Showing posts with label Andrews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Andrews. Show all posts

04 February 2014

Ellery Queen and the Mystery of the Hidden Name

by Dale C. Andrews (and Kurt Sercu)

       As I guess is evident, for most of my life I have been an Ellery Queen fan. I read Queen as a kid, and I trace my published mystery writing back to the Ellery Queen Centennial Symposium that EQMM hosted back in 2005. I attended that symposium in New York City, along with Kurt Sercu, the proprietor of the preeminent Ellery Queen website -- Ellery Queen: A Website on Deduction, and we both left the symposium with the inspiration that eventually led to our Ellery Queen pastiche The Book Case (EQMM, May 2007). While that weekend was the first time Kurt and I had met in person, we had already known each other for years on-line.

       It was sometime around 2000 that I first stumbled onto Kurt’s internet homage to Queen, and while I became a regular visitor there our email friendship did not really blossom until two years later when, in a thread on the Ellery Queen sub-forum of the Golden Age Detectives website discussing Queen’s And on the Eighth Day, I posted a pastiche epilogue to the book, offering a “further explanation” to Ellery’s solution that attempted to tie up some of the novel’s loose ends. Those loose ends had always troubled me -- there are a lot of hidden clues in And on the Eighth Day that are never explicitly addressed in the pages of the book. After reading my conjectured epilogue, Kurt, who oversees the Queen sub forum, responded with some thoughts and we were off and running. 

       And a strange email exchange it has, at times, been over the years. Early on Kurt asked me if I knew the name that arguably tied together a large number of the Ellery Queen mysteries. I replied that I did not and Kurt responded with the following. “The name is ‘Andrews’.” 

       Well, as you can imagine, that sort of floored me for very personal reasons. I had read Queen for years, but this was before I had begun to look behind the stories into the strange and largely inexplicable patterns and clues that Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee wove into the fabric of the Queen library. But even so , , , my own name? In any event, Kurt proceeded to reveal a list of references to names closely associated with the name “Andrews” that appear in Queen, and the list stunned me -- I hadn't even noticed the multitude of characters who bore the name “Andrews,” or who answered to a closely related name. The list included: 

     Rima Anderson                       Double, Double 
     Ann Drew                               The Player on the Other Side 
     Van Andrew                           The Egyptian Cross Mystery 
     Andrea Borden                       Halfway House 
     Andrew Gardiner                    The Finishing Stroke 
     Andrew Hamilton                    The Glass House 
     Judge Andrew Webster          The Glass House 
     Old Soak Anderson                 Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox (Rima’s father) 
     Doctor MacAnderson              The Fourth Side of the Triangle 
     Mrs.Anderson                        The House of Brass 

       Hidden patterns in Ellery Queen mysteries, I now know, are rampant. One of the best examples of this is the recurrence of references to Easter, a topic discussed at some length in a previous post. Other examples involve the use of dates that are either of personal importance to Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who were Queen, or that are of historical interest. Those, too, have been explored in a previous article. Were these multiple references to the name “Andrews,” some of which, after all, are only associated with minor characters, enough to be classified as similar intentional patterns? As Kurt pointed out to me in our correspondence, French Queen scholar Remi Schulz certainly thinks so.

       Remi Schulz has devoted years, and much effort, to the study of the Queen mysteries, plumbing analytical depths that most of us would never even suspect existed. One underlying thesis set forth in Remi’s website is that the Ellery Queen novels are replete with hidden patterns that are premised on recurring dichotomies. Thus, Remi argues, a series of later Queen novels involve murderers with the recurring initials M and W, that switch back and forth chronologically novel to novel. M and W, Remi points out, are a short-hand for one of life’s great dichotomies: men and women. Similarly, there are references to 1 and 2, and to “A” and “B” that recur in Queen mysteries. As an example, Remi focuses on the 1936 Queen mystery Halfway House, and points out that it involves two families, Angell and Borden, and secret relationships between Andrea Borden and Bill Angell (AB and BA). These are but examples -- Remi points out many other hidden dichotomies in the mysteries Ellery solves.


