21 December 2011


Does the fact that I wrote a three page paper on the relationship between Watson and Holmes make me a geek? Oh well, it is in honor of the most recent Sherlock Holmes movie that I present the following to you, my readers.

At a first glance, it can be hard to figure out why Sherlock Holmes and John (affectionately known as James) Watson are such an inseparable pair. A heartless intellectual who has no patience with the slow mental processes of his fellow humans and who lacks completely in interpersonal skills except when he chooses to use them seems to have little in common with an amiable doctor who knows his profession but seems to enjoy laziness, appreciates a good-looking woman, is rather susceptible to getting his feelings hurt, and perhaps has slight weaknesses where gambling and drink are concerned.
Yet these two very different figures are hardly separable from one another. Whenever Watson finds himself unmarried, he is often eager to quickly move back to his home in Baker Street, and Holmes is glad to have him back. Even when Watson is married, he visits Holmes at his rooms and spends long hours off gallivanting with Holmes, without much apparent thought to his wife, who is often conveniently away on a visit.
On a superficial level, one could infer that Holmes wants Watson around because Watson’s honest admiration of the great detective’s skills is comforting to Holmes’s vanity. Watson often expresses amazement and wonder at Holmes’s intellectual feats, such as making many accurate deductions about the character of a guest based on the guest’s appearance. But this hardly explains such a hardy relationship. As we have already seen, Holmes and Watson are of very different tastes and temperaments. Watson disapproves of Holmes’s drug use, and confronts him about it in The Sign of Four. Holmes annoys Watson with his extreme messiness and fits of laziness which prevent him from cleaning up the apartment except on rare occasions. In “The Musgrave Ritual,” Watson implores Holmes to do some cleaning up but Holmes distracts Watson from the messy state of the apartment by telling him a story of one of his earliest successfully solved mysteries. Holmes often speaks very sharply to Watson, condemning his lack of ability to analyze and deduct useful information. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes encourages Watson to use his methods to make deductions about the owner of a stick that was left at their apartment, and afterward Holmes proceeds to show that nearly all of Watson’s deductions were wrong.
Yet there is an enduring friendship between these two very different characters, and perhaps it is their very differences which make them such a formidable team. Both Holmes and Watson have their own unique abilities which they bring to the partnership. Holmes, with his brilliant intelligence, offers excitement and drama to the otherwise quiet life that Watson may have led when he returned to England. Watson, on the other hand, offers Holmes a willing, obedient, and reliable comrade in any of Holmes’s adventures, legal or not. Watson also, in some cases, such as "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb," brings an interesting case to the attention of Holmes.
Having this trustworthy accomplice is invaluable to Holmes during the solving of countless cases, whether he sends Watson on errands that he cannot accomplish himself or asks him to bring his revolver along on a dangerous mission. Holmes himself says of Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles that “There is no man who is better worth having at your side when you are in a tight place." This is proved true when Watson saves Holmes's life as well as his own in "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" by his quick reaction to Holmes's ill-advised experiment. Watson, or rather his revolver, come in specifically useful in “The Problem of Thor Bridge” for helping Holmes to verify the manner in which the crime was committed. On that occasion, Watson apparently stood by Holmes and watched him manhandle his gun, allowing it to be drowned in the marsh without saying a word about it.
But Watson isn’t always so unruffled by his friend’s strange behavior. At times he is quite offended when Holmes insults his intelligence. And he admits that he “suffered” under Holmes’s habit of not explaining his actions or revealing his plans until the very last minute (The Hound of the Baskervilles). And Watson justly feels “hurt” when Holmes refuses to give him any encouraging congratulations on his engagement to Mary Morstan (The Sign of Four). Holmes does not seem to treat Watson with the greatest care, or even common politeness. He even allows Watson to believe he is dead or dying on more than one occasion. One could assume that Watson put up with all of Holmes’s queer treatment because he admired the intelligence of the man or because he enjoyed the excitement offered by helping Holmes solve his mysteries. But there is evidence of a deeper connection between these two men.
In spite of his low estimation of Watson’s analytical skills, Holmes tells Charles Augustus Milverton that “Dr. Watson is my friend and partner”. In "The Five Orange Pips," Holmes claims that Watson is his only friend. I deduce from that statement that he didn't consider any of the Scotland Yard detectives that he worked with as friends, not even Lestrade, who occasionally came over for a chat and a drink. This is certainly expected, seeing that Holmes had few good words to say about those detectives. Watson often refers to Holmes as his “friend” throughout the stories, but he seems to take a more humble view of the relationship, when, in The Hound of the Baskervilles he speaks of Holmes as his “Master”.
I believe that the most touching scene regarding Holmes and Watson’s relationship comes in “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs.” In this story, Watson is shot by the criminal, and Holmes immediately knocks the criminal out, then attends to Watson, saying “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”
                Watson comments: “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.”
After finding out that Watson’s wound is merely superficial, Holmes turns on the criminal and says, “If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive.”
Now, perhaps this scene is just a little melodramatic, but I like melodrama! And so does Holmes. The scene does show that Holmes has affection for Watson and has a high value on his life.
We know that Watson has a high regard for Holmes from “The Final Problem” where he eulogizes Holmes as “The best and wisest man whom I have ever known.” Also, in "The Case of the Dying Detective," Watson is so concerned for his friend's welfare that he goes so far as to break societal convention and barges in on Culverton Smith when it is apparent that the butler will not allow him in, because he believes that only Culverton Smith can save Sherlock Holmes's life. When Watson first hears that Holmes is attacked for getting involved in “The Case of the Illustrious Client,” he is ready to “thrash” those who harmed his friend.
This close friendship benefits both Holmes and Watson, as Watson gets the excitement of sharing in Holmes's adventures, and he also gets to exercise his pen, in telling us all about the peculiar character and habits of his friend. Holmes does need an accomplice on many of his missions, and the willing Watson fills that role most admirably. We must also admit, that without Watson, we should have never known of Holmes and his adventures, because even if Holmes had taken it upon himself to write down his adventures, he would have done it in a textbook format and likely none but the most scholarly among us should have ever stumbled across that volume. This friendship, which lasted till the two were elderly men in "His Last Bow," benefited both of them, and it was also beneficial to us as the readers of Holmes's adventures. I have no doubt that the relationship between Holmes and Watson also served as a model for later detectives who aspired to a fame as great as Sherlock's. Of these, I am most familiar with Hercule Poirot, whose adventures were chronicled by Agatha Christie. He has his own "Watson," who, in this case is named Arthur Hastings. Poirot met Hastings very soon after Hastings had returned to England after being injured in a war. At one point in his career, Poirot shares rooms with Hastings. Hastings does not have the intelligence of Poirot, and it is very easy for a beautiful woman to catch his attention. In fact, it is in assisting Poirot in solving one of his crimes that Hastings falls in love with the woman who later becomes his wife. The similarities between Hastings and Watson are obvious, just as obvious as the enormous differences between Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. It is clear to me that in many ways, Poirot decided to go his own route in establishing his reputation as a great detective, but in studying the methods of his great predecessor Sherlock Holmes, decided that it was necessary to have a Watson of his own if he was to reach the same heights of detective fame that Sherlock Holmes did. When Poirot stumbled upon the acquaintance of Arthur Hastings in the adventure recorded in The Mysterious Affair at Styles he quickly realized the resemblances between Hastings and Watson and set out to make Hastings his intimate friend. Poirot realized, as we all should, that Holmes would not be Holmes without his Watson. Together, Holmes and Watson make up a team that any criminal should be afraid to meet.

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