Sherlock is a new BBC show (renewed) about a contemporary Holmes and Watson. I’ve really enjoyed how they’ve dealt with the oddeties of their relationship including:
- What does Watson contribute?
- How do they meet?
- What is in it for the police, Watson, and Holmes?
- Isn’t it odd for two men of that age to live together and not be homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that (someone must say that 3 times in the first episode)
- The handling of Holmes’s drug adictions
The reformed Sherlock (Laurie and Downey as fellow travelers of Cumberbatch) as universal polymath remains and of course annoys me. This is what Doyle has to say about Holmes’ knowledge (first speak is Holmes, the second Watson):
“It is not so impossible, however, that a man should possess all knowledge which is likely to be useful to him in his work, and this I have endeavoured in my case to do. If I remember rightly, you on one occasion, in the early days of our friendship, defined my limits in a very precise fashion.”
“Yes,” I answered, laughing. “It was a singular document. Philosophy, astronomy, and politics were marked at zero, I remember. Botany variable, geology profound as regards the mud-stains from any region within fifty miles of town, chemistry eccentric, anatomy unsystematic, sensational literature and crime records unique, violin-player, boxer, swordsman, lawyer, and self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco. Those, I think, were the main points of my analysis.””
I man with limited if powerful abilities. Maybe it doesn’t matter what Doyle thought. Perhaps he’s lost control of his creation and Watson and Holmes belong to all of us as a part of universal myth.
I like that he’s less of a general savant than Robert Downey Jr’s interpretation, replacing that rakishness with sociopathic behavior and general contempt for others (excepting Watson as far as we can tell), and I find this a general improvement. James Bond he is not. It isn’t the generally nasty conduct of Laurie either. Laurie’s house enjoys tormenting others but Cumberbatch seems to see them as puzzles to solve regardless of the consequences. In many ways Laurie expresses love through hate but Cumberbatch tries to pass off his clever observations as actual understanding of human behavior. I one point Cumberbatch says something awful and to the silence looks at Watson and says “did I say something terrible?”.
I also enjoyed The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1) the first of three books detailing the life of Kovoth, a bard, wizard, swordsman, street urchin and generally heroic guy. I generally prefer stories where the main character cannot do everything. He doesn’t display godlike abilities, but he is able to master in hours or days what takes most people months and he seems to have perfect recall in all sorts of domains. The poverty and misery of his late childhood is humanizing, but not as humanizing as being good at somethings and not others. I’ve enjoyed the brisk writing that carries the story forward with intensity. My only complain is that from time to time the author gets overwrought, which I think Rothfuss does to create a dramatic atmosphere. From a perspective of economic history, he makes the typical overestimates of both the quantity of trade and general level of wealth in pre-industrial societies. The small quantity of magic could make some difference, but how it would do this is far from clear. For example, a bar in a rural area and he’s got spices and a dozen sorts of things to drink has individual rooms with wood floors for all his guests. I think that would have been pretty uncommon until about 1700 or even later in the west. Still, if you want realism, read history. This is a good yarn and worth a read if you like the genre. The second book comes out any day now and the book is part of a trilogy.