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Friday, August 16, 2013

In Defense of Dr. Watson

Not the Watson of the stories, but better than what went before him.

 In a recent discussion on Goodreads, someone wrote: 

Never really rated Dr. Watson that much. He comes across as a foil, a proxy reader for Conan Doyle to explain the plot to when the villains wonder how they were caught.

In all honesty, the Holmes stories could survive without him. Only in the film "The Private life of Sherlock Holmes" does Watson truly convince. But that's just my view.

Well, it's certainly not my view!

Anyone who thinks the Holmes stories could survive without Watson should reread the stories in which he is absent, "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" and "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane." Are they on anyone's list of favorites?

Recently I reviewed the entire Canon with a close eye on Watson as research for my article, "Doctor Watson, Detective?" I won't quote from it until it appears in the inaugural issue of The Watsonian, the journal of the newly formed John H. Watson Society, but that review only increased my conviction that Watson was indispensable to Holmes.

Fortunately for me, I read the Holmes stories years before I saw the great detective portrayed in a TV show or movie - and it was Basil Rathbone with Nigel Bruce on late-night television. This Dr. Watson stunned me. He wasn't at all the intelligent, fearless, loyal man of action that I knew from the stories.

Only a few weeks ago did I get a more positive view of Nigel Bruce's Watson. My friend Paul Herbert, BSI, pointed out that in all of the Holmes films made before that time, Watson either didn't appear or was a minor character. With Nigel Bruce he came into his own. That resonated because, for me, Holmes without Watson is unthinkable - or at least unpalatable.


  1. Without Watson, who would tell us the story and in a way that we can understand?
    Watson was more than a foil or what the writer wrote. Watson was a feeling human against Holmes who could be cold and machine like. His narration was needed for us.