Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft tells Watson in the latest BBC recreation of this much-loved character, has the mind of a scientist or a philosopher; yet he chose to be a consulting detective. When he was a child he wanted to be a pirate. And Conan Doyle tells us Holmes is also a consummate actor. He will disappear into another room, don a completely different outfit, and emerge “in the character of” somebody else. This enables him to mingle with like characters and listen to their conversations and gather information. Of course, as Sherlock tells us airily, most of it will be irrelevant; but his genius is for alighting on exactly the details he needs, and filtering out everything else.
Scientist, philosopher, pirate, detective, actor: there are times as a novelist when you employ skills which would probably feature in the Person Specification for every one of these jobs.
A Sherlock Holmes story usually involves a conundrum for the great detective to unravel. His talent is for changing one in a set of presumptions. Then several obstacles and caveats disappear. Removing one notion can immediately cast several other scenarios as feasible.
In Steven Moffat’s and Mark Gatiss’s reinterpretation of Sherlock for the BBC, the great detective is shown to display certain features of Asperger Syndrome; i.e. he’s not good at the nuances involved in personal relationships. Yet he works always to restore balance and legality and order to people’s lives.
A line I love from the end of Conan Doyle’s story “The Dying Detective” is: Good evening Inspector. All is in order and this is your man. Holmes had appeared to be dying of an Asian disease, in order to trap the killer into a confession. The need for order and balance is inextricable from human relationships – otherwise there can be no warmth, compassion, or responsiveness. These are the keys to a good relationship: rewards for and recognition of relational goodness. And this is the paradox: Sherlock rewards Dr John Watson in this way. Thus he demonstrates his friendship which intermittently lifts him out of his habitual way of relating to people.
Conan Doyle himself may have struggled to like his own creation; but we the readers and viewers love Sherlock Holmes. This is because he presents one of those archetypal relationships (see my post on Archetypes:https://scskillman.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/how-can-carl-jungs-theory-of-archetypes-help-you-in-your-creative-writing/; above all we love his relationship with Dr John Watson. And a key relationship which the readership loves is one critical element of successful fiction.