Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Loners versus lovers

There is no one right way to love Sherlock Holmes. But, if one looks hard at the reasons we love Sherlock Holmes, there are definitely perspectives that yield better results than others.

Sherlock Holmes is a magnet for brilliant loners and those who would like to identify as same. Here is a man who has no friends when we first meet him, is so accomplished in his field that the regular fellows don't even get him, and seems to be right all the time when those around him are foolish to question his brilliance. Who wouldn't want to be that guy? And if one has any cause to feel like they might be kinda smart and also socially awkward, here is one's poster child.

It's a classic route to come to Sherlockiana, for geniuses, narcissists, and those who'd like a little more genius or a little more narcissism in their lives. Or maybe that was just me. When I first came to Sherlockiana, I didn't see the value of John H. Watson at all. Sherlock Holmes was the man. Watson was Nigel Bruce, the guy who just followed the Great One around and helped make him look all the better by comparison, his first disciple and hype man. And I was not the only one.

When Rex Stout read his paper "Watson Was A Woman" before the Baker Street Irregulars about ninety years ago, it wasn't meant to sing Watson's praises with that comparison. It was meant as a joke, and the boys' club famously threw him out into the snow for saying such a thing of the good doctor. But think about that for a minute, and what that comparison fully implied: That John H. Watson was someone who cared, really cared, for Sherlock Holmes. Because Watson certainly couldn't be gay in the 1940s for those old boys, now, could he?

The last great wave of Sherlocks, whether you're talking Sherlock, Elementary, Miss Sherlock, or even Holmes and Watson, have leaned harder into the relationship between Holmes and Watson, not just featuring the great genius as Rathbone and company did, but featuring the one person who finds it in themselves to care about this great weirdo, and eventually gets him to care back. Instead of tales of individual achievement, the Canon of Holmes and Watson is seen as the power of partnership, of the strength of two distinctly different entities coming together to be better than either could be alone.

The Holmes and Watson story has always been a light of the love between two people, as could be seen in Christopher Morley's title Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship in 1944. He didn't seem to want to use the word "love" full on it that title, but love is what real friendship actually is, and even Morley had to admit there was no greater friendship than that of Sherlock and John. That that love was really the important part.

And when we, as Sherlockians, look at what we can take away from the Canon of Holmes and Watson, the example of Sherlock Holmes as a smarter-than-everyone-else loner who makes fun of the guys down at the Yard just trying to do their jobs probably isn't the healthiest takeaway, and one that it's good that some of us might be growing out of. For those who came to Sherlockiana for the love between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to start with, good on you -- you saw the best part right off the bat.

"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last." Even Sherlock Holmes was aware that life is a continual learning experience. And I really think it was John Watson who helped him come to that conclusion, just as he helps some of us longtime Sherlockians finally figure that out as well -- that Watson's acceptance of others can be so much more important than Sherlock's rising above them.

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