Annotated Sherlock Holmes


When you’ve read the 60 stories in the Canon a few times, or maybe on the very first reading, you may start to wonder about some of the terms used, some of the places mentioned, some of the people involved and some of the quotations given.

For example, would you know what a “gasogene” [MAZA, SCAN] was, where the Grimpen Mire [HOUN] is, and who our landlady was (Mrs Hudson or was it Mrs Turner [SCAN]?)

Over the years several authors have studied the Canon in an attempt to explain, or unearth, the real meaning and the real people behind the stories and to explain some of the paraphenalia of Victorian England. They produced what are referred to as the “Annotated Sherlock Holmes”.

First of note was William Sabine Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Originally in two volumes and later combined into a single volume, Baring-Gould organised the stories according to the dates during which the cases appeared to have taken place. As I have noted elsewhere, this isn’t always clear (sometimes for good reason) and Baring-Gould’s deductions are not always in agreement with other chronologies. Nevertheless he provides useful extra detail about each case.

My own personal favourite is The Oxford Sherlock Holmes, edited by Owen Dudley Edwards, which produces the stories in their more usual order of publication and in nine volumes. This set I have used so much that some of the pages are coming loose. Each volume is a very handy pocket size that makes them ideal for travelling. A paperback version has been published and I may soon need to replace my hardback version with this. Both the hardback and paperback sets will appear in my library opposite (listing them here would take up too much space).

Finally amongst these extended works is Leslie S Klinger’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. It’s a set of three very large books (the first two covering the short stories and the third the novels) and condenses what had been written in his The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library where, much like The Oxford Sherlock Holmes, each of the nine volumes of the Canon (four novels and five volumes of short stories) are analysed. Although expensive, this Annotated Sherlock Holmes, like the Oxford Sherlock Holmes, is still in print. The Baring-Gould volumes are only available second hand.

There are also several encyclopedias, including The Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia by Matthew Bunson, The Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia by Orlando Park and, my favourite, The Ultimate Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia by Jack Tracy (you may be able to find a previous version as The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana).

If you have trouble finding these books at your local second-hand bookshop, try my friend’s book shop at The Omnivorous Reader.

By the way, a gasogene is a device for producing soda, the predecessor of the soda syphon. It consisted of two glass spheres, one above the other. The lower one contained water and the upper one containing carbonate and acid. When water is introduced into the upper chamber, gas is produced which aerates the water in the lower chamber. It can then be drawn off and added to a drink.

The Grimpen Mire is on Dartmoor and, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes and I walked carefully along the path amongst its green scummed pits and foul quagmires where rank reeds and lush, slimy water-plants sent an odour of decay and a heavy miasmatic vapour into our faces, while a false step plunged us more thigh-deep into the dark, quivering mire, which shook for yards in soft undulations around our feet. Its tenacious grip plucked at our heels as we walked, and when we sank into it it was as if some malignant hand was tugging us down into those obscene depths, so grim and purposeful was the clutch in which it held us. Some believe this to be the area around Fox Tor.

Mrs Hudson occasionally went away for a few days and one of her friends would attend to our needs. That was the case on a couple of occasions, during A Scandal in Bohemia and maybe in The Empty House when Mrs Turner stood in for Mrs Hudson.

I am fairly familiar with all forms of secret writings [DANC]

Some of you may have been perplexed by the four character references that I usually put at the end of quotations from “the Canon”.

“The Canon”, by the way, is the term used to refer to the collection of sixty cases published on my behalf by Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1911, the Reverend Ronald A Knox, an Anglican priest, published an essay entitled “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes”. The article was a parody of a school of German Biblical criticism. He subjected my stories about Holmes to the same kind of “form criticism” as German theologians used on the Bible. He was the first to call the stories the “Canon” or “Sacred Writings” and the article is considered the beginning of the scholarship related to the sixty stories.

There are sixty works in all – four novels and fifty-six short stories. The fifty six short stories, after their serialisation in The Strand Magazine, were published in collections, namely:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes
  • His Last Bow
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

Just for completeness, the novels are:

  • A Study In Scarlet
  • The Sign of Four
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • The Valley of Fear

Jay Finley Christ devised a set of four-character abbreviations to conveniently refer to each of the sixty stories. Jay Finley Christ was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, an organisation of enthusiasts considered the pre-eminent Sherlockian group in the United States.

