|One of Brian Belanger's stunning illustrations|
Derrick Belanger, half of the amazing team at Belanger Books (along with artist brother Brian) recently asked me some questions about our upcoming biographical anthology The Essential Sherlock Holmes, Volume One. Here goes:
1. How did you come up with the idea for this anthology?
It originated in a concept I had about 30 years ago for a series of 12 radio plays that would tell the life story of Sherlock Holmes chronologically, from “The ‘Gloria Scott’” to “His Last Bow.” Adapting this idea into an anthology came to me when I read an essay by Frank J. Eustace Jr. in Leaves from the Copper Beeches (1959), in which he gave an almost identical list of stories and called them “essential.” But Eustace’s dozen included The Valley of Fear because of the Moriarty element and did not have “The Blanched Soldier,” which was on my list. I decided that he was right and adjusted the contents of The Essential Sherlock Holmes anthology accordingly.
2. What makes these Sherlock Holmes stories more essential than others?
More essential is right! After all, every canonical Holmes story is essential. But each of these stories tells us something crucial about the Great Detective, and the essays expound on that. This inaugural volume, for example, gives us Holmes’s first case, while he was still college student; his only recorded case before he moved to Baker Street, which also reflects back a bit to his college years; and the beginning of the Holmes-Watson partnership – all undeniably essential as milestone in the Holmes biography. Although they are all splendid tales, there was no attempt to make this a “best of” anthology.
3. Why did you decide to use new illustrations instead of the original ones?
Several reasons: 1. Having illustrations especially created for this anthology enhances the enjoyment of familiar stories, as do the essays. 2. A single illustrator brings a consistency to the volumes that wouldn’t be possible otherwise because none of the classic artists (Paget, Steele) illustrated all the essential stories. 3. Brian Belanger is a wonderful artist, with a signature style resembling block prints.
4. What did you find interesting about the essays in the book? Did any of the authors surprise you with their takes on the stories?
They all surprised me because they all had something original to say. I’m amazed and honored at the first-rate Sherlockians who agreed to contribute. In Volume One: Origins, we have Carla Kaessinger Coupe and Rich Krisciunas reflecting on the young Holmes of “The ‘Gloria Scott’” and before; Mary Alcaro and David L. Leal looking back on “The Musgrave Ritual” and putting it into context; and Jenn Eaker, Ashley D. Polasek, and me tacking A Study in Scarlet, its adaptations, and how it set the pattern for the rest of the Canon.
5. When can we expect more Essential Holmes?
Look for Volume Two in 2022! It brings together The Sign of Four, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and “The Greek Interpreter,” accompanied by another stellar collection of essays.
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