Leslie S. Klinger and the Fine
Art of Annotation
Horror classics with footnotes? Now that’s scary!
BY BECKY SPRATFORD
Leslie S. Klinger is an unassuming lawyer by day, but by night, he transforms into a literary-history-obsessed fiend, with a catalog of annotated volumes of some of the biggest genre works in history. This past spring, after he interviewed George
R. R. Martin live onstage at StokerCon 2017, I had the chance to turn the tables on
Klinger, an author who spends his time delving deeply into the lives and works of oth-
ers, and got him to open up about himself and his process.
I wanted to know what drew Klinger to annotating instead of writing his own stories,
and it turns out it began as a fascination with Sherlock Holmes. “When I was in law
school, I received a life-changing gift: a copy of the massive Annotated Sherlock Holmes, by
William S. Baring-Gould,” Klinger told me. He enjoyed the stories as a fan but was surprised by how entranced he became with the volume of amateur scholarship surrounding
the world of Holmes. From that point on, he was determined to join that rank of scholars.
In the mid-1990s, Klinger wrote articles for scholarly journals aimed at the Sherlockian market when an editor at W. W. Norton contacted him, asking him to edit what
became the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. What started as an intellectual hobby
transformed into a critical and commercial success, leading Klinger on a hunt for other
subjects. In the ensuing years, he has published new comprehensive and annotated
volumes of works such as Dracula, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and the stories of H. P.
Lovecraft. The subjects are all fun to read on their own, with an intense built-in fan
base, yet are still sufficiently rich and complex enough to merit lots of footnotes.
Klinger cautions, though, that “creating an annotated edition is about more than sim-
ply adding footnotes into existing works.” He sees annotated editions as providing an
enhanced reading experience, for both the average reader and the hard-core fan. The foot-
notes he includes are of two kinds: “I didn’t understand that before” and “I didn’t know
this—that’s really cool!” As a result, the notes include definitions, historical and cultural
context, cross-referencing, referencing to external sources and allusions, and challenges.
Personally speaking, Klinger finds the latter is the most fun: “Why did the character do this
instead of that? Or why didn’t the character think of this, which is an obvious or simpler
idea? Or did the author make a mistake? These are all questions readers naturally ask about
Klinger’s newest book, The New Annotated Frankenstein, reviewed on p. 42, is long
overdue—by about two centuries. We’re coming up on the 200th anniversary of this
seminal tale, which is credited with birthing two modern genres: science fiction and
horror. I asked Klinger why he thinks Frankenstein has stood the test of time, and he
replied, “While Shelley’s thoughts about the dangers of failure to take responsibility for
one’s actions—especially in science—are more important today than ever, it has also
gained importance as a feminist work, the product of a 19-year-old girl struggling to be
taken seriously, something that is certainly a highly relevant concern today. More than
anything, though, I want the public to see the book for what it is: a work of genius
considerably better than and different from the cheesy 1931 film.”
After Frankenstein, Klinger is scheduled to publish Watchmen: The Annotated Edition later
in 2017. “Watchmen is highly literate and full of surprising historical and cultural allusions
that bear explanation. I can’t wait to share it all with readers, both fans and novices alike.”
Klinger’s volumes have brought light to so many great works of literature—ones with
huge, devoted fan bases that quite often do not get the recognition and accolades they
deserve. His books are authoritative and critically acclaimed, yes, but they are also just
plain fun to read. They are the result of the work of both a scholar and a fan; yet more
important, Klinger’s bibliography stands as a testament to what we library workers see
every day—that there is a great power in sharing a good read with someone.
BECKY SPRATFORD is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror (2012) and runs the blog RA
for All: Horror ( raforallhorror.blogspot.com).