     So what do these “either or” patterns have to do with the also recurring references to the name “Andrews?” Well, first of all, Remi’s view is that you can’t view the references to that name standing alone -- you have to look at all of this in the context of those other clues and patterns. Remi argues that the term most commonly used for the recurring literary dichotomy device that he identifies as prevalent in Queen mysteries (A’s and B’s, 1’s and 2’s) is a chiasm, a word that derives from the Greek letter 'Chi', or 'X.' An X, he points out, is also the basic design of the Saint Andrew cross -- a cross, in effect, laid on its side. Thus, it is argued that frequent use of number and letter pairs, and frequent use of the name “Andrews,” are employed to show that chiasms -- and underlying dichotomies -- are a hidden theme in the Ellery Queen mysteries. 

       And what, in turn, could this pattern of dichotomies be intended to convey to the reader? Well, the most obvious chiasm “secret” behind the works of Ellery Queen is, of course, the fact that there are two aspects to Ellery as author -- Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. Up to here I find Remi’s theories a bit far fetched, although still plausible. But from this juncture on Remi and I tend to part ways, forming, perhaps, our own chiasm. 

       Remi’s overarching thesis is that Dannay was the mastermind behind Queen, and that various hidden clues in Ellery Queen mysteries are meant to convey this, as well as the “fact” that Manfred Lee had (in Remi’s view) little or no role in the writing process. I’m not going to delve too deeply into Remi’s theory since it really cannot be articulated without revealing spoilers for many of the Queen mysteries. However, those interested in the theory can pursue Remi’s thesis at his website. (A warning -- Most of Remi's website is written is in his native French. However the Google translate function works fairly well on the site. Some of his theories concerning Ellery Queen mysteries are explained in a shorter English version of his website here.  Remi’s theories are also summarized on Kurt’s website here and here.) 

       My own view as to what this all might mean, while also a bit complicated, is a simpler one. (Warning -- even mine involves one “spoiler.”)

       I share Remi’s view that a plausible explanation of the recurring use of chiasms, as well as the references to “Andrews” as a clue to point the reader to the Cross of St. Andrews, is that all of this evidences (in a manner subliminal to the actual clues needed to solve each individual mystery story) the fact that two authors, Dannay and Lee, were Ellery Queen. The duality of Queen, as author, is also evidenced by the fact that both Dannay and Lee followed the consistent practice of using a “Q” with two, rather than one, line through it whenever autographing a book as Ellery Queen. 

       But it seems to me that it is ultimately self-defeating to argue that these hidden references were somehow meant to demean Lee’s role. After all, but for the few later Queen mysteries written by ghostwriters when Manfred Lee battled writer’s block, it was Lee who penned the actual drafts of the Ellery Queen mysteries from Dannay’s outlines. And even in the ghostwritten works it is acknowledged that Lee edited the final drafts. Can we really expect that Lee would be a party to a scheme intended to demean his own role? 

       In fact, there is at least some evidence that Lee could be a bit of a prankster himself, and was not above sneaking references into the Queen mysteries behind Dannay’s back. The best example of this is one particular late Queen novel (that’s all I’m going to say!) in which the name of the murderer appears only twice -- on the opening and closing pages. When asked about this literary device in a televised interview Dannay reportedly was taken aback, rather obviously surprised by the literary trick. So if that response by Dannay was honest, then the trick was by Lee. A trick that involved a secret cleverness -- a cleverness involving a name. 

Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
       The issue of employing “cleverness” with chosen names also brings us back to both Lee and Dannay -- each of whom chose their own names. Frederic Dannay was born Daniel Nathan, and Manfred Bennington Lee was born Manford Lepofsky. Lee, like his cousin Dannay, was of Russian-Jewish ancestry, but (unlike Dannay) eventually converted to Episcopalian. As Dannay’s notes in The Tragedy of Errors indicate, the cousins referred to each other throughout their lives as “Man” and “Dan,” evocative of both their given names and their chosen names. 

