Saturday, November 20, 2004

A Welcome Update for Mr. Holmes

I've been a fan of Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street since I read a "kid's edition" of some of his cases when I was 8 years old. For years I owned a bargain-bin anthology of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, and I am happy to replace it this week with The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

I heard about this edition a couple of weeks ago. I remember the first Annotated Sherlock Holmes as edited by William S. Baring-Gould, which I borrowed from the public library. I liked the layout and the idea of scholarly footnotes, but I wasn't fond of Baring-Gould's arranging the stories and novels in "chronological order," and I wasn't too thrilled about his attempt to make his own Holmesian theories part of the established canon.

This edition, edited by Leslie Klinger, is far better. It is of course an update, featuring snippets of Holmesian fan scholarship which have been published since the original edition. It also updates the mass media references to Holmes to include not just the Granada TV series, but the Matt Frewer movies of the turn of the century (damn! that sounds so old fashioned!).

Far more useful are the annotations that highlight the Victorian and Edwardian contexts in which the short stories took place. There is also a good attempt to translate Victorian prices and monies in terms of 21st century buying power. (This does of course have less staying power because it assumes a stable economy, but let that pass.) Mercifully, Klinger does not fall into the trap of rendering judgement on either the stories or the fan scholarship that Baring-Gould does, but presents the fan theories (and fan refutations) without comment.

So far only 2 volumes have been published, covering the short stories. Volume 3 comes out next year and covers all the novels. This is a recommended buy for serious fans of the Great Detective.