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188 • for time, the captives ask for a mullah to instruct them in the fundamentals of Islam. He turns out to be a kindly and scholarly old man who calls them “my lambs.” Should the prisoners accept or at least pretend to accept the ways of Allah just to save their lives? Can they bow to Mecca? Will they or won’t they renounce Christianity? Then suddenly, before they know it, their time is up and the moment of decision arrives. “Good Night, Mister Sherlock Holmes” • Long ago, Ward, Lock & Co., in a publishing circular, announced A Study in Scarlet as the lead feature in the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual: This story will be found remarkable for the skillful presentation of a supremely ingenious detective, whose performances, while based on the most rational principles, outshine any hitherto depicted. . . . The surprises are most cleverly and yet most naturally managed, and at each stage the reader’s attention is kept fascinated and eager for the next event . . . . It is certain to be read, not once, but twice by every reader, and the person who can take “Good Night, Mister Sherlock Holmes” • 189 it up and lay it down again unfinished must be one of those rare people who are neither impressionable nor curious. A Study in Scarlet should be the talk of every Christmas gathering throughout the land. Despite all this intelligent enthusiasm, Beeton’s clearly had no idea that it was introducing one of the greatest characters in world literature. Sherlock Holmes was, in fact, no mere detective; he was The Great Detective, the profession’s Platonic ideal, a legend not only in his own time but ever since. As Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law famously punned, “Though he might be more humble, there’s no police like Holmes.” Eccentric aesthete, amateur boxer, and baritsu adept, master of disguise, expert chemist and linguist , occasional philosopher and overall polymath , an entrepreneur who lives by his wits, the Sleuth of Baker Street is all that and more. Hesketh Pearson once said that Sherlock Holmes is “what every man desires to be,” nothing less than “the knight-errant who rescues the unfortunate and fights single-handed against the powers of darkness.” But, of course, he is not single-handed. “Good old Watson!” murmurs Holmes at the end of 190 • “The Last Bow,” when, on the eve of World War I, the detective comes out of retirement to defeat the German spy Von Bork. “You are the one fixed point in a changing world.” More than anything else, the Holmes saga portrays a deepening friendship and ultimately chronicles how Dr. John H. Watson gradually humanizes this great thinking machine. Among the moments of highest drama in the entire canon is that when, in “The Three Garridebs,” the good doctor is shot: “You’re not hurt, Watson! For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!’” It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but singled-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation. “AnystudiesinSherlockHolmes,”RonaldKnox said, “must be, first and foremost, studies in Dr. Watson.” Though he refers to himself as the whetstone against which Holmes sharpens his wits, “Good Night, Mister Sherlock Holmes” • 191 Watson is hardly the bumbling idiot portrayed by Nigel Bruce in the 1940s movies with Basil Rathbone . He is a former soldier, a man of action, easy to get on with, manly, direct, and utterly dependable . While Holmes lives entirely for his work, disdains every form of society, and resorts to dangerous drugs when bored, Watson not only pursues an active medical practice but also marries at least twice, enjoys reading for pleasure (Clark Russell’s sea stories being particular favorites), likes to play an occasional game of billiards with friends, and regularly takes a flier on the horse races. He is even something of a ladies’ man—“the fair sex is your department, Watson.” Notwithstanding his unswerving loyalty to Holmes, this rock of common sense and decency doesn’t hesitate to criticize the detective’s moral judgment in callously trifling with a maid’s affections, vocally disapproves of his cocaine addiction, and generally puts up with a lot of...


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