R.I.P. Donald J. Sobol, creator of Encyclopedia Brown

R.I.P. Donald J. Sobol, creator of Encyclopedia Brown

Entertainment Weekly has picked up on news of the death of Donald J. Sobol, an author best known for creating the "boy detective" Encyclopedia Brown, one of the most enduring characters in children's literature. Sobol died on July 11 at the age of 87, though it was just reported today.

After beginning his fiction career with the serialized Two-Minute Mysteries in 1959, Sobol brought that same knack for creating condensed, standalone mystery stories to writing for a younger audience with the long-running Encyclopedia Brown, which launched in 1963. Though he embarked on scores of adventures in Idaville, the story was nearly always the same: Leroy—"Encyclopedia" to his friends and foes—was the son of a small-town police chief who used his observation skills to crack minor incidents of theft or graft ("25 cents per day, plus expenses. No case too small"), while being assisted by his far more physically imposing gal pal Sally Kimball, and often thwarted by local bully Bugs Meany. More often than not, the case came down to a single factual error in a suspect's story, one that was easily disproven by Brown's knowledge of trivia. (That is, when a smug Sally wasn't forced to step in, because Brown's dick made it impossible for him to recognize things that were so obvious to girls.)

Sobol's clever conceit of having you flip to the back of the book to find out a story's solution transformed his mysteries into a simple puzzle to be solved, thereby tricking scores of young people into reading. And it's worked like that for decades: The Encyclopedia Brown books have never gone out of print since, spawning a comic strip and even an HBO series along the way, with new volumes continuing to be published long after the actual "encyclopedia" became its own mystery to modern kids. Sobol is owed a debt for introducing so many children to the joys of mystery and the oddball facts that can solve them—and thanks to him, woe to the con artist who tries to swindle us at an egg-spinning contest. We know he's using boiled eggs.  

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