Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

A fencing foil, courtesy of Wikipedia

Why do Sherlock and Watson make such a great team?  

They are foils. No, not aluminum foil. In literature, a foil is more like a fencing foil, a blunt springy sort of sword, used to hit the other person in a fencing match. Both fencers use the same sort of foil, a matched set, but they're in opposition. They go back and forth, thrusting and parrying in a complex dance. Now take Sherlock and Watson. They seem to have little in common at first glance. They're the original odd couple, sharing a cheap flat on Baker Street. Watson, an injured doctor and soldier; Sherlock, a bored genius. And then the adventures start. Watson is an intelligent man, but he does not, as Holmes says, "observe". He is a physician who has a knack for writing and a taste for adventure. He enjoys the mystery and excitement of being Sherlock's companion. Sherlock, on the other hand, pretends to be annoyed by Watson's supposed inability to reason; he really, however, delights in the opportunity to share his genius with an appreciative audience. The two play off each other. They form an intriguing pair, and their interaction is just as fascinating as the adventure itself.

I love what the producers of Sherlock, the new (relative to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's version) BBC programme, have done with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They have done an excellent job of modernizing both the stories and the relationship between these unlikely partners. It starts because they can't find anyone else to share a flat with, but by the end of "A Study in Pink" (absolutely brilliant title, by the way), they are fast friends. I think Mycroft's line sums it up rather nicely: "I think this soldier fellow will the making of my brother... Or make him worse than ever." That's what foils do for each other. They highlight each other's strengths and weaknesses and help the audience figure out who the characters are.

Helpful links 

Here's a nice link to Wikipedia's article on literary foils. If you're interested, here's another link to the Wikipedia article on fencing foils!
And here below you have a link to Sherlock on where I watch it. (Do you italicize TV show titles? Ah well, I did anyway.) Just click on the picture if you're interested. It really is brilliant.

At first, I could not find the edition that I read over and over as a kid. I have a Signet Classic from 1985, with an excellent introduction to the complete short stories of Sherlock Holmes. I love that book. I read it over and over. I did find this edition, pictured below left, which includes the novels as well. The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably my favorite of the novels. I'm more familiar with the short stories, which are brilliant. Then today I found the same edition, but with a different introduction. I'm kind of disappointed they changed the introduction, because I reread it yesterday and it's very well done. But the stories are the same. It's the picture below right. And, the pictures are both links.
Another modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes is by Nancy Springer, who invented a younger sister for Mycroft and Sherlock. Her name is Enola Holmes and she is just as intelligent and even more strong-willed than her older brothers. This is definitely a YA series but I've found it highly entertaining. It's amusing to watch Sherlock, and Mycroft, being outsmarted by a girl.