       And what do we know of the name “Andrews?” Well, in the Bible Andrew was the brother of Peter, and was himself a disciple. Legend has it that Andrew preached in Russia, in the Black Sea area of the Ukraine, and that his remains were eventually carried to Scotland, where he became the patron saint of the country and inspired that cross of St. Andrew, which graces the Scottish flag. Lee and Andrew, therefore, had a shared background, in a sense:  roots that involved Jewish Russia, and relocation to an English speaking locale. Each was born Jewish; each died Christian. So there is a credible basis to hypothesize that Lee could have personally identified with Andrew. Could the recurring usage of Andrews, and names closely related to Andrews, constituted Lee’s “signature” to the Queen mysteries? Are any of the foregoing similarities enough to deduce anything? The question still remains: What does Manfred Lee, as a name, have to do with Andrews? 

       Well, perhaps this: The name “Andrew,” “Andrea” in Greek, is translated as “manly.” Or, phonetically, “Man Lee.” In other words, the joke here, once again, may have been on Dan!

01 November 2011

Old Purple Head

By Dale C. Andrews

     What follows would have been more appropriate yesterday, on Halloween,  But hey, can I help it that Tuesday is my day, that I get “All Saints’ Day” while Fran drew the darker card?  In any event, this column is spawned from last week, from a year ago, and from the legends that surround all of us, wherever we may find ourselves.  Some of these legends are written anew by the likes of us, you and me, while others evolve, almost on their own, over years.  Folk tales without authors.  Some of these we stumble upon, unexpectedly, as we round a corner.

     The past week my wife and I traveled from Washington, D.C. to southern Illinois to visit friends who live on the banks of Lake Egypt.  This is the second time we have made this trip  Like last year we first stop there, in the woods by the lake, and then after a few days we  move on 130 miles north east to Vincennes, Indiana where my wife’s family lives, and where, every year, just before Halloween, they gather for several nights of bonfires in the woods. 

     Last year when we first added our Lake Egypt stop to the  trip I consulted a map and realized that while most people would travel between southern Illinois and Vincennes by going north on Interstate 57 and then west on Interstate 64, that route is, in fact,comprised of  a geographically inefficient  two sides of a triangle.  There is another way to do this, I concluded – a combination of Illinois 45 and Illinois 1 in fact runs a razor straight hypotenuse to the triangle, connecting Lake Egypt and Vincennes in a straight line.

     We are retired.  We have plenty of time. We don’t need interstates when there are state and country roads.   So last year when I typed our destination into the car’s  GPS  I pushed the button for shortest route, not fastest, and our car proceeded to guide us northeast along route 45.

     Route 45 and route 1 are, for the most part, easy going idyllic two lane blacktop.  They meander through small towns, past lots of barbecue restaurants, antique shops and churches, all with little traffic.  But, as I said, easy going is the description for “the most part.”

     Last year we had almost reached Vincennes, indeed, our GPS indicated less than 10 miles to go before we reached my sister-in-law’s house, when the GPS instructed us to turn off of Illinois 1 and into the small (and a bit deserted) town of St. Francisville, Illinois.  I turned to Pat and asked, “Why are we going to St. Francisville?”  (After all, this is her neck of the woods not mine.)  Pat shrugged and shook her head.   The GPS  next  instructed us to make a sharp left turn off of Main Street and on to a seemingly little used side street.  We dutifully obeyed, following the map in our dashboard as we wandered out of town, into the woods.  After another sharp left we pulled up in front of a ramshackle one room building beside the road and next to two signs.  One said “Stop.”  The other said “Pay Toll.”

      I turned again to Pat.  “Are there any toll roads going into Vincennes?”  “I didn’t think so,” she answered just a bit uneasily.

     There was no place to easily turn around so I pulled up to the open window of the shack.  A bored teenage girl sat inside in a rickety office chair, Ipod, buds in her ears, an illustrated novel propped on a wooden table in front of her.  She lazily turned her head, appraising us,  one eye wide, the other slit.  “One dollar,” she mumbled through chewing gum.  I fished in my pocket and handed over a buck.  The path of least resistance.  We all end up on it more often than not.   She deposited my dollar in a dirty cash register sitting on the table and then turned  back to the comic.  Pat and I eyed each other as I pulled slowly away from the shack.

