Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, was a hero in our house too. Our house being two houses. The one I grew up in and the one Young Ken and Oliver Mannion grew up in.
In case you were never lucky enough to have read the books and tried to solve the mysteries along with the hero and don’t know Encyclopedia Brown, let science writer Kathryn Schultz fill you in:
Encyclopedia Brown is the son of the police chief in a town so famously tough on crime that “Hardened criminals had passed the word: ‘Stay clear of Idaville.’” That’s thanks to Encyclopedia, eternal fifth grader, voracious reader (hence the nickname), and crackerjack private eye. During the school year, Brown père recounts his toughest cases over dinner; Brown fils reliably solves them before dessert. In the summer, Encyclopedia hangs out his own shingle and foils the nefarious plans of countless kid criminals — miniature Moriarties to his miniature Holmes.
Donald Sobel, Encyclopedia’s creator, died last week. Schultz has written a loving appreciation of her “boyhood” hero for Vulture:
But whatever was going on with Encyclopedia and me, it wasn’t just the identificatory consolations of a lonely bookworm. Nor was it only my elbow that was getting imprinted. Later on, I would read Harriet the Spy, Trixie Belden, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Sherlock Holmes, Robert Nozick, Wittgenstein. (In my mind, the line between detection and epistemology is Euclidean and clean.) But Encyclopedia Brown was the gateway detective, the antecedent of them all. From him I absorbed, unconsciously, the idea that reading is where emotional rapture meets analytic rigor. I got, right there, the crucial unity of these terms: intellectual pleasure.
Sobol once said of Encyclopedia Brown that “He is, perhaps, the boy I wanted to be.” He is the boy I wanted to be, too. I think some part of me still wants to be him — to be a detective, the way some part of me still wants to be an astronaut and an Olympic swimmer and a medieval apprentice of obscure birth and fiery temper but bound for greatness, and all the other things I dreamed of being when I was eight years old.
Read Schultz’s whole post, Encyclopedia Brown Was Our Gateway Detective.