Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Fog creeps through the London cityscape, like some kind of ghost. It engulfs the city, gaslight streetlamps give it an even more spectral like appearance. I pull up the collar of my Macintosh, and head to the doorway of the building. On the wall hangs the address placard 221B Baker St.
A tinge of cold runs through me as I pound on enormous brass door knocker. A matronly Mrs. Hudson opens the door and ask me what I business might have so late in the night. I tell her I have an appointment and give her my card. No self-respecting caller in Victorian times would arrive to a first appointment without a calling card. It reads –Dave Heath ~ Bloggist-
She studies it as if it were a specimen under a microscope. “Mr. Holmes isn’t here.” She says in a thick London accent.
“I am here to see Dr. Watson.” I explain.
“Usually reporters want to talk to Mr. Holmes.” She replies a bit exasperated. “But he never wants to talk to them, I just send them away….One moment.” Then she closes the door, leaving me on the stoop all alone.
I wait for what seems an unseemly amount of time, as the London fog and cold both increase. Visions of being attacked by Jack the Ripper or Spring Heeled Jack run through my mind. Eventually the door opens and Mrs. Hudson ushers me in saying. “The Doctor will see you now.”
I am admitted to the flat’s foyer. And the landlady takes my overcoat. “Such a dreadful night, with Mr. Holms out somewhere in it. I do hope he is safe.” There is a worried tone in her voice.
I mutter something like, I am sure that he will be alright, as she guides me into the flat’s sitting room. Kerosene lamps give it both a comfy and eerie atmosphere. Off to my right I see the corner that Sherlock has commandeered to do his chemistry experiments in. On another wall V.R. for Victoria Regina has been carved out in bullet holes.
Sitting in a large overstuffed chair is Watson himself. He is wearing a smoking jacket so he does not get ashes from cigar on his clothes. He is in his late thirties maybe his early forties. Taller than average, he has a surprising large neck, and a body of someone who played sports in high school. His most prominent facial feature is a thin mustache. He doesn’t look like what I thought he would. I suppose I thought he would be an overweight elderly man. When he spoke I detected a bit of Scottish borough under his educated English accent.
We exchange the customary pleasantries, the minimum that would be expected in the Victorian period, then I jump to the heart of the matter and ask him. “What does it feel like to be world’s most famous second Banana?”
He lets out a deep and sincere laugh. “Well when the top billing goers to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I would say it is an honor.”
“I understand that.” I reply still digging deeper. “But you are a doctor, a war veteran and a writer, in any other sitting you would be the story’s protagonist.”
He waves my comments a way modestly. “I do have an important role if I do say myself. I am the intermediary between the great Sherlock Holmes and the reader. I am the human factor that they can relate to. Holmes only narrates two of the fifty-six original short stories written by Arthur Conon Doyle. The Case of the Blanched Solider and The Case of the Lion’s Mane, both written latter on when the audience is much more acquainted with Holmes and his character. If the stories stared out being narrated by Holmes, he would come off as arrogant and downright unfathomable. As a narrator Holmes is by far too analytical. He derides me as having too much of a romantic streak in my writings but it was what Victorian readers expected and wanted to see in their stories.”
I nod then ask him. “Tell me about Sherlock?”
The lets out a guffaw, “what can I say the man is a genius. He sees what the rest of us can’t. In ways I think Sherlock is the first of the superheroes. He has the unearthly power of perception. He is an expert in Bartitsu (A Victorian style martial arts brought to England by Edward William Barton-Wright), a fencer, he has formidable knowledge in chemistry, a master of disguise, and on more than one occasion has demonstrated above average strength. In many ways I see him as the forerunner of you American Batman.” He laughs again, I can tell he has a deep sense of humor. “Keeping with the analogy of that Batman chap, I am his Robin, someone to keep him rooted in humanity.”
I nod accepting that. Changing the subject I say. “To many of us who grew up in the nineteen seventies and eighties, the image of John Watson fixed in our minds is that of Nigel Bruce, from the forties movies and radio dramas. It has been said that the worst thing to ever happen to the character of John Watson is Nigel Bruce.”
Watson scowled his jovial side temporarily vanishing. He appeared to be choosing his words carefully. “Many literary purist detested Bruce’s portrayal. It was not what they had expected after reading the books. They felt he portrayed me as a bumbling incompetent. But the fans loved him He seemed very human. Mr. Bruce brought a lot of himself into that role. A sort of favorite uncle persona. The one thing I think he did get perfectly from the source material is my loyalty towards Holmes. Part of it was because he and Holmes’ actor Basil Rathbone where such good friends, it spilled over into their portrayals.”
I realize I am not going to get anywhere else with that line of questioning and shift gears. “Recently you have been portrayed by hot young sexy stars. Jude Law, in the blockbuster movies. Martin Freeman in BBC’s Sherlock, and Lucy Liu in Elementary…”
He interrupts me with roaring laughter. “Sexy is not something that I have often thought of myself. But you can’t fault the writers trying to get a new and younger audience.”
“How do you feel about Dr. Watson, the quintessential, English white male Victorian character being portrayed by an Asian American woman in a modern sitting?” I inquire.
Again he laughs like St. Nick. “I think that it shows the universal nature of the character. How the role of ‘a Dr. Watson’ is greater than just one man’s portrayal…Or in this case one person’s.”
“One more question then I must be going.” I add. “What lies in the future for Dr. Watson and Sherlock?”
Again he laughs. “Well I am afraid you would need a prognosticator greater than Sherlock Holmes, to know that for certain, but already in the twenty-first century, we have seen Sherlock and Dr. Watson as buddy action movie, a police procedural/psychological thriller as an American cop show, and there has even a time traveling cyberpunk carton. I am sure that the writers will form us to whatever might be popular. Just as in 1942, In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon. We were fighting Nazis. One of the enduring factors about us is that we can be very adaptable, be the setting steampunk or social narrative, I am sure we will answer the call.”
I thank the good doctor, and see myself out. A horse drawn handsome cab makes it way down the fog covered streets. I take in the world that is Victorian England. There is something about this time and place that seem so essentially Holmes-ian to me. Yes, Holmes and Watson will adapt to the times, but as for me I like my consulting detectives old school.