    The blacktop road rapidly gave out to gravel.  Ahead was a sharp corner.  We rounded it and then, before we knew it, we were facing “Old Purple Head.”   The website Haunted USA describes the Purple Head bridge, spanning the Wabash between St. Francisville and Vincennes as follows:
Purple Head Bridge in Vincennes, Indiana is a decrepit train bridge with most of the ties now missing, leaving holes through its span like gaps of rotten teeth. The rusted metal frame however still spans the Wabash, an echo of the might of the former rail traffic that connected a nation.
Another description appears in the on-line article The Ghosts of the Purple Head Bridge in Vincennes, Indiana by Jennifer Eblin:
The Purple Head Bridge in Vincennes, Indiana, is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in the southern half of the state, if not the entire state. There have been dozens of people over the years, maybe even hundreds of people, all of whom claimed to experience some strange and unsettling things.
The Purple Head Bridge is an old railroad bridge located in Vincennes. Some people claim that this is a toll bridge, but based on the images I have seen, it is clearly a railroad bridge. It is hard to imagine anyone driving a vehicle across it, but a large number of people believe it once did that.
     It is certainly true that Old Purple Head was a railroad bridge, but we all know that you can’t believe everything you find on the internet.  I can tell you, based on personal experience, that however ill advised the enterprise may be, Old Purple Head presently does indeed operate as a one-lane toll bridge (albeit with two way traffic).  And you do not have to take my word for it.  Want to drive it?  Well, take my word for it, the real thing is even worse, but hold on tight because  here we go, courtesy of U Tube.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  (This great video, which tells it all, is courtesy of Ed Brumley, www.edbrumley.com.  Ed truly captured the experience.)



While the drive is scary enough by itself, as noted by Ms. Elbrin the bridge has also spawned a remarkable number of ghost stories, legends that have evolved in the folklore of Southern Illinois and Indiana.
 I have also [Ms. Elbin writes]  heard varying stories on how exactly you are supposed to see the spirits [that inhabit the bridge]. Some people claim that you must drive your car on to the bridge, and wait for strange things to happen. Others state you need only be close to the bridge. Given its decrepit state, and the pieces missing from the bridge, I would highly advise against trying to find a way to get your car on to it.
According to local legends one of the spirits of the Purple Head Bridge is visible only during storms. Supposedly a man once decided to kill himself by hanging himself from one of the trestles during a storm. Something went terribly wrong and he was decapitated in the fall. Today [it is said that] you can see his head floating along the bridge. . . .
     Other local legends maintain that the bridge is haunted by a native American medicine man, murdered there during the French and Indian wars.  Still other locals will tell you that the bridge was used by the Ku Klux Klan for lynchings.  Students at nearby Vincennes University have posted website accounts of ghostly encounters that invariably occur late at night on the bridge.  Others claim that if you stand on the bridge at night you will see a luminescent purple head floating below in the Wabash.  Want more?  Google “Purple Head Bridge” – there are pages of references and stories.

     What’s the suggested take-away here?  Well, one might be that sometimes we write the stories and sometimes the stories evolve around us.  Some places are so strange, so unexpected and maybe even bone-chilling when you first encounter them that they beg for backstories.  You can find those places, sometimes they will find you.  And you can write those stories.  But you better hurry up because if you don’t write them, well. . . eventually they are going to write themselves.

     Last week, one year later, on the 27th of October, Pat and I once again were headed across Southern Illinois bound for Vincennes.  We have a new car this year, and I was hoping for a different GPS outcome.  But when our dashboard display directed us to turn left off of Main Street in St. Francisville at an old wooden sign that said “toll bridge,” we instead pulled a U-turn and drove back to Route 1.  There are limitless stories out there, and there are also plenty of other ways to cross the Wabash.

(A note to readers -- the interview with Iiki Yusan that was a basis for last Tuesday's article is now available on Kurt Sercu's website Ellery Queen -- a Website on Deduction.  Click here and follow Kurt's prompts.)

25 October 2011

Fair Play Mysteries and the Land of the Rising Sun


 And on the Eighth Day by Ellery Queen,
 Japanese Edition
By Dale C. Andrews

     Last spring I received a completely unexpected email asking for permission to publish The Book Case in a new anthology.  The volume is to be titled The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, and will include a number of Ellery Queen pastiches including, in addition to The Book Case, Mike Nevin’s classic Queen pastiche Open Letter to Survivors.

