|Photo courtesy of Ray Betzner|
One of my favorite scenes in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the discussion of such 20th century writers as (if I remember correctly) Harold Robbins and Jaqueline Suzanne. “Ah,” Spock says sagely, “the Classics.”
Recently I’ve been reading real classics of the Sherlockian world in the form of the Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library, a paperback reprint series published in the 1990s. Seven of the nine books have sat on my shelves years – nay, decades – and I’m embarrassed to say that I’d neglected to read some of them. Because, like all classics in any field, they are still relevant.
How had I never opened T.S. Blakeney’s Sherlock Holmes: Fact or Fiction? It was published in England in 1932, the year before Vincent Starrett’s indispensable The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (also part of Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library series) was published in the United States. It’s a wonderful little volume, scholarly and yet somehow like listening to an old friend.
The equally delightful Gavin Brend’s My Dear Holmes: Studies in Sherlock and James Edward Holroyd’s Baker Street By-Ways came much later (1951 and 1959), but still relatively early in the history of the Great Game. They had less to build on than those that followed, and those that followed built on them.
Other books in the Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library series are Vincent Starrett (ed.)’s 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes; H.W. Bell (ed.)’s Baker Street Studies, S.C. Roberts’s Holmes & Watson: A Miscellany; John Kendrick Bangs’s R. Holmes & Co.; and James Edward Holroyd (ed.)’s Seventeen Steps to 221B.
With the single exception of the Bangs novel, all these books have influenced other writers for decades. In fact, many of the individual articles in the collections are frequently quoted and anthologized.
Whether you read them in the Penzler editions or not, read them all. Because you can’t fully appreciate where you are until you understand how you got there.