Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. ed. Leslie S. Klinger. The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1. 2004.

I decided to write about these stories now, having finished only the first volume of the two currently in print (the final volume, of the four novels, will be released in November), both because I feel I have a good handle on my reactions to the book as a whole, and because I've been reading it for quite a while now.

I had thought, when I bought the complete short stories, that this would be a nice set; that I could read a story before bed on those evenings when I wanted something fairly light, and that each story would take me no more than fifteen minutes or so. Because of the annotations by Klinger, that's not quite true. Some of the notes--explaining what's meant by Scotland Yard, for example--are likely only to be of interest to people who have no familiarity whatsoever with the stories. Few of the notes, though, are like that. Most offer some insight into what various people have made of the lives and careers of Holmes and Watson, and their peculiar relationship with Doyle.

Yes, that's right--the scholarship with which the notes concern themselves start by taking it as fact that Holmes and Watson were real people. Innumerable people have studied one aspect or another of the various stories over the years, both highlighting inconsistencies--which are themselves innumerable--and explaining them away. The notes point to this world of scholarship, offer a brief taste, and offer suggestions for further reading on the various convoluted points.

In short, the notes are fun. It takes me more than twice as long as I expect to read each story, but I'm intrigued by the depth of thought that so many people have given to the stories. When I was a child, I was obsessed with Holmes: I desperately wanted a deerstalker and a Meerschaum pipe of my own, to go about in tweed a la Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Holmes. I've never quite lost that sense of excitement I have when I open a Holmes story, that sense in which everything is so very real. Nor have I lost my admiration for Holmes and his ability to see, to perceive, and to piece together every seemingly insignificant detail in the pursuit of explaining the whole picture.

I'm enjoying Klinger's notes, and I'm re-enjoying the stories for the umpteenth time. I'm glad I bought the books.