Last month I had occasion to reread a couple of Encyclopedia Brown books, and realized that I was borrowing Donald J. Sobol’s vision of kid society for one of my current writing projects.
Each of the kids in Sobol’s books has his or (less often) her own idiosyncratic obsession: the boy who collects teeth, the kindergartner who publishes a newspaper even though he can’t read or write, the gallant ladies’ man, the rabid animal lover, the skinflint, and so on.
Of course, Encyclopedia is the same, a kid with a photographic memory sitting in his garage waiting for clients to come pay him a quarter. (He actually has some anxious moments in the first book, wondering if anyone will show up and validate him.)
In a way, Bugs Meany is the most rounded kid in Idaville: at least he’s willing to try a new scheme every couple of stories.
Do American kids today recognize such a world, where kids make their own fun instead of rushing from one scheduled activity to another? Or was Encyclopedia Brown< always secretly a parody of childhood?
In any event, it’s no surprise that such a delightfully mannered series has attracted more than its share of parodies. A selection for your entertainment:
- The Onion: "Idaville Detective 'Encyclopedia' Brown Found Dead In Library Dumpster"
- Running Leroy Brown for District Attorney.
- Georgia Tech’s “The Case of The Missing Teddy Bear,” by Matthew A. Cohen and Noel Rappin.
- Adam Cadre’s Wikipedia Brown and "The Case of the Captured Koala." (The real mystery: Why is this website registered through Ascension Island?)
- John Warner changed the name of his Encyclopedia Brown parodies to Wikipedia Jones after, I assume, some nudging from Donald Sobol’s lawyers about how parody works. See the Modern Humorist archive here. His book Encyclopedia Brown and the Mysterious Presidency of George W. Bush has been pulled from the market.
- The Stanford Chapparal preserves Ben Olding’s “Encyclopedia Brown and 1967 Yearbook Brown”.
- Sean Gleeson’s ”The Case of the Misbegotten Memos”.