Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Are we reading the same book?

The official Sherlock Peoria chronology of the Holmes tales gets me the occasional e-mail, and this week came a curious note from Michael Miranda that read, "I noticed that in your chronology of The Sign of the Four, you have the post mark as July 7th, when really it's ". . . Post-mark, London, S.W. Date, September 7" in the canon."

Given how long that webpage has been up, and given the persnickety eye for detail that so many Sherlockians have, I was a little surprised that I had a mistake that had never been caught. A quick check of the Mr. Moon text confirmed my July date, which I passed on to Michael. He in turn, showed me his copy, a Barnes & Noble Signature edition, with the September date.

My first thought, when hearing of a textual variation in The Sign of the Four, is to hit up my copy of Sherlock Holmes Among The Pirates, Donald Redmond's masterwork on that subject. Of course, the pirate publishers, though they liked to change Beaune to claret and do other curious things, never really helped Watson out with his dates. I enjoy a chance to revisit the Redmond work, and especially stop by the dedication to Newt and Lilian Williams, whom the good Carter and I had a splendid English breakfast with once when we were young. But I digress -- I was going to have to look elsewhere.

So I went modern, seeking out Les Klinger's New Annotated. Still "July," with no mention of fixes. Turning those pages, of course, turned of the names of several friends I haven't seen in a while . . . the curse and the joy of being an aging Sherlockian: you know most of the Game's players.

I grabbed my own pretty Barnes & Noble edition, but it was and older one, reproducing the Doubleday Complete, complete with Morley preface. As I'm still not old enough to have known Morley, no break for nostalgia with that one.

Apparently this latest change in the text of The Sign of the Four is fairly recent, carrying on that long history of publisher tweaks of the tale. One has to wonder how far they went in cleaning up Watson's dates . . . is "Wisteria Lodge" finally in a year that makes sense? Do the marriage stories line up? I suspect they didn't go that far, but perhaps one day someone will.

And there will still be those people like Newt and Lilian Williams who seek to find what all the differences are when we all think we're reading the same book.

Because we just never quite are, even now.

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