damned_colonial: The lamp outside 221B Baker St (221b)
[personal profile] damned_colonial posting in [community profile] queering_holmes
This post is riffing off [personal profile] wrabbit's suggestion in the discussion prompt gathering thread, which is still taking suggestions for new discussions if you have them.

Holmes and Watson weren't the first detective/sidekick duo, but they were one of the earliest pairs to achieve enormous popularity. Since then, similar pairings/duos have become a recognisable type in pop culture.

What are the distinctive traits of the Holmes/Watson pairing? Who are some of the more recent pairings/duos that draw on H/W? [personal profile] wrabbit mentions House and Wilson, of course, but it seems to me that the very common pairing of an exceptional/brilliant and possibly anti-social hero with a partner who's a stabilising influence or a source of exposition or both, owes a lot to H/W. There are plenty of detective duos, of course, especially on television. When wrabbit posted her comment I thought of Jim/Blair from the Sentinel (a police detective with an academic partner), and then last night, watching Hornblower with a friend, I realised that Archie is a bit of a Watson in a way: he exists in the TV canon to make Hornblower less solitary and internal and help the story move along, is Horatio's best friend with whom he shares everything, and is loyal and straightforward to Horatio's awkward brilliance. C. S. Forester didn't originally write Archie as a partner for Horatio in the book series, and Bush (who shows up later in the chronology of the series) doesn't fit the H/W pairing mold at all, but perhaps by the 90s when the TV writers came to develop Archie as Horatio's partner, that type of pairing had become more standardised?

H/W has also been called the archetypal slash pairing and the first slash fandom (btw, does anyone know whether anyone was actually publishing H/W slash in zines before Star Trek slash came along?) If the H/W pairing is a discernable "type", is that type inherently slashy or queer? How many H/W-influenced pairings have considerable slash followings?

not entirely formulated thoughts, but hey

Date: 2010-05-10 05:08 pm (UTC)
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (film: no "i" in team but lots of mes)
From: [personal profile] recessional
Due to the movie I saw yesterday, the first one that comes to mind is actually movie!Tony Stark/movie!Pepper Potts (I have no idea how accurate to comic they are because I do not read the comics); I'm also writing a set, although it's slightly stepped to the side (the "stabilizing influence" happens to be a pirate with a highly idiosyncratic sense of morality).

I suspect all H/W pairings, regardless of the gender of people involved, will tend towards being something people will turn into a sexual/romantic relationship just because the emotions and interdependencies tend to be that intense - in part because the antisocial/exceptional hero wouldn't tend to BOTHER with anyone he wasn't Just That Attached To, if that makes any sense.

Re: not entirely formulated thoughts, but hey

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Date: 2010-05-10 05:14 pm (UTC)
wrabbit: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wrabbit
I think someone wrote meta that is applicable here about a "Genius Wrangler" trope and used Cuddy and House as an example?

Date: 2010-05-10 05:41 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Here's the original Genius Wrangler rant! (Oh DW site search, how I love you.) It focuses almost exclusively on het partnerships, and the ways it can play off expected gender dynamics, but a lot of the comments and follow-ups go into slash.

Date: 2010-05-10 05:23 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I think there's a couple of related tropes here - one is the "genius wrangler" thing that got talked about a bit in meta recently (though I don't remember where), and while that can definitely be done well (like Holmes/Watson or Hornblower/Kennedy) it can also go in really problematic ways.

But there's also the broader trope of "bring in an outsider as audience insert so people can exposit at them" which is most explicitly done by way of the Companions in Doctor Who, but shows up in a lot of genre TV these days. It can also go very badly - especially when the writers get too focused on writing them as audience insert rather than actual people, forgetting that audience is also actual people (see Gwen on Torchwood), but a lot of big slash pairings are built on something that was originally that trope, too, and it can blend into the genius-wrangler thing - I see it really obviously in they way Sheppard was brought in to Stargate, and it's there in Stephen Maturin, too (which is a case where the genius who needs wrangled is also the audience insert outsider.)

...anyway, I wouldn't call Holmes/Watson archetypal or the first now that we have a fairly good account of Gilgamesh/Enkidu fandom. Although of course Enkidu was also more-or-less a "genius wrangler" type! (And I, too, would love to know if there was actual slash for Holmes/Watson going back before modern media slash fandom.)
Edited Date: 2010-05-10 05:24 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-05-10 05:50 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I don't know - in Star Trek I always want McCoy in my Kirk and Spock pairings, and he *is*, I think, often put in that role with one or both of them. (Especially Kirk/McCoy in reboot, but it shows up in TOS slash and OT3, too. And in canon and paracanon... there's a fairly classic Spock/McCoy fic where they get thrown back in time and Spock and McCoy *are* Holmes and Watson.)