    There is sort of a surprise ending to all of this, but like most surprise endings if you think about it that revelation should have been anticipated:  The anthology will be published in Japan.  The stories will all be translated into Japanese.

    When last I posted on SleuthSayers it was back in September, and  I began by mentioning my lunch with Mike Nevins, emeritus professor of Law at St. Louis University Law School and noted mystery writer, critic and author of the fore-mentioned Open Letter to Survivors.  As mentioned then, Mike and I spent a good deal of time reminiscing about the writings of John D. MacDonald.  As our conversation turned to the growing lack of availability of MacDonald mysteries, even the Travis McGee series, Mike observed that with the exception of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle publication of a mystery writer’s work usually begins to disappear shortly after the author’s own demise.  I mentioned the complete lack of newly-published Ellery Queen mysteries in the United States and Mike shook his head dolefully and cautioned me not to expect any turn-around.

    Not in the United States, that is.

    But surprisingly the taste among readers for newly-published Golden Age mysteries varies drastically around the world.  My Belgian friend and sometimes collaborator Kurt Sercu, in his website Ellery Queen, a Website on Deduction, has noted that there have been new editions of Ellery Queen mysteries published in Russia, Spain and Italy during the last decade.  But the best exemplar of this is Japan, where the Golden Age fair play whodunit is alive and well, and where Ellery thrives. 

   
Iiki Yusan
    All of this was brought home to me yet again last week when Kurt asked me to edit an interview he conducted recently by email exchange with Iiki Yusan, who is the leader of the Ellery Queen Fan Club in Japan.  Kurt’s interview should be on-line in about a week, and can be accessed here when it goes on-line.  But I couldn’t resist offering up a bit of a prequel.

    First, by way of amazing statistics, Iiki estimated during the course of the interview that the percentage of books in print for Golden Age mystery writers in Japan looks something like this:


Agatha Christie: 90-100%
Ellery Queen: 80-90%
John Dickson Carr: 60-70%
Rex Stout: 10-20%

    While I do not know the relevant percentages in the United States, I do know that there are virtually no Ellery Queen works currently in print, and if you gave me $5.00 and required me to bet with it my wager would be that there are substantially more Rex Stout volumes available in the United States than there are Queen mysteries.   So what augurs a different result in Japan?  Why is Agatha Christie still popular in the United States while Ellery Queen has virtually disappeared?  Apparently there is something about fair play detective stories, and particularly those of Queen, that continues to resonate in Japan in a way that these stories no longer call out to the reading public in the United States.

Frederic Dannay and Ed Hoch in Japan, 1979
    All of this goes beyond mere re-publication of the Ellery Queen mysteries.  For example, I was astounded to learn during the course of editing Kurt’s interview with Iiki that in Japan in 1980 there was a television series, modeled after Alfred Hitchcock Presents, that was hosted by none other than Frederic Dannay, just two years before his death in 1982. Queen works have continued to be the subject of movies, television shows and theatrical productions in Japan up to the present.  And Japan also has produced book-length treatises analyzing the works of Queen.  Iiki himself has authored Ellery Queen Perfect Guide (2004) and Reviews of Ellery Queen (2010).  In World Wars and Ellery Queen (1992) Kiyosi Kasai, traces the development of Golden Age murder mysteries in the context of the two world wars and concludes that the rise of the genre, in which well-developed characters were murdered, was a reaction to the countless faceless deaths of war.   And in The Logic of the Detective Story (2007) Kentaro Komori spends a full volume analyzing the deductive logic of detective fiction (especially Ellery Queen) by comparing the analytic approaches utilized in the novels with the philosophical reasoning of the likes of Bertrand Russel and Kurt Godel.  I doubt that such rigorous analyses of the works of Queen were ever undertaken in the United States, even when the works were in their heyday.

