Holmesian musings

I’ve got a contest up on the “Miss Conduct” blog to win tickets to “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at Central Square Theater. If you’re a local reader, enter! It’s a great show.

I thought I’d open up a thread here for general musings from Sherlock Holmes fans. When did you first get introduced to the stories? Who is your favorite portrayer of Holmes? What do you think of revisionist efforts like the Laurie King mysteries or the various television/cinematic reboots?

I started reading the stories in ninth grade, and of course promptly fell in love with Sherlock Holmes. (While my peers lusted after Shaun Cassidy and Scott Baio, I dreamed of Sherlock, Cyrano, and Spock. Geeky, but my crushes aged better.) The first movie or TV version I ever saw was the great Jeremy Brett “Mystery” series — the Basil Rathbone movies that showed on Saturday afternoons never grabbed me. They seemed too normal, whereas the compelling power of the stories, for me, was in how deeply weird Sherlock Holmes was, and what a very strange position he occupied in his rigidly stratified culture. He fit in everywhere, and nowhere. John Watson could function wonderfully in polite society, among medical men, and in the military, but only Sherlock could move among palaces and opium dens alike.

Speaking of Watson, I’m neutral on the extent of the bromance. I’ve seen good interpretations across the Kinsey scale. (The Watson of CST’s “Hound,” in a novel and hilarious twist, simply has huge crushes on everyone. He’s a very enthusiastic fellow.) What I am adamant about, and my main gripe with Laurie King’s books, is that Watson is not stupid. He’s not as smart as Holmes, but almost no one is. Watson is a highly competent doctor, soldier, and writer — imagine if the New Yorker‘s Atul Gawande also had several years of distinguished service in Afghanistan on his resume. Watson isn’t a bumbling dolt, he’s someone the likes of you or I would be downright intimidated by at a cocktail party.

Unsurprisingly, given what I like about the stories, I’m a fan of the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law pairing. They have wonderful chemistry, which Holmes and Watson have to have whether there is a sexual element to it or not. Jude Law’s Watson is exactly what he should be — a man who is clearly action-hero material on his own, not one of nature’s born sidekicks. I like how Robert Downey Jr. suggested that Holmes’s primary pathology isn’t some kind of autism (the Jeremy Brett interpretation) but more a desperate, addictive hunger for stimulation, mental and physical. The world is not too much with Holmes; it is not enough with him, and he must grab it and dig in his hands and drag it into his web of understanding, into his very bloodstream.

What’s your take on Holmes, and Watson?

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8 Responses to Holmesian musings

  1. EA Week says:

    Hey Robin, if you haven’t checked out the BBC’s recent series Sherlock, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century, and it works brilliantly. Their take on Holmes and Watson is pretty much what you describe above–that Holmes basically fits in everywhere and nowhere, and that Watson is intelligent and competent. There are only three (90-minute) stories in the series, but they make every moment count; more are being filmed now, I believe, and will be aired in early 2012. The first season is out on DVD.

    Benedict Cumberbatch (isn’t that an awesome name?) is amazing as Holmes, and Martin Freeman is also terrific as Watson.

    I love the Downey/ Law movie, too.

    And LOL about your crushes aging well. For the life of me, I could never see what girls saw in Scott Baio or Shaun Cassidy–or Tom Cruise, for that matter.

  2. Clare says:

    I remember reading Sherlock Holmes in high school, and really enjoying them. And watching Jeremy Brett’s portrayal on PBS. No one can do Sherlock like he could, though I did surprise myself by enjoying the Downey/Law movie also.

    I have to admit I really enjoy Laurie King’s books. I think they humanize Holmes in a way that Conan Doyle didn’t. The portrayal of Watson as a slightly bumbling but well-meaning man is, I think, a reflection of a very young Mary Russell’s idolization of Holmes. Noone can compare to him, in her eyes, and I think she is jealous of Watson’s importance to Holmes. But when push comes to shove, Watson is there, and his skills are absolutely necessary to Holmes, and as Mary Russell matured, so did her appreciation of Dr. Watson. I know King’s books could seem like extremely well done fan fiction, but I like her premise and the way the story has played out so far.

  3. Tim Emrick says:

    I’ve read all of Doyle’s Holmes stories and a handful of pastiches by others–William S. Baring-Gould, Nicholas Meyer, Stephen Seitz–though none quite measure up to the charm of Doyle’s originals.

    The Jeremy Brett series was probably the first film adaptation I saw, too, and it’s still my favorite (so much so that I’m working my way through it again on Netflix). Brett excelled at capturing the brilliance and the bizarreness of Holmes. Both Burke and Hardwicke, and the writers, did a respectable job of portraying the quite competent Watson, who only looks stupid compared to his friend’s genius. While some episodes end with Watson looking the totally baffled fool, others show Holmes praising him for insights as keen as his own. And Holmes himself regularly admits his indebtedness to Watson’s skills, courage, and loyalty.

    One of the more interesting works on Holmes that I’ve read is William S. Baring-Gould’s “Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.” The book attempts to construct a complete timeline of Holmes’s life, and provides several short pastiches to explain interesting gaps in that history. Those who think Watson shortchanges himself by giving Holmes all the glory should be pleased by the Jack the Ripper story, in which the doctor out-thinks the detective!

  4. Anita says:

    I’m fond of Douglas Wilmer, myself.

  5. Jerry says:

    I really liked BBC’s “Sherlock” as well. Holmes describes himself as a sociopath and is creepy enough to pull it off.

  6. Anita says:

    I found the orientalism in the second episode of BBC’s Sherlock so squicky I just couldn’t continue. That was pretty much it for me. I like the series otherwise, but it just really pushed some buttons hard.

  7. Lisa says:

    I started reading the books when I was about 12 or 13. Loved them, became addicted, read every one. I’ve never found a movie version that came close.

  8. JoGeek says:

    I love, love LOVE the BBC’s “Sherlock” series. Not only does it give you a smart and capable Watson who can hold his own, but Benedict Cumberbatch is delicious. Holmes describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath, but I can see how some could interpret his characterization as Aspergers with high sensation-seeking. There’s a definite undercurrent of bromance and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the character Moriarty, but I love the complexity. An intense fan of the original stories may think they took considerable liberties with plots, but they might also admire the writer’s ability to capture the feel of the books. The art direction is fantastic; they play with shape, texture and color in unexpected ways and really pay attention to the details.

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