Since I so totally a McCoy girl, I am not sure about K/S by themselves as a pairing - (though often even in K/S fic McCoy is still in the background, sidekicking/wrangling for them both.) I think it *is* a different kind of pairing; the dichotomies that get played up with them aren't really around the same axes, so while there are sometimes stories and characterizations that pull on the Holmes/Watson genius-wrangler type relationship, it varies which one goes in which role.

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Date: 2010-05-10 05:59 pm (UTC)
wrabbit: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wrabbit
I think what makes K/S different is that they are more of a functional trio with McCoy.

Date: 2010-05-10 06:03 pm (UTC)
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (film; fucked-up wonderkid)
From: [personal profile] recessional
I think there's a link, there, though - Kirk isn't genius-wrangling for Spock, but he is special enough for Spock to ignore the avoidance of emotion and the normal Vulcan rules of pairing for him; he once again gets the special, aloof, remote character to break their normal pattern of behaviour because he's Just That Special.

(Could I use "special" more often in this comment? Probably not. *flaps hands at it* WORDS.)
Edited (*facepalm*) Date: 2010-05-10 06:06 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-05-10 07:36 pm (UTC)
my_daroga: James T. Kirk (shatner)
From: [personal profile] my_daroga
New here, but I would venture that, at least in fic, Spock is also Special Enough to get in under Kirk's variable relationship "issues": confirmed heterosexual, confirmed player, confirmed married-to-the-ship, confirmed commitment-phobe.

Overall, my sense of the K/S relationship is that the axes are different, as mentioned above, and who-plays-what-role switches around a little. One is not so much a sound-board or foil or "genius wrangler" for the other so much as both are necessary to one another.

And I would say that the presence of McCoy in TOS is essential, and that the duo is indeed expanded to the trio (though I personally don't see McCoy's role as as easily sexualized as the other two).

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Date: 2010-05-15 08:08 pm (UTC)
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
From: [personal profile] hradzka
In THE WORLD OF STAR TREK, David Gerrold points out that one functional use of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad was to dramatize the conflicts that Kirk had to have inside his own head, as a Starfleet Captain. Spock represented the ruthless logic, McCoy the human emotion, Kirk synthesized the two. (Very Freudian, as Gerrold notes: superego, id, and ego.)

By that standard, Holmes and Watson are playing a different game -- the two of them change each other, because Holmes makes Watson think, but Watson makes Holmes more human.

In the detective genre

Date: 2010-05-10 05:42 pm (UTC)
rydra_wong: Lee Miller photo showing two women wearing metal fire masks in England during WWII. (Default)
From: [personal profile] rydra_wong
Who are some of the more recent pairings/duos that draw on H/W?

Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin: structurally identical to H/W.

A socially-eccentric genius obsessive about details, paired with a first-person narrator who assists, stabilizes (or at least goads Wolfe into working occasionally), and gives the genius someone to explain things to.

*waves at [community profile] milk_and_orchids*

Re: In the detective genre

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Date: 2010-05-10 07:11 pm (UTC)
wychwood: Fraser is alone in a corridor holding his hat (due South - Fraser alone with his hat)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Fraser and Ray (either Ray) remind me somewhat of this type; obviously they're not exactly the same, but Fraser is withdrawn and hyper-skilled in weird ways, as well as (of course) being an actual detective.

Date: 2010-05-10 11:00 pm (UTC)
kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Frost and Pegg: BFFs)
From: [personal profile] kindkit
I thought of due South too. I tend to think that Ray V. is more of a Watson figure than Ray K., though, because Ray V. has a bit more of a life outside of Fraser--he's got a family, for example, just as Watson eventually (if temporarily) forms a family without Holmes. Ray K., on the other hand, is as isolated and dysfunctional in his own way as Fraser.

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Date: 2010-05-10 10:46 pm (UTC)
schemingreader: (Default)
From: [personal profile] schemingreader
I think H/W has a strong resemblance both to Kirk/Spock and to Aubrey/Maturin. Holmes represses his emotion, valorizes logic and scientific method, and has secrets--like Spock. Maturin isn't much of a represser--he's liable to fly off the handle and challenge someone to a duel--but he does have the same interest in science and the same backstory, full of secrets. (There is a difference in that Maturin is often the POV character in Patrick O'Brian's books, and neither Holmes nor Spock gets to be the POV person.)

