I’ve never been much of a mystery reader. And not much of a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast either. I found the Robert Downey Jr. movies enjoyable but not enthralling. Nonetheless I have become of megafan of the new Masterpiece Mysteries series. Definitely watch the premier of season two of Sherlock this Sunday. The writing is fabulous, the casting perfect, the production values high, the setting fresh (present-day London), the soundtrack terrific, the balance of humor and tension spot on.
That’s why I eagerly downloaded my free e-book version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. To my delight, I was thoroughly entertained. This was light, enjoyable reading–not the dark, Poe-like tales I had somehow remembered from high school. As a bonus, Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters and tone were much as portrayed (in broad strokes) in the TV show.
While Poe (another favorite) created the detective genre, Conan Doyle may be credited with inventing the archetype of the detective and his sidekick. Hawaii Five-O’s Steve McGarrett has Danno. Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey has Bunter. The Lone Ranger has Tonto. Batman has Robin. John Le Carré explicitly credits the existence of Smiley’s sidekick Peter Guillam to Watson. Holmes and Watson are also the grandfathers of the Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and other such franchises.
There are very practical literary reasons for such a device and why it is used (with variations) so often. The sidekick (or equally the stranger who comes to town), that is, someone less knowledgeable to accompany the main character, is a stand in for the reader. It’s much more interesting for Holmes to give his explanations to Watson than to have an omniscient narrator constantly tell us what’s going on. The dialogue gives a chance to reveal the character of each without being pedantic. And when Holmes is pedantic–well, that just becomes part of the charm of his arrogant personality rather than an irritating know-it-all manner of a narrator. In short, the writer uses a point of view which makes it easy to show not tell.
So thank you, Sir Arthur, for Sherlock–and thank you for Watson.
And let me know what you think of Masterpiece Mystery’s Sherlock on Sunday.