Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Old man Watson.

Things may have changed a little bit in the latest generation of Holmes/Watson pairings, but if you look back through the past century, you'll notice an ongoing theme: John H. Watson as an old man.

Sure, Sherlock Holmes isn't all that young himself. TV and movies of the past seems to be all aged white guys. But Watson, good old Watson, always seems a little older. (And in one or two notable cases, practically suffering from dementia.) And there's a certain sense to that, when you think about it.

Part of John H. Watson's role is to stand next to Sherlock Holmes and admire his genius and energy.

Put two early-twenties males side-by-side and you're going to get a testosterone battle, even between friends. They're chemically charged for competition. For one friend to just accept that the other is a superior specimen is not that easy a go.

Put Holmes at 30 and Watson at 50, and the balance quickly changes. Their primal natures aren't subconsciously competing to impress the female of the species any more, and the elder of the pair can actually look at the younger with a pride at what the younger accomplished. There is a naturalness to having an older Watson that makes his job easier. Just look at the amount of conflict between Downey and Law playing younger, more vital Holmes and Watson. It isn't just because Holmes is so "eccentric." It's in part because they are peers, seeing each other with an eye that says "why can't you be more like me?"

One might argue that the Watson who meets Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet was not an old man, but remember such lines as this: "My health forbade me from venturing out unless the weather was exceptionally genial." John H. Watson may have not been old in years, but he war wound and subsequent illness, to say nothing of battle experience itself, had aged him much in spirit.

Is it a mere coincidence that many a classic Sherlockian of old seemed to blossom more fully in Holmes fandom at a later age? At a time when it might be more natural to admire the energy of a younger Sherlock Holmes with the pride of an older kinsman who recognizes something of himself in the next generation? The love of a younger Watson didn't really start to play into Sherlockian fandom nearly so heavily until the massive female Sherlockian spike that came with BBC Sherlock. The feminine view of an ideal Watson is quite a different thing than that of the male. Of course, he's younger!

Yet our heritage of old man Watsons lives on in our past, if maybe not so much in our futures. But he'll be back, as we head into a day when Watsons, like Sherlocks, come in all genders, ages, shapes, and sizes.

"The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up," as a very wise man once said.


  1. I wish you a very happy new year, dear Brad! *slightly OT*

    1. Thanks, Silke! And a very happy new year to you, as well!