Submitted for your approval, you will find in this work an addendum on my article upon famous fictitious friendships.
Some of the more diligent of you might have noted a very distinctive and very infamous friendship suspiciously (though the more obtuse of you would say stupidly) withheld from my article; that of the very famous and renowned relationship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.
-“Watson! I have it! She was a gold digging whore the entire time!” “Egad Holmes!”
So let’s talk about the first dynamic duo, shall we?
Part of the reason why I didn’t include them comes from the fact that if you look only at the source material of the core work you are forced to delve into a realm of in-depth analysis and speculation that regretfully serves as a precursor to many of the internet logic arguments you see that get front page on Cracked. Eventually the whole practice degrades into pointless speculation.
I don’t exaggerate on this particular point either, the personality and character of John Watson was, in it’s heyday, like unto the arguments of “Man of Steel Woman of Kleenex”, “Merits of Apple Products”, and all those other hipster debates all rolled into one. I mean that! There are arguments about how many wives the man had. Keep in mind; this was before the internet where you had to get published in print to make your idiot ideas count. Now it’s considerably easier.
But then I hear you asking “Mike why would you just consider the source material anyway? Aren’t there countless adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories from which you can draw an analysis?” Yes but that’s a part of the problem too. In many adaptations of the duo John Watson is a famous problem in terms of how to make the narrator into a now an active participant in the adventure when he mostly exists as a sounding board for Sherlock.
Now many of you (I imagine) are already pointing at several modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmes including the BBC’s Sherlock, the Guy Ritchie films with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, the new CBS show Elementary, and of course House MD as evidence that there are plenty of instances where the relationship is done quite the just approach. Keep in mind that most of these are from the past decade. Prior to this there were as many comedic takes on John Watson as there were accurate ones (in addition to a few subversive ones where Watson is made the true detective of the pair). It’s only recently we’ve begun to see some consistency with the character.
Even Sherlock has seen his fair share of variance from the original withdrawn, angular, precise and bohemian qualities with which he is often described. Actors of great talent have interpreted the character as much a restrained gentleman and genius as they have an addict and eccentric.
So with that much variance between both characters how can we accurately assess what makes their relationship work?
Well, let’s nail down a few key characteristics that we can derive from source materials. First we know intrinsically that Holmes depends on his relationship with Watson in some capacity. It’s established in A Study in Scarlet that Holmes has difficulty finding roommates and Watson is shown as being the first person to last in his presence being fascinated by Holmes and his nature.
The other way we can interpret this fact comes from the majority of Holmes stories and the lack of reoccurring characters. Holmes is set as a person who lives in a type of isolation with his deep though and yet Watson is the only person who is allowed access. There’s even a rather famous description recorded by Watson when he is shot during an adventure and Holmes for a time believes him to be near death: “It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.” – The Adventure of the Three Garridebs.”
Why does Holmes care so much for Watson as a friend? That’s a matter that’s been up to personal interpretation. Some argue that Watson’s questions and insight are crucial to Holmes’s methodology, forcing him to focus on the task at hand and easily eliminate possibilities with Watson’s scrutiny. Others argue that simply Holmes trusts Watson’s good nature and morality and is, in fact, simply lonely without Watson having grown to hate the solitude in his friend’s absence.
Then there are Watson’s feelings about Holmes. It’s quite clear in all incarnations of the character (except in House MD) that Watson is a man of action for whom a life of a quiet civilian is boring even if societal norms force him to express otherwise. It sets up a unique duality in the relationship as Holmes is insistent on protecting Watson and yet Watson wants nothing more than to be in the thick of danger. This personality facet is added by his military background as it is common for writers to give soldiers and military men a sense of camaraderie being fixed on the idea of leaving no friend to fight alone.
Of course there are the very small references to each man helping the other with their addictions. There are several references in the tomes (if you can catch them) where Watson attempts to get Holmes away from his cocaine addiction while Holmes helps keep Watson from blowing his money on gambling. That to me though seems to say more about the characters themselves rather than their relationships with one another.
In examining the relationship between the two characters I’ve come to realize that more recently, the nature of their relationship has solidified into one two different personalities balanced by each other from where once it was simply a subservient one (on the part of Watson). In that dynamic we are blessed in that we see two characters who would, normally, be rather antagonistic to one another form a firm friendship of opposites allowing a diverse pair of opinions between two very capable adventurers. As I’ve said before; friendships in fiction are rare indeed and so much rarer to see those friendships that are hard to explain or at least understand at first. But as long as they remain in talented hands then we can surely be guaranteed an adventure around every corner.
–“John quick! The video store is closing!” “It’s a two dollar late fee Sherlock. I think you can manage.”
So too does this work exist.