    Modern detective stories written by Japanese writers also continue to reflect the works of Queen.  In his on-line article Ellery Queen is Alive and Well and Living in Japan author Ho-Ling Wong reports that the new wave of fair play whodunits in Japan is referred to as the "new orthodox" detective story -- a story that hearkens back to Golden Age mysteries but does so by incorporating the fair play formula into modern settings.  And, as Ho-Ling Wong references, Ellery Queen's presence continues in these works.
 Other popular writers of the New Orthodox School are Norizuki Rintarō and Alice Arisugawa.  Both writers are strongly influenced by Ellery Queen. Both of them have named their protagonists after themselves, like their great example. Both writers often insert a Challenge to the Reader in their stories.  As one can derive from his first name, Arisugawa often delves into imagery of Alice in Wonderland, just like Ellery Queen, while Norizuki Rintarō’s characters mimic Ellery Queen almost exactly.  In fact, his protagonist is a writer, also called Norizuki Rintarō, who helps his father, a police inspector, mirroring the Ellery Queen – Inspector Queen dynamic.
   
Ayatsuji Yukito,
Courtesy University of Kyoto
    What is behind all of this continued interest in fair play detective stories in Japan?  Who can say?  But for whatever reason Golden Age mysteries have struck a chord there.  Mysteries founded on the deductive reasoning process continue to be one of the most popular forms of writing in Japan.  The following quote, still a bit stilted in translation, shows up often on the internet as an explanation for the popularity of the genre in Japan.  Predictably, it is offered up in an imagined conversation with Ellery Queen set forth in The Murders at the Ten-cornered Residence (1991) written by the popular Japanese writer Ayatsuji Yukito.

Ellery, the slim handsome young man says: 
To me, detective fiction is a kind of intellectual game. A logical game that gives readers sensations about detectives or authors. These are not to be ranked high or low. So I don't want the once popular “social sect” realism. Female employee murdered in a deluxe suite room; criminal police's tireless investigation eventually brings in the murdering boss-cum-boyfriend--All cliché. Political scandals of corruption and ineptness; tragedies of distortion of modern society; these are also out of date. The most appropriate materials for detective fiction, whether accused untimely or not, are famous detectives, grand mansions, suspicious residents, bloody murders, puzzling situation, earth-shattering schemes . . . .   Made up things are even better. The point is to enjoy the pleasure in the world of reasoning. But intellectual prerequisites must be completely met.    

    All of this makes me wish that I could read Japanese!  Be sure to check Kurt’s website in the next week or so for the full interview with Iiki. 

(Clip art courtesy of Kurt Sercu and Ellery Queen:  a Website on Deduction except as noted.)

27 September 2011

Re-writes?

by Dale C. Andrews

Francis Nevins, courtesy of St. Louis University
      This past Saturday I drove up to Baltimore, Maryland in a pouring rain in order to enjoy a lunch with one of my favorite authors, Professor Francis (“Mike”) Nevins who had travelled to the east coast for a nostalgia convention.   Mike, as all fans know, is the author of six novels, two collections of short stories and several books of non-fiction. He has edited more than 15 mystery anthologies and collections.  Mike was a close friend to Frederic Dannay, one half of the Ellery Queen collaboration.  (Mike refers to Dannay as the “closest thing to a grandfather that I ever had.")  Mike also wrote one of the definitive Ellery Queen pastiches – “Open Letter to Survivors.”

       I know, I know.  At this stage you roll your eyes and think to yourself, “here goes Dale off on another Ellery Queen tangent.”  So, like any other mystery writer, let me attempt to pull the rug out from under your feet.  What caught my interest, among other things, was Mike’s ruminations on another favorite author of mine, John D. MacDonald.

John D. MacDonald
       Mike was one of the editors who oversaw the collection of MacDonald’s early stories that comprise the anthology The Good Old Stuff.  (Actually, as reported in a review by Bill Pronzini there were too many stories for one volume, and the rest were collected in More Good Old Stuff.)   What was particularly interesting about Mike’s recollections of working with MacDonald was the fact that the author was adamant that the stories needed to be updated in order to be re-published.  For example, references to radio shows became references to television shows.  “This is always,” Mike admonished from across our salads as we chatted, “a bad idea.” 

