Saturday, November 07, 2009

Annotating the Canon

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Leslie S. Klinger (editor and annotator); The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1 (W.W. Norton & Co.; 2005; ISBN 978-0-393-05914-4; cover by Sidney Paget).

I've gone back to Holmes every couple of years, sometimes reading the entire set again, sometimes just dipping into favorites (my first encounter was in a anthology supposedly edited by Alfred Hitchcock for children and was "The Red-Headed League"). My interest in The Canon has risen and fallen, probably it reached its height when the excellent Jeremy Brett series was running on PBS; I even had a Sherlock Holmes birthday party then, making multiple dishes from a Sherlock Holmes cookbook (took about 8 hours to do the whole meal, no wonder they had so many servants then!).

I received this volume last year for Christmas (and purchased the two follow-up volumes with money received as gifts). At first I was skeptical...why an annotated version? Especially since I had a two-volume annotated version (which I was mystified to learn was somehow "controversial"), the massive two-volumes edited and annotated by William S. Baring-Gould (only slightly massive than the one volume version I owned for a short time...too big!). Was there room for more annotations?

So enthusiastic yes! The "controversy" with Baring-Gould seems to be in that he re-ordered the tales, moving from the way they were published or previously anthologized originally, to a chronological order. Now, seeing that this volume contains a chronological listing, I would guess that the controversy was less in developing a timeline for Holmes and Watson than breaking up the crown jewels.

Klinger puts them back into their "proper setting" and sprinkles a series of notes (sometimes several to a single paragraph) and short articles throughout the book. Some notes concern things that we "modern folk" might not be familiar with. Others illuminate weapons, the interior makeup of various poultry, dates, lapses of memory by Holmes or Watson (or their "editor", Doyle), etc.

If you have Baring-Gould, is it worth purchasing this set? Between the notes, the illustrations and the nice production of this trio, I say yes. If you've never encountered Holmes and Watson before (and I suspect there will be people who look at this volume when the dreaded "rebooting" of the series appears in the movies shortly), welcome to The Great Game!

Made up of: Introduction (John Le Carre); The World of Sherlock Holmes (Klinger); The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia; The Red-Headed League; A Case of Identity; The Boscombe Valley Mystery; The Five Orange Pips; The Man with the Twisted Lip; "A Rose By Any Other Name" (Klinger); The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle; "A Winter's Crop" (Klinger); The Adventure of the Speckled Band; "It is a Swamp Adder!...The Deadliest Snake in India!" (Klinger); "The Guns of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, M.D." (Klinger); The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb; The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor; The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet; The Adventure of the Cooper Beeches. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes: Silver Blaze; "...And the Calculation is a Simple One..." (Klinger); "I Stand to Win a Little on This Next Race" (Klinger); The Cardboard Box; The Yellow Face; The Stock-Broker's Clerk; The "Gloria Scott"; The Musgrave Ritual; The Ritual of the Musgraves (Klinger); The Reigate Squires; The Crooked Man; The Indian Mutiny (Klinger); The Resident Patient; The Text of "The Resident Patient" (Doyle and Klinger); The Greek Interpreter; Mycroft Holmes (Klinger); The Naval Treaty; The Final Problem; Revisions of "The Final Problem" (Klinger); Chronological Table: The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes (Klinger).

Counts as 40 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

FTC Disclaimer: Book 01 was a gift from a person who bought it. Book 02 and Book 03 were purchased with money.


John Lambshead said...

The Holmes stories are still one of my favourite literature. I agree that the ITV series was quite superb.

RandallS said...

I agree - The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes is a major improvement over the old Baring-Gould edition. Klinger has updated the notes with 30+ years of additional writings and research on Holmes. He also takes a more balanced approach - Baring-Gould frequently promoted his own theories.

But for the casual reader, the most obvious difference will be the excellent production quality of the new books. The pictures in the New Annotated are much sharper and clearer - you get a much better sense of how readers originally saw Holmes in illustration.

Putting the stories in proper order is also good for the new Holmes fans. The first stories were the best (see this poll of Sherlockian experts on the best Holmes stories), and thus the New Annotated Volume 1 contains the top 7 short stories. This is a great way to get started reading the stories.