Saturday, May 9, 2020

John Watson's own Cool World

It's fascinating, sometimes, what thoughts a confluence of events will put into your head. This week, two different podcasts collided in my head to create a headcanon theory that just makes perfect sense.

The first podcast was the ever-lively Final Podblem, which tackled the racism of the story "The Three Garridebs," as well as racism in general, this week.

The second was the movie-rewatch podcast How Did This Get Made, which went back to talk about the "not quite Roger Rabbit" bomb called Cool World.

The Final Podblem guys had read bits by Martin Dakin and others that argued for and against Conan Doyle being the true author of "The Three Gables." There have always been Conan Doyle fans who put him on a pedestal beyond mere human flaws, and even though I didn't remember reading any arguments that he didn't create the obnoxiously racist Steve Dixie, I could believe such thoughts were out there. And in any case, we all know Doyle didn't write "The Three Gables," or any of the Canon, except maybe the third person stories -- John H. Watson did. (And Sherlock Holmes, in two cases.)

Since the guys were talking about "Three Gables" as a rare exception, after listening, I brought to their attention the manuscript found in Doyle's closet for "Angels of Darkness," a play full of racist stereotypes that were apparently Conan Doyle attempting comedy. Unless it was really Watson's work, of course . . . bear with me on this.

Then I listened to a retrospective on the movie Cool World, the story of a man in prison who creates a comic book universe of stereotypes, then, when he leaves prison, gets sucked into that world he created, and has to deal with those stereotypes, including a male-wish-fulfillment-fantasy woman that his mind dreamed up. And that suddenly kicked me back to John H. Watson.

John H. Watson, we know, wrote A Study in Scarlet. John H. Watson is a character in the world of "Angels of Darkness," that version of the second half of A Study in Scarlet with cartoony characters, as well as a version of Lucy Ferrier that is in love with John Watson. Start to make sense yet?

If someone did want to contend that Conan Doyle didn't write the play he had stashed in his closet the whole time, and said person also contended that Conan Doyle was the agent for a real Dr. Watson, then who wrote Angels of Darkness during the darkest time of his own life?

Wounded and worn in both body and mind, John Watson was attempting to tell the story of Lucy Ferrier and Jefferson Hope, yet, with nothing else to do but lie around his hotel room and then 221B Baker Street recovering and staring at his room-mate, Watson found himself being drawn into that story. Watson fantasized a version of the latter part of A Study in Scarlet where Lucy Ferrier fell in love with him in a weird cartoony world where even Sherlock Holmes had a doppelganger based on the name of the street his former lodgings were on, "Sir Montague Brown."

Using a Cool World perspective, "Angels of Darkness" suddenly has a place in the lives of Watson and his agent Conan Doyle, as a weird place Watson's mind went to during a most troubled time. It might even make a better movie than Cool World itself, because, trust me, that thing sucked. (For fans of Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger, though, still watchable.)

That manuscript found in Doyle's things being exposed by the BSI press almost twenty years ago was definitely a hard pill to swallow when it came to one's view of Conan Doyle. Wrapping it with a candy coating of Watson in post-war delirium as headcanon helps smooth it out a little bit, but at the same time, we should never, ever forget the racism that has run so throroughly and deeply through our culture, even for good-intentioned folk like Conan Doyle, our grandparents, our parents, and ourselves. It's something we all have to be mindful of, no matter how non-serious a guise it might try to sneak in under.

And, as with Watson recovering from his war traumas, hope to get better one day.

1 comment:

  1. We do not have to agree with everything people said, believed, and did over a hundred years ago, but before we condemn those we would otherwise think of as good for being of their own time, we might consider what people might think of us in another hundred years. There is still mistreatment, of people and the planet, that our great-great-grandchild will look upon and shake their heads at and find unimaginable that we accepted such things.