Saturday, April 03, 2021

John Watson, Groupie


I fear I’ve done John H. Watson a grave disservice.
 This blog should after all really be named The Strange Cases of John. I’m leaning shamelessly on the incandescent fame of Sherlock Holmes, even as John did. After all, Holmes may be the hero of the stories, but John is certainly the protagonist. Doyle
made that decision when he changed his name from off-putting Ormond Sacker to plain John Watson. Holmes is more of a mentor in the stories. It is through John’s eyes we experience the action. And it is John who is the founder of Holmes fandom, the original groupie. We are all John Watson. 

   That’s right, I said groupie. 

What better way to express the Holmes/Watson relationship? A completely unbalanced relationship, in which Holmes is always the star, and Watson garners what recognition he can by association, assiduously chronicling his successes (and even at times his failures, for the purpose of displaying his intimacy with his hero) And what better candidate for groupiedom? A damaged child who has developed a penchant for danger, seeking out another damaged soul who shines far brighter than himself? It’s classic groupie psychology. If Watson were alive today, he’d wear a      Guns’n’Roses t-shirt. 

Wait, damaged child? 
   Of course. Why do you think Watson never mentions his family, and Holmes’s only sparingly? (And Holmes returned the favor, in return for Watson's concealing his past.)

 The one thing we know about Watson’s family, thanks to Holmes’s rather perfunctory analysis of his pocket watch, is that he had a brother, a drunkard who frittered away his fortune (what was left after his father's frittering) and died young. The watch was inherited from their father. 

There are a few inferences one can make from this, which Holmes refrained from saying out loud: John's brother, Harry was an older brother, who inherited not only the watch but most of his father’s wealth. He was the favorite son, who also inherited Henry's genes for incipient alcoholism. Both resented John’s discreet words of caution when they drank. His father beat John regularly when he was in his cups. The only reason he did not beat his wife as well was that she had abandoned him when John was young and gone back to her people in England--after he thrashed her once within an inch of her life.

 She had pleaded to let her take the boys, at least John, knowing he would never let Harry go, but he was implacable, refusing even to let them see her letters, which finally dwindled away as the years passed. John didn't know even where she was for years, until he gained fame through his connection with Holmes. That was when she reached out to him--for money. She was always a practical woman, and assumed John had inherited something--a notion which John did not try to disabuse her of.  It was enough for him to know that she read his chronicles in The Strand. It was in reaction to this treatment that John always treated women so honorably, so fastidiously. 

 John had a wicked temper of his own, which led him to Afghanistan--away from his father. But he left it on the battlefield there. By the time he returned to England, the drink had killed Henry and Harry both. Depression replaced his anger, along with a certain buttoned-down British attitude, which might have led him to join Holmes in his addiction--but he had already seen the destruction caused by addiction, and quietly set about to cure Holmes--succeeding eventually (Whether he enlisted the help of Dr. Freud, only Nicholas Meyer can say). 

He was addicted to excitement though, and mortal risks, the same as Holmes (a condition well captured by the writers of Sherlock). He would dare any danger, any humiliation, to be next to his star. And thanks to John, we’ve been trying to get next to Sherlock Holmes ever since.


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