Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Encyclopedia Brown

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When it comes to fiction, I must admit, I dig sleuthing types and characters named Brown. It's rather fitting then, that this post is about a kid detective called "Encyclopedia Brown". I'll wax poetic about that other fictional Brown—one round-headed fellow named Chuck—that I'm also captivated with, at another time (but if truth be told, he's not too badly represented on this blog).

On any given day, I'm immersed in the escapades of fictional detectives. Poirot, Holmes, Marple, Lewis, Morse etc. make my simple world complete. This love affair began many moons ago with the adventures of one Nancy Drew, the siblings Hardy and Bobbsey, Scooby and the Mystery Machine gang, and one ten year old bookworm/entrepreneur named Encyclopedia. 

Last month, on July 11th, Donald J. Sobol, the author of Encyclopedia Brown, the popular children's detective series for generations over, sadly passed away at the age of 87. The first book of the series, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective was published in 1963. The stories have been translated into 12 languages and have never been out of print. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the sleuthing series.

“Thanks to Donald, generations of children have learned to read and solve mysteries alongside Encyclopedia Brown, one of the most iconic characters in children’s literature."—Don Weisberg (Penguin Young Readers Group)

Ten year old amateur detective and resident of Idaville, Florida, Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown was so called for his Sherlockian tendency to accumulate facts, apply logic and employ impressive powers of deduction. While Sherlock had ties to the establishment (and thus a means of satiating his need for complex and challenging cases), in the form of his older brother Mycroft, Encyclopedia was no slouch in this department. Being the only son of Idaville's resident tough guy police chief, provided unique opportunities to exercise his exceptional gray matter. Helping dad solve cases over dinner was commonplace for the fifth grader. Clearly, consulting detectives start young. The Brown Detective agency (conveniently situated in the Brown family garage) handled cases that tended to be more of the neighbourhood and schoolyard fare. Encyclopedia's sidekick or "Watson" was a streetwise tomboy named Sally Kimball. Before the days of Lucy Liu's Watson, there was Sally Kimball.

“In the early 1960s, girls and women weren’t supposed to work up a sweat, and here was a woman doing a man’s work.”—Donald J. Sobol
"That one of my first heroes had a female bodyguard was an important early lesson: I grew up believing that women could be just as smart and brave as men, and longed to have, if not an actual girlfriend, a Sally of my own by my side."—Jonathan Haye (Crime novelist and forensic pathologist)

John Sobol, the author's son described Sally as a groundbreaking female protagonist. Together, Encyclopedia (the brains) and Sally (the brawn) faced Idaville (and playground) equivalents to Moriarty and others so wickedly inclined (i.e. one Bugs Meany and his gang of ruffians, the Tigers). Each book presented ten mysteries with solutions offered at the end.

"I loved these stories because they were about a kid like me, a kid who solved mysteries with logic and common sense, often exposing the hypocrisy of foolishly dismissive adults. I loved the sense of order and balance restored to the world at the end of each story — the true resolution at the heart of all good crime fiction."—Jonathan Haye (Crime novelist and forensic pathologist)
Problem solver, master out-witter, businessman, bibliophile and understated catcher of bad guys: the ultimate geek hero was our Encyclopedia Brown.

I could use a stack of Encyclopedias right now for both the enlightenment and the joy.



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