Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" by A. Conan Doyle

This is my favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery.  It's beautifully written and masterfully plotted, and I consider it the pinnacle of Doyle's Holmes stories.  It's also the first one I ever read, which might make me a teensy bit prejudiced in its favor.

(This review contains spoilage.  Stop here and read the book first if you want.)

The story, in case you don't know, concerns a legend about a spectral hound that haunts the aristocratic Baskerville family, killing them or scaring them to death.  When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead outside the ancestral hall in Dartmoor, with the footprints of a gigantic hound beside him, his friend Dr. Mortimer consults Sherlock Holmes about whether the last of the Baskervilles, Sir Henry, should come from America and take over the family estate.  Holmes scoffs at the idea of a supernatural hound, but sends Dr. Watson to Baskerville Hall to observe and report whatever happens, and also to protect Sir Henry.  Holmes says he's too busy and has to stay in London, and so he's actually not in the majority of this book, though his presence looms over everything, much like the supposed presence of the ghastly hound.

I think what I like best about this book is the way the hound is a mirror image of Holmes himself.  Holmes and the hound both spend most of the book out of sight, hiding on the moor.  The hound is kept in an abandoned mine, while Holmes hides in an abandoned stone-age hut.  The idea of the hound and its supernaturality frightens the local people, and even Watson and Sir Henry Baskerville, while the idea of Sherlock Holmes and his keen investigative powers frightens the villain.  Once the hound is on the trail of a person, almost nothing stops it from reaching its foe, and once Holmes is on the trail of an evildoer, nothing stops him (usually).  Once we see the hound, it's even described with words like "gaunt" that Doyle also uses to describe Holmes.

I also love the atmosphere that Doyle evokes:  the mists and fogs of the moor, the loneliness of Baskerville Hall, the solemn solitude of everyone who lives there.  I would love to visit the moor some day, just to know exactly what it's like.

Particularly Good Bits:

"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes."  (p. 593)

That cold, incisive, ironical voice could belong to but one man in all the world.  (p. 663)

A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen.  Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame.  (p. 684)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for suspense and scary images.

6 comments:

  1. This is one that I definitely want to read at some point. I have seen the BBC Sherlock and Rathbone adaptations of the book, and those where great.

    -James

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    1. There's a Sherlock version??? Oh happy day! I've been avoiding every possible kind of spoilage for that show, even making myself not read the titles of episodes in season 2, so this is very exciting news! Now I REALLY can't wait to get it from the library next week (I hope).

      I highly recommend watching the Jeremy Brett version -- it's movie-length and awesome.

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  2. During my Stewart Granger month, I discovered that he did a made-for-TV movie of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I couldn't get into it, so I gave up after 10 minutes. However, I was near the end of the month, and I had a few other SG films to watch, so I wasn't fooling around and going longer than 10 minutes on anything. I will probably give it a try another time.

    I know you enjoy SG, so if you haven't seen this, look for it on YouTube. Let me know what you think.

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    1. I haven't seen the SG version, but I do want to give it a try! Thanks for letting me know it's on YouTube -- I'll definitely do a post on it on my Soliloquy blog if I watch it, let you know if it's worth watching more than 10 mins of, hee.

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    2. I tried to make it through the SG version on youtube.... and failed. But I lack the Sherlock Holmes love, and Stewart Granger just wasn't sufficient to keep me onboard.

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    3. Well, next week when I'm home, I'll give it a whirl on YouTube and see if it's just plain dreadful or not.

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