The Los Angeles Times has run a couple of pieces on the NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES anthology, edited by Leslie S. Klinger.
The first is pretty much just a copy of the introduction written by John LeCarre, who discusses his love for the the great detective and the influence that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories had on his own work.
The second is an interview with Klinger, who discusses his reasons for doing the book and tries to analyze the longevity of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
As Holmsians know, there already is an ANNOTED SHERLOCK HOLMES — a lovely, lavish, two-volume set that contains all fifty-six stories and four novels of the “official” canon. (Doyle’s two brief parodies, “The Field Bazaar” and “How Watson Learned the Trick” are not included.) Edited by William S. Baring-Gould, the ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES is truly a must-have item, brimming with illustrations, articles, and (of course) annotations that help the contemporary reader understand the time and place in which the stories are set.
Klinger insists that he is not trying to erase Baring-Gould’s significant contribution to Holmsian scholarship. “I have nothing but admiration for Barring-Gould’s work,” he told the Times, “but it came out in 1967, and there’s been 37 years of writing that needs to be worked into the notes. That’s really where I started with this project. It’s not about supercedign Baring-Gould; it’s about bringing Baring-Gould up to date.”
Klinger’s version should improve upon Baring-Gould’s in at least one significant way. The article makes reference to what Holmes scholars call “The Game,” i.e. the literary pretense that Holmes and Watson were real people. Pursuing the Game to its ultimate conclusion, Baring-Gould presented the stories not in the order they were written and published but in the order that they supposedly actually occurred.
This pretense leads to two problems. The first is that Conan Doyle was careless about chronology, so many stories are impossible to date definitely. Consequently, trying to force them into a timeline creates continuity lapses. Some stories that are dated as taking during one of Watson’s various marriages (there were three, according to Baring-Gould) clearly portray Watson living with Holmes at 221B Baker Street. More egregiously, the novel THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is dated back-to-back with the short story “The Copper Beeches,” which also features a large, lethal canine at the conclusion. Yet neither Holmes nor Watson notes this obvious similarity with an earlier case
The second problem is that, no matter how “accurate,” the chronology places stories side by side that were written years, even decades apart. Doyle’s approach to the character varied (for example, the later stories drop many of Holmes’ eccentricities, like cocaine injections and violin playing), so this results in some jarring shifts of tone. In effect, the articifical timeline undermines the real timeline, disguising the evolution of Doyle’s approach to the character.
The NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES drops the chronology in favor of presenting the stories as they originally appeared. The book includes all fifty-six short stories; a subsequent volume will include the four novels. According to the Times, article, Klinger also includes more “contextual material, more photographs and illustrations, more information about the Victorian age.”
Klinger will be appearing at the Diesel Books on Saturday, November 20 at 4:00pm to discuss the book. For more information, contact John Evans at (310) 456-9961.