There is an ongoing debate within the fandom of Sherlock Holmes, regarding the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Throughout all four novels and fifty-six short stories, John Watson is the unwavering companion of Sherlock Holmes. But there are fans who ask the question, “Could the friendship be something more?”
Anyone—be it a first time reader or a dedicated Holmesian—who has read the canon of Sherlock Holmes will not deny the strong friendship between Holmes and Watson that is prominent throughout all stories. There are those who leave the relationship of this mystery-solving duo at that: a strong friendship and a complex bromance. And then there are others who argue that the partnership of Holmes and Watson is one that is non-platonic and more than a complex bromance.
The theory of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson sharing a romantic relationship is fueled by the homoerotic subtext found between the pages of the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Websites that dissect the canon stories and point out (as well as support) the subtext can be found on the internet. Some creators of Sherlock Holmes adaptations have recognized the homoerotic subtext and most have added their own input into their films and episodes, intentional or otherwise. In Sherlock Holmes, the 1984 version produced by Granada TV, John Watson never marries and remains a confirmed bachelor, staying true to his detective all of his life. The 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie by Guy Ritchie has a significant amount of scenes that are laced with homoerotic subtext between Holmes and Watson. Its 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, is so laden with romantic implications between the two men that reviewers have noticed and wrote as much. In BBC’s Sherlock, there is a considerable amount of homoerotic subtext occurring between Sherlock and John in most scenes all throughout six episodes.
One must keep in mind, however, that the homoerotic subtext in Sherlock Holmes is not limited to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Fans have pointed out that said subtext can be found between James Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty and his companion, Sebastian Moran, and many other characters.
Reading the canon Sherlock Holmes as a love story between two men is merely one interpretation, albeit a somewhat popular one. There are readers and Holmesians alike who see Sherlock Holmes as just a detective story. Disapproval of the former of the interpretation is present and an innocent first-time reader of Sherlock Holmes can stumble upon its condemnation while reading an introduction, as most publications of the complete works of Sherlock Holmes come with one. It must be understood that how one interprets the text of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is up to said person and opinions should not be forcibly pushed unto another fan. Sherlock Holmes, all four novels and fifty-six short stories, is—and should be—free to interpret as one likes.
Sherlock Holmes—as an iconic character or as the stories—has taught us to figure things out for ourselves, has given us so many quotes, and has acted as a creative influence. Sherlock Holmes has come to represent so many important things in our culture today.
We look to Sherlock Holmes as the world’s best consulting detective. Holmes’ occupation as “consulting detective” has been used in so many television shows, books, plays, and in other media. We look to John Watson as our role model in the face of danger. Watson was more than Holmes’ assistant; he was the human element that drew us to Sherlock Holmes in the first place. He is the very heart of Sherlock Holmes, as a character, as a story, and as a legend. He is what makes Sherlock Holmes human and he is what makes us understand what it truly means to be human. Without John Watson, there will be no Sherlock Holmes. Without Sherlock Holmes, there will be no John Watson. Watson and Holmes are not one without the other. These two characters has become more than that as avid readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales evolve into Sherlock Holmes fans.
The characters of Sherlock Holmes are intelligent and beautiful in their own right. The protagonist is a new take on what constitutes as a hero and detective. John Watson is more than the good doctor to the fandom: he is relatable and brave. Mrs. Hudson is the motherly figure found in the stories and she is the noble example of compassion and hospitality. Irene Adler, the face of feminism in these masculine stories, may as well be a female version of Sherlock Holmes, for her intellect is formidable so as to being able to outwit the great detective. Even the extraordinary villain James Moriarty, along with his right-hand man, Sebastian Moran, brought more to the table of antagonism and changed the portrayal of villains from disgusting, thoughtless, evil-doers to smart, plotting, and creative thinkers on the side of injustice.