Saturday, January 12, 2013

When the Sidekicks Tell the Story: The Watson that Started It All

Illustration by Sidney Paget, featured in The Strand
Okay, so maybe the title exaggerates.  I’m not sure Dr. Watson is the first sidekick-narrator in all of fiction.  I’m pretty sure the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s mysteries is the sidekick of Dupin, and that was written before the Holmes stories.  However, the narrator of those stories has no name.  Not very sidekick of him.  Any self-respecting sidekick would at least have a name, if not a catchphrase like “Holymorgue-murdering apes, Dupin!”  or “Great perniciously purloined letters!”

But I digress.  My point is whether Watson was the first or not, he is the one who people will think about first when you say to a random passerby, “Hey, what literary character is a sidekick who tells the stories of an awesome hero?” He even has his own trope.

Watson may not be the brilliant mind, avid detective or raving eccentric that makes Holmes one of the most iconic characters in literature, but Holmes owes a TON to Watson.  Without Watson’s character describing the “lumbering” and emotional details of a case, the Holmes adventures would be sterile and boring.  It is Watson who takes note of the beauty of the damsel in distress, or the malicious expression on the villain’s face when Holmes thwarts his dastardly scheme.  If Holmes narrated his own stories (and he does in two of them, but it’s just not the same!!!) the brilliant deductions would be treated as obvious, if Holmes took the time to describe them at all.  With Watson as narrator, however, every deduction is treated as stupendous and awe-inspiring. 

The other characters of the Holmes adventures are more important because of Watson, too.   With Holmes, it’s the mystery itself, not his clients, who interest him in his cases.  But Watson adds heart.  This isn’t just a mystery to be solved for the good doctor, it’s a matter of saving lives, or putting them back together, or setting someone’s mind at ease, or helping a girl with no other protectors.  The people who come to 221b are desperate enough to seek out a private detective rather than go to the police, and because Watson tells the story they are given some and humanity. 

Holmes might be a genius about the different soil types or cigar ash, but Watson is a genius at making the Holmes cases about the people as well as the puzzle.

1 comment:

  1. Holy sidekick, Batman! Oh no! Another TV/movie like thing, lol.

    I agree Watson adds heart. I feel Holmes would be too cold otherwise.