       I suppose that there are legitimate contrasting views on that point, although I side generally with Mike.   Reflections of the world as it existed at the time a story was written can become anachronistic, rendering a story “dated” in the eyes of some readers and therefore contributing to its demise from published literature.  As an example, it has become increasingly difficult to find John D. MacDonald titles in bookstores (and you might as well forget about finding any newly published volumes by Ellery Queen).   But Mike’s observation is certainly correct from a purist perspective – short stories and novels help us to understand the times during which they were written.  We cannot (as the philosopher Heraclitus observed) step into the same river twice, but historical context in the writings of a time get us as close as we can get to that river. 

        All of this is perhaps a minor issue when we are talking about John D. MacDonald’s insistence that a story should be rewritten substituting a television for a radio.  But the significance grows when we begin to slide on down the slippery slope. 

        Last January it was announced that a new edition of Huckleberry Finn, updated by Twain scholar Alan Gribben of Auburn University, would eliminate a now totally unacceptable noun that was used 219 times by Mark Twain to describe Huck’s companion Jim during the course of the narrative.  In the new edition that word would be replaced with “slave.”  I can certainly understand the problem and sympathize with the solution.   I would never use the deleted word, even in quotations, even in an “historical” novel that hearkens back to a time when the word was lamentably acceptable in everyday speech.  But Twain’s use of the descriptive noun nevertheless  shapes the novel because it reflects the time in which Twain wrote it.  Commenting on this, USAToday on January 4, 2011 quoted Jonathan Turley, a legal blogger, who calls the editorial decision an "offense against the original work." 
The editing of a classic raises very troubling questions from the right of an author to have his works remain unchanged to the integrity of literary and historical works. Like all great works, the book must be read with an understanding of the mores and lexicon of its time.
Aside from the fact that MacDonald was editing his own work, the MacDonald example and the Mark Twain example delineate what might well be opposite ends of a spectrum.  MacDonald’s updates seek to remove anachronistic references in the hope of making a story more modern.  The Twain example, however, seeks to supplant the admittedly unacceptable racial views of Twain’s present with the (hopefully) more correct approach of ours.  Is it right to do this, to take a book that was ultimately instrumental in fighting racial prejudice and revise it in a manner that suggests that some of the manifestations of that prejudice did not historically exist?  Is it right to apply present standards in a way that pretends to alter the past?

      Well, there is another recent median point on that same spectrum, an example more socially tinged than MacDonald’s re-write of his stories but less so than Twain’s.   The Washington Post reported last week that the Albemarle Virginia public school system has removed from the required sixth grade reading list at one middle school a Sherlock Holmes novel because a Mormon parent complained about the way it portrayed Mormons.  The book at issue is A Study in Scarlet, which first introduces Holmes and Watson.  And the “offending” paragraph reads as follows:
 [John Ferrier] had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible. He had to seal his mouth on the subject, however, for to express an unorthodox opinion was a dangerous matter in those days in the Land of the Saints
 I mean, really.  Is this a reason to remove A Study in Scarlet from a reading list?

Colin Cotterill
        And what awaits us at the bottom of the slippery slope if we follow and apply the approach of the Albemarle Virginia public school system?   When I attended the Bouchercon mystery writers’ convention in St. Louis 10 days ago one of the panels I listened to featured Colin Cotterill. Cotterill, for those of you unfamiliar with his works, lives in Thailand and has written a series of mysteries featuring Dr. Sin and the Peoples’ Republic of Laos.  Cotterill explained at Bouchercon that while there is complete freedom of the press in Thailand, such is hardly the case in Laos.  In order to maximize his chance to have one of his books actually published in Laos, where it is set, he and a friend went through the mystery eliminating all pages that might conceivably be deemed objectionable by the Laotian government.  When they were done they were aghast to find that they were left with only 10 pages.  On a lark they sent these off to whatever Laotian governmental office oversees such things.  That office responded with a formal letter concluding that regrettably only 3 of the 10 pages could be published. 

     That, I think, is a good recent example of the bottom of the slippery slope.

A note to readers -- Next week my Tuesday partner in crime Susan Slater, well known author of Southwestern Mysteries, will be signing on to SleuthSayers with a multi-part article.  After Susan takes a few weeks in this spot I will be back, so see you in October!