|Dr. John H. Watson and friend|
Steven T. Doyle’s fascinating Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual for 2015 quotes Nicholas Meyer as saying this about his third Sherlock Holmes novel, The Canary Trainer:
“I know there are good things in it. But ‘good things in it’ doesn’t add up to a good book. It just doesn’t. It’s a book, for instance, where Watson really isn’t in the book, and as a lot of people have pointed out, there may be no such thing as Holmes without Watson.”
The book had a few other problems. I, for one, was disappointed that the Canary was a singer, although S.S. Van Dine did the same thing in The “Canary Murder Case in 1927.
Nevertheless, Meyer’s comment reminds me of a story the late John McAleer, biographer of Rex Stout, once told me. As I remember it, an elderly woman asked a librarian if she had any of those “Archie books.” After a few moments of head-scratching, the librarian said, “Oh, you mean Nero Wolfe!” “Nonsense!” the patron replied. “We know who does all the work!”
McAleer observed that one realizes while reading In the Best Families, where Wolfe is largely absent, that there could be Archie stories without Wolfe, but not Wolfe stories without Archie. Similarly, the three of the four Holmes stories not narrated by Watson are among the least successful in the Canon.
I thought that with the formation of the John H. Watson Society a few years ago the Good Doctor was finally receiving long-overdue recognition. But that is far from true. In reading over some of the first issues of the Baker Street Journal, I’m impressed by how many of the articles written in those early days are Watson-centric.
Ed S. Woodhead took up his pen “In Defense of Dr. Watson” in Volume 1, Number 1. Dirk J. Struik lauded “The Real Watson,” “stalwart veteran and crack shot,” in Volume 2, Number 2. Those just happen to be the two most recent issues that I’ve read. And they serve to illustrate a conviction I have had for some time and articulated here before: