Monday, October 13, 2014

Baskervilles Read-Along: Mr. Sherlock Holmes (Ch. 1)

The read-along is afoot!

But first before we dig into the discussion, a few housekeeping notes.  The page numbers I put after my favorite lines are from this edition.   They're mostly just here for my own reference.  Also, you are totally free to discuss any aspect of the chapter in the comments here, not just respond to what I've said.  The "possible discussion questions" are just things I think might interest people, but they're not a limit as to what we can talk about.  Also, since these are short and quick chapters for the most part, I'll try to post a new one every couple of days -- about 3 a week.  Does that sound too fast to anyone?  That would mean we'd finish up mid-November, before the holidays kick into gear.

And I'm going to tease you a little by telling you that later this week, I will be posting an interview with a New York Times best-selling author as a special guest post for this read-along.

Now on to the discussion!

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988)

I don't know about you, but I had a very hard time stopping at the end of chapter one to write up these notes.  I just want to read on and on and on -- it's the perfect day for this book here, all grey, rainy, thoroughly gloomy and mysterious.  Which is probably why I'm drawn to this story in autumn, when my weather matches its.

But anyway, this first chapter is short, full of Holmes and Watson doing their Holmes and Watson things.  Watson thinks he's done a really great job making deductions from the walking stick left behind by Dr. Mortimer, who visited them while they were out the night before.  And he's done better than I probably would have, even if most of his deductions were erroneous.  Holmes then gets all smug and superior, as he often does -- how can a man be so infuriating, bordering on positively unlikable, and yet be so beloved?  Good writing, I suppose.

I don't have much else to say here, as the mystery really gets going in the next chapter.  This one serves to introduce Holmes and Watson to new readers and remind those familiar with them just what these characters were like.  After all, when this was first published, it was Doyle's first new Sherlock Holmes story in almost a decade, so even the fans might appreciate a refresher.

Oh, and in case your edition doesn't explain this (mine has notes and stuff), when Mortimer describes Holmes' skull as "dolichocephalic," that means it's longer than it is wide.  Mortimer is interested in phrenology, which was a theory that brains have certain areas dedicated to certain functions, and the shape of someone's skull was a guide to what parts of the brain are more developed than others.  You can read more about it here.  Holmes himself may have subscribed to that theory at least a little, judging by his comment in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" that a hat that is too large for him indicates that its owner is an intellectual since "a man with so large a brain must have something in it" (p. 293).

Favorite Lines:

"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" (p. 576).

"Now is the dramatic moment of fate, Watson, when you hear a step upon the stair which is walking into your life, and you know not whether for good or ill" (p. 578).

"...a picker up of shells on the shores of the great unknown ocean" (p. 578).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Doyle describes Mortimer as "a very tall, thin man, with a long nose like a beak, which jutted out between two keen, gray eyes" (p. 578).  This sounds a LOT like how Doyle describes Sherlock Holmes in the stories!  Why do you suppose he had this new character bear such a resemblance to the hero?  

Have you ever read this story before, or seen an adaptation of it? 


  1. I have read this story multitudes of times and have seen several adaptations. I love that you used a picture of Jeremy Brett as Holmes. Best. Sherlock. Ever.

    Anyway, onto the discussion. I've also noticed the uncanny resemblance between Mortimer and Holmes. This wasn't the only time Doyle described characters as looking similar to Sherlock. Maybe it was to show that while he physically appeared to be an average man-about-town, Sherlock's mind and methods were far from the norm.

    I also find it interesting that here Doyle finally pulls Canada into the story, possibly to make Henry seem distant and unacquainted with his English cousins while still keeping him in the line of succession.

    1. JB is my favorite too, though I really enjoy Cumberbatch's portrayal too.

      I like your take on why Mortimer might look so much like Holmes. A sort of compare-and-contrast thing. Nice.

    2. Also... I think you must have read on farther, because I don't remember Canada or America getting mentioned here yet. Or did I miss it?

  2. [and here i was thinking that was Michael i need to get out more]

    DQs: I think Doyle was making Mortimer similar to Holmes. Mortimer was obsessive in his field (OMG A DOLICHOCEPHALIC) as Holmes was obsessive about his deduction skills (WATSON YOU'RE BRIGHT BUT NOT BRILLIANT LIKE ME). But my speculation is limited, because I haven't read any Sherlock in 6 years. I have never watched any adaptation of this, but I'm thinking it'd be a crying shame if I didn't break out our Basil Rathbone copy of this.

    I read this to my brother in the car on the way to church, and I literally LOL'ed at the "bright but not actually bright" comment. I think it's the perfect way to underhandedly insult someone, and it totally reminds me of BC's Sherlock.

    1. Hahaha! He does maybe kind of sort of have a vague resemblance to a youngish Michael Gambon. I've added a caption to the picture :-) It's Jeremy Brett, whom I love as Holmes. I haven't seen the Rathbone version of this, but perhaps it will cross my path one day.

      And yes, Holmes can be infuriatingly polite with his insults. Makes me laugh aloud too!

  3. I always love the first part of a Holmes mystery, when he does all his deducing! I really enjoyed the part when Watson was wondering how Holmes knew he was there, and Holmes replies that he was looking into a shiny teapot :D And his back-handed compliment (?) about genius!!! And I love that word "dolichocephalic"!! It was kinda creepy how Mortimer wanted to examine Holmes's skull...

    Maybe Mortimer looks a lot like Sherlock, because he will turn out to be the bad guy, and we'll have a battle of wits?? Right now, though he seems to be a good guy. (I have not read this; this is just my possibly hopeful guess)

    Thanks for hosting this!! I can't wait to get into the mystery :D

    1. Honestly, I could read entire stories where Holmes and Watson just hang out in their sitting room, trading witticisms and discussing the weather. I love those sorts of scenes between them.

      And yes, I think having someone ask to feel my skull would be a bit creepy. Especially when coupled by the request to have a mold of it made "until the original is available." Yikes! And yet, makes me laugh.

      And oooh, you haven't read this yet? I will try to avoid posting any spoilage in the chapter posts, then! Though of course the comment section is no-holds-barred.

  4. *And...I…am on board! ;)*

    I haven’t read Holmes before (though I’ve listened to a bunch of radio shows), but these introductory detective episodes always remind me of Bertie's take in Wodehouse’s Code of the Woosters: “I was astounded at my keenness of perception. The moment I had set eyes on Spode, if you remember, I had said to myself “What ho! A Dictator,” and a Dictator he had proved to be. I couldn’t have made a better shot if I had been one of those detectives who see a chap walking along the street and deduce that he is a retired manufacturer of poppet valves named Robinson with rheumatism in one arm, living at Clapham.” Yes, typical Bertie… :)

    1. Oh my goodness! This is your first foray into the Sherlock Holmes canon? How completely exciting!!!

      Your Bertie quote made me laugh aloud. I really need to read more Wodehouse. And watch more of the TV adaptation, which had me in stitches the one episode I've seen so far.

  5. I haven't read Hound in years, but have dusted off my copy. Other than BBC Sherlock- which is great, but doesn't really count- the last film version I saw was in the early 2000's, starring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes. It wasn't very accurate to the book- as became evident early on, when they had him taking drugs during the investigation... tsk, tsk.

    1. Hooray for dusting off great books! It's always a treat to return to something you enjoyed after a long absence, isn't it?

      Why don't you think the BBC version counts?

      And my goodness, that other version sounds very inaccurate indeed. Holmes would never take drugs DURING an investigation. Unless it's in the startlingly good pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which is all about curing him of his cocaine habit.

    2. Maybe a poor choice of words... I mean BBC Sherlock was never meant to be a faithful adaptation of the book. It's more of a retelling of the tale.

    3. Okay, that does make sense. Definitely more of a retelling than a straight adaptation.

  6. I enjoyed this book even more than I was expecting to, and I love Dr Mortimer to bits :D I wonder if you've spotted my Baskerville review on my blog?

    1. Nope, haven't read your review, so I'm off to peruse it now!

  7. I'm re-reading this one atm so I thought I'd check in your old read-along :) I think it's really odd how this chapter is called "Mr Sherlock Holmes" even though it's really all about Holmes and Watson speculating about the new client but I love it all the same. And I love the part where Mortimer says that Holmes is the "second best" detective in Europe and Holmes then gets really offended. That part always makes me smile!

    The only adaptation that I've seen of this story is still the BBC Sherlock version which I love. I wish that Mark Gatiss had given Mortimer's obsession with skulls over to Henry Knight though. It would have been hilarious if he'd told Sherlock that he coveted his skull and could he please touch it. I can just imagine Sherlock and John's facial expressions!

    1. What fun! This book deserves many rereads. I'm excited that you're going through these posts, cuz that means I get to read over my old posts and revisit the story a bit that way :-)

      Isn't phrenology an intriguing study? Total bunk, but interesting. That would have been rather funny if Henry Knight had kept staring at Sherlock's head and then admitted he was fascinated by skulls. Or if he'd grabbed the one that's usually on the mantel and talked about it or something.

      I saw the BBC version for a second time just this past winter, and I liked it a lot this time, as opposed to my first viewing, which freaked me out a bit. Now that I know where they're going with things, I was all cool with it instead of just feeling creepy.


What do you think?

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(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)