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A cause for international celebration―the most important Sherlock Holmes publication in four decades.This monumental edition promises to be the most important new contribution to Sherlock Holmes literature since William Baring-Gould's 1967 classic work. In this boxed set, Leslie Klinger, a leading world authority, reassembles Arthur Conan Doyle's 56 classic short stories in the order in which they appeared in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century book editions. Inside, readers will find a cornucopia of insights: beginners will benefit from Klinger's insightful biographies of Holmes, Watson, and Conan Doyle; history lovers will revel in the wealth of Victorian literary and cultural details; Sherlockian fanatics will puzzle over tantalizing new theories; art lovers will thrill to the 800-plus illustrations, which make this the most lavishly illustrated edition of the Holmes tales ever produced. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes illuminates the timeless genius of Arthur Conan Doyle for an entirely new generation of readers. Two-color text throughout; 800+ illustrations
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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) is most noted for his Sherlock Holmes detective stories. He was a prolific writer whose other works include a wide range of science fiction stories, historical novels, romances, poetry, and nonfiction.From The Washington Post:
"Poor Holmes is dead and damned," remarked Arthur Conan Doyle in 1896, soon after consigning the famous detective to death at the Reichenbach Falls. "I have had such an overdose of him that I feel towards him as I do towards paté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day."
Needless to say, Sherlock Holmes did not go gentle into that good night but came raging back to face a further series of perils, including a spectral hound, a sinister air gun and an exotic Asiatic poison. Even the death of Conan Doyle did not bring about any noticeable slowing of Holmes's career. Though the "official" adventures -- 56 short stories and four longer tales known as "The Canon" -- came to a close more than 75 years ago, the detective continues to enjoy a robust career in books, movies, television programs, musicals, plays and even a ballet.
Along the way he has acquired a cult of followers whose devotion borders on the mystical. Sherlockians, as they call themselves, can be found in every corner of the globe -- and, increasingly, on the Internet -- discussing such matters as the depth to which a sprig of parsley might sink in butter on a hot day, and the true location of Dr. Watson's strangely transient war wound. Ask a Holmes buff for news of the giant rat of Sumatra, and he or she will answer, gently, that it is a tale for which the world is not yet prepared.
"What is it that makes this subject inexhaustible?" asked the noted Sherlockian Edgar W. Smith in 1952. "There is nothing like it, to one's knowledge, in all the field of literature. Not Robinson Crusoe, nor Mr. Pickwick, nor yet great Hamlet has been so honored by the imp of the inquisitive. . . . Ivanhoe and Hiawatha, Dr. Jekyll and David Copperfield, Hercules and George Babbitt -- who cares if they were married once or twice, or how profound their knowledge of the Solar System may have been? We know just where Achilles had his wound, and we let it go at that. . . . But Sherlock Holmes is different." Author Christopher Morley, reviewing a torrent of submissions to the fledgling Baker Street Journal, put the matter more succinctly: "Never has so much been written by so many for so few."
It is a problem that Leslie S. Klinger confronts with remarkable success and good cheer in his new annotated edition of the Sherlock Holmes short stories. As Klinger knows full well, the original tales have now been picked over so many times that it is fair to wonder what is left to say. Indeed, there has already been a two-volume annotated edition, edited by William S. Baring-Gould, which appeared in 1968, and, more recently, a distinguished nine-volume edition from Oxford University Press.
"I set out to create for this edition an annotated set that reflects the spectrum of views on Sherlockian controversies rather than my own theories," writes Klinger in his preface. "In addition, this work brings current Baring-Gould's long-outdated survey of the literature, including references to hundreds of works published subsequently. Recognizing that many of the events recorded in the stories took place in England over 100 to 150 years ago, it also includes much background information on the Victorian age, its history, culture, and vocabulary."
The result is a beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable edition that somehow manages to synthesize all that has come before, and will appeal to both first-time readers and seasoned veterans. The lavish boxed set presents all the original short stories in the order of their publication (setting aside the eccentric chronology of the earlier annotated edition) and will be followed next year by a third volume devoted to the four longer stories -- including, of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles. An evocative preface by John le Carré is followed by an informative essay from Klinger, offering useful background on Holmes and his world. More than 800 illustrations are scattered throughout the text, many of them culled from the magazines in which the stories first appeared. Periodic sidebars guide the reader through potentially rocky terrain such as the Boer War; the rules of rugby; and baritsu, the obscure Japanese system of self-defense that proved so helpful to Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls.
For many readers, the most useful feature will be the annotations running alongside the text, which illuminate unfamiliar or obscure details without breaking the flow of the stories. Klinger brings an admirable clarity and precision to this task. In the opening pages of "A Scandal in Bohemia," for instance, when Watson is directed toward a spirit case, Klinger offers this helpful note:
"A 'spirit case' or 'tantalus' is a stand containing usually three cut-glass decanters, which, though apparently free, cannot be removed until the bar that engages the stoppers is raised. Many such cases have a padlock on the bar, to avoid 'tantalizing' the servants." An illustration from the Harrod's catalogue of 1895 completes our edification.
If there is any fault to be noted, it is that Klinger must occasionally find an awkward perch between scholarship and whimsy as he struggles to maintain what he calls "the gentle fiction that Holmes and Watson really lived." For example, an admirable discussion of the life of Conan Doyle is followed immediately by a somewhat frivolous speculation as to when Conan Doyle and Dr. Watson might have met: "Perhaps these two young writers met in Edinburgh . . . or perhaps their similar medical backgrounds led them to the same lecture." In Sherlockian circles this is known as "playing the game," and it has been raised to an art form in such societies as the Baker Street Irregulars, but newcomers may feel themselves excluded. Klinger wisely keeps it in the background for the most part.
Perhaps I am betraying my own prejudices. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that my own work on this subject -- a biography of Conan Doyle -- is generously acknowledged in these pages, and I should also mention that I see Klinger once a year at the January meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars, where he manages the not inconsiderable feat of appearing stylish and au courant in a tuxedo. I am grateful for the former and rather jealous of the latter, but I trust that neither has unduly influenced my opinion.
At some 1,800 pages, with the additional volume to come, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes is a considerable undertaking, and some readers may balk at its sheer heft. One could do worse than to heed the advice of le Carré: "Do not be dismayed," he writes in his preface. "Nobody writes of Holmes and Watson without love."
Reviewed by Daniel Stashower
Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.
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