichton or any number of other physician-authors -- not exactly "regular Joe" sorts. Left to his own devices, John Watson might have even been someone who wound up described by others as a genius. But, no, Dr. Watson was set up to live alongside Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes. So near the top of the genius ladder. The very top of his field. The guy that's so damn smart, many a pasticheur thinks he must be dysfunctional. And others have to dumb him down just to pair him up with a woman so there isn't a "dominant male" issue to put off female readers. Yes, Sherlock Holmes, an intellect that doesn't fit well into the lives of normal folk, and the lives of normal folk don't fit in well with him.

Which brings us back to Dr. Watson. Sherlock Holmes liked Dr. Watson. He found Watson pleasant company . . . which says something about Watson. Sure, Holmes also said, "Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it," but think about that for a second. To Sherlock Holmes, genius was something he saw partially in himself, and moreso in his brother Mycroft. Sherlock Holmes's standard of genius was a lot higher than that which the average I.Q. test sets the bar. Of course, Watson didn't seem like a genius to him!

But it doesn't mean that Watson wasn't a genius by anyone else's standard. 

And I would argue that it would take a lower-level genius to make an upper-level genius like Sherlock Holmes accessible to those who truly aren't "possessing genius." In literary form, in the sixty chronicles of Sherlock Holmes, it was easy for John Watson to keep the spotlight off of his own intellect. On television and film, many a writer and director feel a need to find roles for Watson to fill the void left by taking away his storyteller role . . . without seeing that the one Watson already has does the job quite nicely.

John H Watson was a genius who was best friend to an even more brilliant genius.

Our gateway genius.


  1. He describes himself as as smart as his next neighbour, though...but then, he tends to downplay himself constantly.

  2. Love this, Brad. It's absolutely true. And he was good with a pistol.

  3. Hmmm, don't know about genius level Watson, tbh. But SH didn't suffer fools and he liked having Watson around, so perhaps you're right.