Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Passing of an Inspiration

I just read that actor Edward Hardwicke has died at the age of 78.

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite fictional worlds is that of Sherlock Holmes, the character written about by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the greatest detective in all of fiction. I've been a fan of Holmes since I was 8 years old. I've read all of Doyle's Holmes stories, many of them more than once. I've read dozens of Holmes stories written by later writers. I've seen most of the film and television adaptations of the Holmes mysteries. And I've added (how successfully depends on the opinion of the readers) my own work to the world of Sherlock Holmes by contributing several stories to Airship 27's Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective books. I have also written a novel set in Holmes' world but not featuring Holmes at all, except in mention. That book, Season of Madness, focuses on the other character that is vitally important to the Holmes canon, Dr. John Watson, perhaps the greatest partner and narrator in popular literature. Watson is absolutely essential to the style of Doyle’s stories, for Watson represents us, the readers, those who follow Holmes on his adventures and watch in wonder as he solves the great mysteries with which he is faced. In writing Season of Madness and my other Holmes-related stories, I worked very hard to portray Watson as Doyle did, as a very brave, loyal and intelligent companion to the Great Detective. I hope I succeeded. Watson has often been portrayed in a very wrong way. In many of the film versions of the Holmes myth, Watson is shown as a less than intelligent sidekick, a hindrance to Holmes getting the job done, and even as a bumbling fool. This is absolutely wrong. Men like Sherlock Holmes, geniuses with unique talents, do not associate with bumbling fools. Watson was a highly intelligent but normal human being, the lens through which we got to watch the deeds of Sherlock Holmes. Watson was a brave soldier, a medical doctor, a biographer of his friend, and an indispensible aide to the Great Detective. He was anything but a bumbling fool.
Before I read any of Doyle's original stories and before I saw any of the other film versions, I first "met" Holmes and Watson via the mid-1980s British TV series. There, Holmes was brilliantly portrayed by Jeremy Brett. Edward Hardwicke was the second man to play Watson with Brett's Holmes (David Burke portrayed him in the first season) but it was the Hardwicke version that I saw first. I was introduced to Watson by one of the finest actors to ever play him, in a version that truly did justice to Doyle' creation. Years later, when I wrote the first of my Holmes stories, "The Massachusetts Affair," and shortly thereafter wrote Season of Madness, which is, as far as I've been able to find out, the first novel written starring Watson without Holmes, it was Edward Hardwicke who I saw in my mind as I wrote. It was Edward Hardwicke's voice that I heard in my head as I wrote Watson's dialogue (and, in fact, all the narration in the Holmes tales).
As someone who has obviously been greatly influenced by Hardwicke's work as Watson and has had the great privilege to be allowed to write about Doyle's creations, I felt I had to say something today after hearing of Edward Hardwicke's passing. He was, after all, the man who performed what I consider to be the best version of one of my favorite characters in all of fiction.
Goodbye, Doctor Watson, and thank you.

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