The Complete Sherlock Holmes: Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2009. 1077 pp)
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle DL (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was a Scottish physician and writer, most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, generally considered a milestone in the field of crime fiction, and for the adventures of Professor Challenger. He was a prolific writer whose other works include science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels.
All Based on Sherlock
My wife remarked to me the other night, “Have you noticed all police shows are based loosely off the Sherlock Holmes stories?” After a moment of pensive thought, I said, “Yes, but they are never quite as good”.
There’s an incredible amount of truth there, I think. Though, as people, we are usually want of a mystery or two in our lives, there is something truly different about the Sherlock Holmes brand of mystery.
Sherlock Holmes first appeared in 1887 as the fictional detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The First Novel, A Study in Scarlet, was the beginning of it all, and appeared as an article in Beeton’s Christmas Annual. Then, with a few short stories in The Strand Magazine, Holmes grew to be amazingly popular as a fictional character, so much so that Conan Doyle grew tired of him and tried to kill him off on several occasions. Conan Doyle, in addition to the short stories, wrote four Sherlock Holmes novels in sum. Almost every Holmes story is narrated by Homes’ compatriot, Dr. John Watson, a retired veteran from the second Anglo-Afghan war, where he served as a surgeon.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of the four novels, and was originally published in The Strand Magazine in small chunks between August of 1901 and April of 1902. The story begins with a mini-mystery where a cane has been left in the office of Holmes and Watson. The duo speculates on the owner of the cane, and Holmes, true to form, predicts that James Mortimer (said owner of the cane) will enter their office soon.
Upon entering their office, Mortimer recounts the tale of Hugo Baskerville in the 18th century from an old manuscript. Hugo evidently imprisoned a young woman in the country at his estate in Devonshire, only to be mauled by a demon hound late at night.
“The moon was shining bright upon the clearing, and there in the centre lay the unhappy maid where she had fallen, dead of fear and of fatigue. But it was not the sight of her body, nor yet was it that of the body of Hugo Baskerville lying near her, which raised the hair upon the heads of these three daredevil roysterers, but it was that, standing over Hugo and plucking at his throat, there stood a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon” (641)
Ever since, the Baskerville line has been haunted by the same demon hounds, and the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville only served to prove that fact. The next of kin, Sir Charles, has arrived in town, but is intimidated to say the least. Charles Baskerville refuses to go to Baskerville until the mystery is solved, hence Holmes and Watson. Holmes however, refuses to go to Devonshire as he is purportedly too busy. So, Watson goes in his stead reporting back to Holmes frequently, which perhaps is a form of the famous bickering between the duo, as we know that Holmes loves to torture poor Watson, as can be seen in this backhanded compliment.
“Really, Watson, you excel yourself,” said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. “I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt” (636).
Once in Devonshire, Watson finds the estate to have armed guards, who are looking for an escaped convict in the moors nearby. Watson meets the potential suspects of the mystery: Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, Jack Stapleton and his sister, and the help of the house. A few mysteries arrive quickly, and Watson does his best to unravel them. But, it takes Sherlock Holmes, hiding in secret so as not to tip off the villain, to solve the mysterious mythical case of the hound.
Solid Conclusions or Supernatural Speculation
What’s interesting about this particular Holmes novel isn’t the mystery. It’s the delicate balance between the natural and the supernatural. Watson, being quick to judgement, easily decides that the hound marauding around the grounds cannot, of course, be a demonic beast but cannot find a way to disprove it. Likewise, Holmes believes that every set of clues points to a logical, grounded-in-reality conclusion. Holmes, instead of accepting the supernatural, considers every other option before resting on a conclusion.
This kind of larger motif is what separates Sherlock from the rest of the crime drama. There is a mystery to solve, but Conan Doyle chooses to talk a bigger picture at the same time. Doyle, though how Watson tells the story matter-of-factly, chooses to immediately dispel the reader’s belief in curses and hounds of hell. At the same time, however, the story opens with the folk tale of the Baskerville curse, presented on eighteenth century parchment. The reproduction of the curse of old serves to start the story off with a shadowy, nerve-racking, folk tale. So which is it? Science and thought, or supernatural and unexplainable causes? Conan Doyle makes the reader wrestle with an imbalance.
Is Sherlock Really Better?
There’s a reason there’s a new Sherlock craze. From the BBC drama Sherlock, to the newly developed Elementary, producers are beginning to realize there is no crime drama as good as the original. Of course, in my opinion, nothing beats the novels. Conan Doyle’s novels have everything from the traditional red herring to throw you off, to larger themes that make you think. All in all, you can’t find a bad story in the lot. But, if I had to choose one, Hound of the Baskervilles might just be it.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
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