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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Classic Introductions to Sherlock Holmes

Some years ago, I had a terrific idea: An anthology of great introductions to Sherlock Holmes. The reason I know it was a terrific idea is that (I later learned) Edgar Smith edited just such a volume published by the Baker Street Irregulars in 1959.

Within the last few weeks I acquired a copy of Introducing Mr. Sherlock Holmes and read it with great enjoyment. There’s a note in the front that says this is a new, limited edition of 350 copies and mine is number 301. One of the neat aspects of the book is that each essay appears just as it did first – in the original type face, etc.  

Without critiquing each of these essays at length, here are the award-winners, in my opinion:

Most enjoyable: A tie between Vincent Starrett and S.C. Roberts, two of the Sherlockian/Holmesian giants of their generation. These essays are full of love and command of the material, plus erudition.

Most disappointing: Dr. Joseph Bell’s 1893 introduction to A Study in Scarlet. ACD’s influential professor seems to have forgotten what he was writing about.

Most inaccurate: The great Howard Haycraft’s introduction to The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes, which I encountered as a boy, has errors of fact on almost every page.

Most surprising: Rex Stout! He attacks Holmes (and, to a lesser degree, Watson) for six pages before offering one positive paragraph at the end. This shocked me more than “Watson Was a Woman”!

Most critically flawed: Fletcher Pratt dismisses The Valley of Fear as he lauds The Hound of the Baskervilles as the only successful Holmes novel. He was wrong.

Most insightful: Anthony Boucher, on the other hand, correctly appreciates the magnificent achievement of The Valley of Fear, correctly noting that the second part is the world’s first hard-boiled detective story.

Most Canonical: Arthur Conan Doyle’s wonderfully nostalgic introduction to The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.  

Most iconic: “In Memorium,” Christopher Morley’s introduction to the Doubleday Complete Sherlock Holmes. How many of us have read it repeatedly? Morley was paid so much for those five pages to visit London on the proceeds. And well worth it!

This was another book that I purchased through Denny Dobry of the BSI Trust. Contact him at dendobry@ptd.net to fill your Sherlockian book needs at good prices.    

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