RIP: Encyclopedia Brown Creator Donald J. Sobol


WIRED: Donald Sobol, the creator of the best-selling Encyclopedia Brown series of mysteries, has passed away at the age of 87. The news of his death was made public this morning; Sobol died last week of natural causes in Miami, according to reports. Sobol’s famous chronicles of 10-year-old Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown launched nearly 50 years ago with Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective in 1963. Encyclopedia Brown was a proto-hacker, a bad-ass in the style of Buckaroo Banzai and MacGyver, who could sleuth a complicated crime, break it down, and solve it in the span of three pages. In addition to being a whiz kid detective, he was also an entrepreneur who created his own startup detective agency to solve mysteries for the princely sum of “25 cents per day, plus expenses.” Brown was cooler — and nerdier — than Harry Potter, and many of the other heroes of children’s books of today. Plus, the Encyclopedia Brown books were designed to be interactive, by the standards of their time — readers could solve the mysteries along with Brown, by reading the text closely and carefully noting down the details of the story. MORE

NPR: While other boys got hooked on books about sports legends and race car drivers, there was something about Donald Sobol’s boy detective Encyclopedia Brown that spoke to me right away. Leroy Brown was nicknamed Encyclopedia because he was a genius — a decent, brilliant kid who earned the respect of grown-ups by using his brain to crack cases, usually by exposing an inconsistency in a perp’s statement. For instance in one story, “The Case of the Happy Nephew,” 10-year-old Brown just knew someone couldn’t have been driving a car when he said, because the hood would still be too hot for a baby to be standing on. That the perp was an adult outwitted by a guy my age was icing on the cake. Encyclopedia’s dad was the Idaville, Fla., chief of police, a good man, but an earthbound plodder whose son was the better crimefighter. Of course, much of the wrongdoing with which Encyclopedia dealt wasn’t serious enough to warrant Chief Brown’s involvement — Encyclopedia devoted much of his time to sorting out the school’s bullies, Bugs Meany and his gang of delinquents, the Tigers. The Tigers would have loved to beat the tar out of Encyclopedia, but his best friend and assistant, Sally Kimball, was tougher than they were. That one of my first heroes had a female bodyguard was an important early lesson: I grew up believing that women could be just as smart and brave as men, and longed to have, if not an actual girlfriend, a Sally of my own by my side. MORE