Last night my Frequent Companion and I attended the annual Black Orchid Banquet of the Wolfe Pack, an international organization of Rex Stout devotees. I had the honor of presenting the annual toast to the man himself. As I mentioned on Facebook, my remarks constitute the only faintly interesting piece I’ve written in a while, so I’ll record them here:
All the books in the canon which we unite to honor bear on their covers the name of their ostensible author. It seems straightforward enough, this name, but I submit that it is itself a work of artifice.
Consider its component parts. The first name is Latinate, and literally means King. The last name is English, rooted in the Anglo-Saxon, and suggests thickness.
A regal personage then, and corpulent in the bargain. Who can that be but the man himself?
But let us look a bit further, at that middle name that does not appear on the book covers. Todhunter. Tod, surely, derives from the German Todt, meaning Death. What is a Todhunter, then, but a seeker into death, an investigator and solver of murders?
How gracious of this gentleman to lend his remarkably apt name to Archie Goodwin’s transcriptions of Nero Wolfe’s cases. By so doing, he allows Archie to fictionalize the cases, and this illusion that he’s made them up allows all sorts of liberties that libel laws would otherwise preclude.
One could almost argue that, without the shield provided by this fellow’s name, the books we love could not exist. Ladies, gentlemen, please join me in toasting the man whose name—if not his work—is indispensable. I give you Rex Todhunter Stout!