Watson, like Captains Kirk and Aubrey, is emotional, interested in women, (well, for some value of interested in women in Watson's case--Kirk and Aubrey have trouble keeping it in their pants!) a man of action (the movie did a great job highlighting this aspect of book canon.) He admires Holmes, as Aubrey admires Maturin. Yes, I know, the doctor thing means that if we had a strict mapping, it should be Maturin who is like Watson. Nope, I don't think so. Kirk also admires Spock, but he's a lot more ironic and teasing in his admiration.

I'm sure I have more to say about this! Good question!

Date: 2010-05-11 06:11 am (UTC)
epershand: An ampersand (Default)
From: [personal profile] epershand
The thing I really like about the Aubrey/Maturin relationship is that they take turns wrangling each other. Each of them has an area where they're a genius and an area where they're totally incompetent, and the fact that they're opposites is what makes them fit together like puzzle pieces.

Date: 2010-05-10 10:55 pm (UTC)
kindkit: Man sitting on top of a huge tower of books, reading. (Fandomless--book tower)
From: [personal profile] kindkit
Who are some of the more recent pairings/duos that draw on H/W?

They're not much more recent, but definitely Raffles and Bunny, whose creator was not merely a Holmes fan but was ACD's brother-in-law. Bunny is a bit too hapless for the genius-wrangler part of the Watson role, and Raffles is much more socially capable than Holmes, but there are still similarities.

More recently I'd cite due South (Benton Fraser is clearly a Holmes figure; Ray Vecchio is more Watson-esque than his eventual replacement Ray Kowalski) and the Middleman (where the sidekick/audience stand-in is actually named Wendy Watson). And Jeeves and Wooster parodies the archetype, I think.

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Date: 2010-05-11 12:04 am (UTC)
starlady: holmes holds his spyglass against watson's chest (intimacy)
From: [personal profile] starlady
Interesting that you cite The Middleman; I'm watching it now and loving it. Wendy is obviously the audience viewpoint character, but I'm not sure that the Middleman himself is that distant from the audience. He's good at his job, and a little hokey, but not what I'd call a a genius in need of a wrangler.

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Date: 2010-05-10 10:59 pm (UTC)
wrabbit: (house: you & me house)
From: [personal profile] wrabbit
I can't say if this fits with every fandom discussed or if it's overly specific, but this is how I would describe the archetype dynamic I see in Holmes/Watson in addition to the other fandoms I know:

The Holmes is an unusually intelligent, sensitive character who breaks and subverts socials mores. (Usually?) pointedly romantically unattached. Highly skilled in a way that makes him very useful to society (or very dangerous). The Watson character is the wrangler, of course, the only person who really "gets" and is able to control the Holmes character, but I think there is often something queer about him as well in a really interesting way that is more subversive than the Holmes' overt queerness.

He is a for-all-appearances a well-adjusted, intelligent, social and successful person, but there's something about the Watson himself (other than the direct influence of the Holmes) that prevents him from being the perfectly socialized specimen that he at first glance seems to be. As discussed above, there is something "special" about him, but I don't think it's in a good sparkly-perfect way, but rather in the sense that there's something odd about him in addition to his sheer idyllic ordinariness. For one thing, he probably doesn't have any close friends besides the Holmes. He may try to leave the Holmes and find a more ordinary life, but he returns not because the Holmes is so dominating, but because he individually failed. He is special to the Holmes precisely because he is so perfect(ly) ordinary and conventional and yet so queer.

I actually think the Master and Doctor are a good example of this. House and Wilson, Rodney and Sheppard (sort of...), Q and Picard, Snape and Harry *g*

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thought of one more

Date: 2010-05-10 11:02 pm (UTC)
kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Frost and Pegg: BFFs)
From: [personal profile] kindkit
I can't believe I forget to mention this in my earlier comment: Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman in Hot Fuzz. Angel is a genius police officer with no life outside his job; Butterman is his investigative sidekick who teaches him how to connect with people. And the film's homoerotic subtext is completely intentional.

Re: thought of one more

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Date: 2010-05-13 05:41 pm (UTC)
gloriamundi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gloriamundi
I keep wanting to write McKay/Sheppard in a Holmesian AU. Or possibly vice versa. (One's a genius! One's a military man! though neither Rodney nor John have a full set of social skills

Date: 2010-05-16 02:49 am (UTC)
mackiedockie: Wiseguy icon JB by Tes (Default)
From: [personal profile] mackiedockie
There's a number of Jules Verne stories that use the partnership dynamic--Philias Fogg and Passepartout, Captain Nemo and Professor Aronnax (and/or Ned Land).

Dumas had some strong complementary relationships in the Musketeers series (D'artagnan and Le Comte de Fere, Porthos and Athos).

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