Holmes’s first words to Watson
January 21, 2012
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It is quite obvious from recent analytics for this blog that there is little point in my posting anything other than items about ‘Sherlock’ (not that that will stop me from continuing to serialise ‘The Companion’). Feel free to post any more theories about how Sherlock survived the apparent fall at the end of the last series.
I have just opened an old copy of ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’, and looked at the first story, which is ‘The Empty House’.
Reading the first two or three pages conveys very clearly the difference between the original stories and the BBC adaptation. I don’t know if sales of the Conan Doyle’s books have gone up because of the recent publicity but, if they have, I think that many new readers will be disappointed. Life has changed since 1905. (I know that ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’ was set in 1894 but it was published in 1905). Literature has changed since accordingly. Contemporary readers want the opening sentence and the opening paragraph to grab them by the throat. They want every word of every sentence to convey something important to the story. On the whole, they want a narrative to be like an SAS raid: they want it to get in, do the job, and get out again as efficiently as possible. Most readers want the story to give them themselves. I don’t think the original stories do that any more.
The question which jumps off the page at me when I look at ‘The Empty House’ is, “What will Holmes’s first words to Watson be when he reveals that he is still alive?” It is quite certain that they will not be the words which appear in the original. Holmes has disguised himself as an elderly bookseller, but takes off his disguise while Watson’s back is turned. Watson faints (which is a possibility in the adaptation). Holmes then says, “My dear Watson, I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea you would be so affected.” I am not saying these words are too archaic for our Holmes to say them: I am saying that they are completely out of character for the character of Holmes that Benedict Cumberbatch portrays.
The worst news about series 3 is that it is unlikely to be ready until at least near the end of 2012, because both Cumberbatch and Freeman are working on films. Freeman is among the cast of – of all things – ‘The Hobbit’. What a tragedy that our grown-up, complex, contemporary, hard-edged enjoyment should be postponed for the sake of a grossly over-rated ruralist fantasy about a bloke with hairy feet who goes on a camping holiday.
Would anybody care to speculate on which stories will be chosen to be adapted for the next series, and what Holmes’s first words to Watson will be?