On Sherlock Holmes

There are few characters in the fictional world of literary creations that are as pure as Sherlock Holmes. He is driven to solve the crime, not because he necessarily wants to see justice administered, but because the puzzle must be solved at almost any cost. I wouldn’t suggest that Holmes is obsessive or compulsive, but in a way, he certainly is. He doesn’t care about moral philosophy or the structure of the universe unless either of those topics would help him solve a crime. His ideas about crime and punishment are black and white, so his objective of putting the criminal away is clear and obvious. At the same time, he hasn’t the least bit for popular news, discussions of the weather, or sports, beyond his own training in boxing and stick fighting. Like most people, he loves to eat, listen to music, talk when the talk interests him, but the one thing he cannot escape in this life is solitude–no man is an island and Sherlock Holmes is no different. His ability to discern the important from the mundane and casual stems in large part from his willingness to narrate the facts of a case, but he needs an audience, and most of the time his sounding board is Watson. Watson is the sieve through which his reasoning passes. If he can tell Watson the story, he can figure it out. Holmes functions because of the power of narrative. He can work through the logic of the clues by building a narrative that makes sense, discarding incidental clues that may be red-herrings, and see through the smoke screen left by the criminals. In the end, the stories are all very similar about shame and hate, vengeance and envy, greed and stupidity, or love and jealousy, and Sherlock must sort out the facts without getting personally involved in any of it. Emotion is all too often the downfall of many a criminal, and Holmes works constantly to see through the intentions, let the clues speak to him, and resolve the problem at hand. Yet, I would also suggest that Holmes cannot do all of this work, wade through so much human flotsam and jetsam, and still be the least bit normal as a person. He’s interested in bee-keeping; this is his only outside interest that doesn’t appear to have anything to do with crime solving. Bees can’t really talk back, they have a collective conscience, they have no crime, their objectives are orderly and pure, free from envy, sloth, and ire. He admires them. If Watson were not there to act as chronicler and psychologist/therapist, Holmes would go crazy listening to the irrational world which surrounds him explode. Watson is the perfect foil for Holmes because he is a walking case to be constantly narrated and resolved, but Watson is also the perfect uninformed audience who needs the explanations to make the world return to proper working order again. After all, isn’t that what the detective does? Return things back to their proper place, pass out punishment, get the world to spin on its axis again, make sure the bad guys are put away, give a solution to the problem. Holmes wouldn’t be Holmes, really, without Watson, and Watson would just be retired, boring, military surgeon with a bad shoulder without Holmes. A more interesting symbiosis in the literary world would be hard to find.