A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
I perpetuate the gentle fiction that Holmes and Watson really lived and that Dr. John H. Watson wrote the stories about Sherlock Holmes, even though he graciously allowed them to be published under the byline of his colleague and literary agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
—Leslie S. Klinger, Editor of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes
Those who aren’t familiar with Sherlockian scholarship, or with any of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes volumes, are missing out on a truly joyous literary tradition. For decades academics, authors, and amateurs have been treating the Holmes stories as genuine biography, creating a meticulously researched, endlessly argued corpus of meta-fictional scholarship. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, and the newest annotated Holmes is the best place for the uninitiated to start. Leslie S. Klinger’s additions don’t just clutter your reading with facts, they add another level of enjoyment to Conan Doyles’ already amazing tales.
“The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is a story I read almost every year. It’s kind of like a holiday tradition. Holmes and Watson trapse about London trying to figure out how a stolen diamond found it’s way into a Christmas goose. It features one of Holmes’ most ridiculous displays of observation (in which he learns a page worth of facts about a man from nothing other than his battered old hat, including that “his wife has ceased to love him”), and in the end Holmes frees an innocent man while letting the guilty one go too. It’s great fun and good spirits all around.
But I wonder if I would bother to read it over and over again without all those notes in the margin.
Klinger gives us 47 annotations. Besides all the historical facts and period photographs of the story’s settings, we also learn what a carbuncle really is and what Watson probably thought it was. We learn that in a quarter of Holmes’ documented cases no crime is actually committed, and then hear of at least three cases in which Holmes commits a crime himself. We discover that the current number of pubs in England was doubled in Holmes’ time, and that the “Alpha Inn” may have been Watson’s cryptic, astrological pseudonym for a tavern called The Plough. We find that Holmes was definitely earning more money from his detective work than Watson was getting from his military wound pension. We glory in catching Holmes’ errors and leaps in reasoning. All that from just a hat, bah! We even get a whole essay called “A Winter’s Crop” that clears up a really important point about goose anatomy.
If you’re new to Holmes then maybe the annotations are a bit much, but if you want to re-experience the stories from a new perspective there’s really no better way.
Review by Matthew