Thursday, 27 May 2010

Holmes and Watson, Sherlock Holmes (Themed Week Day 4)

Okay, so I'm somewhat loosely playing with the idea of a love story here. No, I'm not going to start telling you how I think Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have a homoerotic relationship. But I am going to say that I think there are aspects of this friendship, and the way it's portrayed to us, that are more effective than many typical 'love' stories.

I've written a post about Holmes and Watson before, so this one will be rather short because I don't want to just go over every single I've said in the past. I just want to highlight some key details and talk about them, so that we as readers can appreciate them or try to work out why we appreciate/don't appreciate them. Also, so that we who are writers can see if we can apply the same principles and strategies to make our own character relationships as immortal.


First, another snapshot-

Watson, mate, we're going out.

Ugh, Holmes, I'm trying to sleep. But okay.

Watson! The game's afoot!

Yeah, I'm coming, would you just stop being so untidy and erratic already?

Watson! I'm busy with this Really Important Case, so could you head over to this Remote Part of the Country and meet with This Person in Distress and Observe Things For Me? (Of course, though I'm not going to tell you this, I'll probably be lurking there myself, in secret, and you'll suspect me for some time, only to realize it's really me! By which point I'll have solved the case! Hooray!)

Yeah, why not?

If Watson had been a woman, I have no doubt there would be many an outcry today about his devotion to Holmes and Holmes's taking of Watson for granted. However, it must be noted that for all the hilarity in this formula, Watson doesn't just help Holmes for Holmes; he does it for him, yes, but also because he likes it himself. He likes the mystery, he likes the excitement, he likes being put in charge of things, even if it's Holmes who always finds the answers. He enjoys being the chronicler.

So lest anybody think Watson is Holmes's flunky, I have to point out that they need each other equally, and their relationship, for all its appearance, is one of relative equals.

Which, of course, is why it works so well and is still such an appealing relationship. Equals, whatever appearances suggest.

While Watson never refuses Holmes his help, whatever the unnatural hour, it's equally obvious that Holmes needs Watson; Watson is the only one he trusts and relies on. There's also a wonderful scene in the story of the three Garridebs, where Watson is shot and Holmes's reaction gives Watson - and the reader - all the satisfaction we need.

As I see it, and bear in mind this is just me, I think characters need to be equals for their relationship to really stick with us or mean something to us. Sure, the power's got to shift from one to the other in a story. This is for drama, for tension, for conflict. But ultimately they must be equals - in the reader's eyes, in other characters' eyes, in each other's eyes - for it to work. They must be worthy of each other for it to be a relationship or love story that a reader can get invested in.


  1. Theirs is one of my favorite literary relationships. I LOVE their easy familiarity with one another and how real Doyle makes their relationship sound. I love these posts, Sangu!

  2. Wow, I think we visited each other's blogs at the same time!

    Thanks, Zoe, I'm glad you like them, they've been just fun to write! I love Holmes and Watson too, I could literally read about them all day. (Original stories, that is. *makes face at new movie*)

  3. you won't even watch the TV adapts that aren't true to the books!!

  4. LOL, they are so cute together--they do have to blend together for the reader to want to keep reading. Great post! :)

  5. Steve, it's true, I won't. You know I can't bear to watch Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood re-imagined in any way. I'm all for retellings, but there I shudder and turn away! What's wrong with the originals, eh? :)

    Thanks, Elizabeth! They are adorable together, aren't they?

  6. I don't really have much to add.

    I agree. Holmes and Watson are interdependent friends.

    Love certainly isn't limited to romantic love.
    And the love between these two characters is implicit in all they do for each other.

    I'm not so sure both parts of a pairing need to be equals to be effective in fiction.
    However, I do agree it is necessary in the case of Holmes and Watson, otherwise their dynamic would be utterly different... and most likely inferior.