Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


One of my favorite things on the entire planet is this two-volume, hardcover set that collects the complete Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle. It contains a wide assortment of the original illustrations and is extensively annotated. Basically everything you've ever hoped to know about Sherlock Holmes is here. There is an incredible amount of history and explanations of real events and figures that inspired Conan Doyle, as well as a healthy dose of Sherlockiana.

The four novels -- A Study in ScarletThe Sign of the FourThe Hound of the Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear -- are included, as well as all fifty six short stories. If you've never read any of these here are a few you should start with:
"The Red-Headed League"
"The Man with the Twisted Lip"
"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"
"The Adventure of the Crooked Man"
"The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" (Mycroft appears for the first time)
"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"
"The Adventure of the Second Stain"
"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"
"The Adventure of the Dying Detective"
"The Adventure of the Creeping Man"
"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"
Lots of adventure, in other words.

The Sherlockiana I mentioned earlier refers to groups of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts that began in the '30s. The original group was known as the Baker Street Irregulars and they would meet and discuss various aspect of Holmesian scholarship and speculation, like what happened during the chronological gaps in stories, Holmes' drug use, his background, etc. Eventually they published a journal and inspired similar groups to pop up all over the world, which still continue today. The editor of these volumes, the eminent William Baring-Gould, was actually one of the original members.

As I said, I love these books. Conan Doyle is one of those writers whose works have so profoundly influenced me it's mostly unconscious by now. Holmes and Watson are more like old friends than characters in a series of murder mysteries. Sentimental, I know. The only real negative is that these books are not really suitable for reading on the go and are the size of heavy coffee table art books. They are also packed with so many illustrations and annotations in the side margins that it isn't the quickest way to read the stories.

There are new editions available, though I prefer these older, hardcover versions. The short stories are divided into their own two-volume set and the novels are in a single volume. And while we're on the subject of Sherlock Holmes, I've always wanted to check out this book: The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases.

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