Here is a full list of these abbreviations:

ABBE Abbey Grange
BERY Beryl Coronet
BLAC Black Pete
BLAN Blanched Soldier
BLUE Blue Carbuncle
BOSC Boscombe Valley Mystery
BRUC Bruce-Partington Plans
CARD Cardboard Box
CHAS Charles Augustus Milverton
COPP Copper Beeches
CREE Creeping Man
CROO Crooked Man
DANC Dancing Men
DEVI Devil's Foot
DYIN Dying Detective
EMPT Empty House
ENGR Engineer's Thumb
FINA Final Problem
FIVE Five Orange Pips
GLOR Gloria Scot
GOLD Golden Pince-Nez
GREE Greek Interpreter
HOUN Hound of the Baskervilles
IDEN Case of Identity
ILLU Illustrious Client
LADY Lady Frances Carfax
LAST His Last Bow
LION Lion's Mane
MAZA Mazarin Stone
MISS Missing Three-Quarter
MUSG Musgrave Ritual
NAVA Naval Treaty
NOBL Noble Bachelor
NORW Norwood Builder
PRIO Priory School
REDC Red Circle
REDH Red-Headed League
REIG Reigate Squires (Puzzle)
RESI Resident Patient
RETI Retired Colourman
SCAN Scandal in Bohemia
SECO Second Stain
SHOS Shoscombe Old Place
SIGN Sign of the Four
SILV Silver Blaze
SIXN Six Napoleons
SOLI Solitary Cyclist
SPEC Speckled Band
STOC Stockbroker's Clerk
STUD Study In Scarlet
SUSS Sussex Vampire
THOR Thor Bridge
3GAB Three Gables
3GAR Three Garridebs
3STU Three Students
TWIS Man with the Twisted Lip
VALL Valley of Fear
VEIL Veiled Lodger
WIST Wisteria Lodge
YELL Yellow Face

I must admit, Watson, that you have some power of selection [ABBE]

In 1927, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was asked to select what he regarded as his favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.

His list, in descending order of merit, was:

  1. The Speckled Band
  2. The Red-Headed League
  3. The Dancing Men
  4. The Final Problem
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Empty House
  7. The Five Orange Pips
  8. The Second Stain
  9. The Devil’s Foot
  10. The Priory School
  11. The Musgrave Ritual
  12. The Reigate Squires

Later, he considered the stories he wrote after 1927 and added seven more stories, again in descending order of merit:

  1. Silver Blaze
  2. The Bruce-Partington Plans
  3. The Crooked Man
  4. The Man with the Twisted Lip
  5. The Greek Interpreter
  6. The Resident Patient
  7. The Naval Treaty

The Strand Magazine challenged its readers to guess which of his Sherlock Holmes stories Sir Arthur rated as his very best. He said that when this competition was first mooted, he went into it in a most light-hearted way, thinking that it would be the easiest thing in the world to pick out the twelve best of the Holmes stories. But in practice he found that it was much more serious a task.

A Mr R. T. Newman of Spring Hill, Wellingborough, won £100 for successfully guessing ten of the twelve stories correctly.

Sir Arthur revealed his choice and, in his own inimitable way, explained his reasoning in an article for the magazine which has been published, along with the twelve stories, together for the first time in The Favourite Sherlock Holmes Stories.

This book, with Case Notes by Professor Robert Giddings of Bournemouth University and the twelve stories listed above, is a useful introduction covering Holmes’s cases. There appears to be a misprint in the reproduction of Conan Doyle’s explanation of “How I Made My List” as it refers to the first six of the list being republished in “The Grand Magazine” when it should be “The Strand Magazine”.

The Case Notes by Professor Giddings are bang up to date, covering the latest incarnation of Holmes and myself on the silver screen portrayed by Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law. I think I am more flattered by my portrayal than Holmes!

Perhaps I should consider what my favourite Holmes stories would be?

The one fixed point in a changing age [LAST]

My literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, having sadly passed away, I have, with some reluctance, had to take up other means of recording the singular gifts by which my friend , Mr Sherlock Holmes was distinguished.

I have endeavoured to give some account of my strange experiences in his company from the chance meeting that first brought us together in the matter of A Study in Scarlet [STUD] up to the final story that was published under the title of Shoscombe Old Place [SHOS] in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, though chronologically that was not the last adventure we experienced together.

It was my intention to have stopped there but my hand has now been forced, however by recent events including yet another portrayal of ourselves on the large screen (the forthcoming “Sherlock Holmes” with Robert Downey Jr.), on the smaller screen (the BBC’s pilot that moves us into the present day) and, in a different vein, the threats against the continuing existence of Undershaw – once the home of my dear friend, Arthur Conan Doyle.

More of these events at some later date as I have now to set about establishing myself in this new world. Would that it would be as easy as wandering into the Criterion Bar and finding that a mutual friend knew of someone who was also looking for comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.

One final note – the four-letter abbreviations that appear in brackets above are the commonly-accepted abbreviations of the Canon established by Professor Jay Finlay Christ of the Baker Street Irregulars.

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