The Complete Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles (#5 of 8)

My Copy: 9780880292610 (image from abebooks.com)

Well, we all knew this one was coming, the most famous story A.C.D. ever wrote, so much so that it’s been translated into several languages, made into dozens of films, plays, radio shows, and even video games (I might have one of those, now that I think about it).

I’m certain most of us have had to read “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in school at some point, either as the actual novella or one of the plays. It’s held up to be one of the best works of British literature (according to some sources, including–gulp–wikipedia, which I usually avoid using).

For those who haven’t read it before, or it’s been decades like for me, I’ll give a brief introduction.

Holmes and Watson meet Dr. Mortimer, who is a friend of Sir Charles Baskerville of Devonshire, who’d died of apparent fright just recently. Dr. Mortimer is there to pass along the family legend, detailing the story of the Hound and the years of supposed sightings by villagers after one Hugo Baskerville was supposedly killed by it. He asks advice because the last known relative, Henry Baskerville, is coming in from Canada to take over the estate and be the new baronet. Dr. Mortimer is reluctant to have the young man come in, especially with some disturbing notices that have been sent to Mr. Baskerville. When they see the man’s being followed, Watson and Holmes decide to go to Baskerville Hall to find any evidence of trickery or foul play that had worked against Sir Charles before something unfortunate happens to the newest Baskerville.

As one who’s recently come back to this story after a long absence, though I’m sure I read it 2 or 3 times before now, I have to say that some things surprised me about the story.

One thing was how different the case was compared to other cases our lovely duo has had to deal with. I mean, up to this point in the collection, there really aren’t any supernatural elements that have come up as real possibilities. It’s definitely got the feel of a ghost story, and a really good one.

The story does take its time getting started, a whole chapter just reintroducing Holmes and Watson. Since this story came out several years after he’d “killed off” Sherlock Holmes, perhaps it was needed for new readers. Either way, it’s kind of nice to get to see our boys having a day at home and we readers getting reacquainted with life at Baker Street.

Though Watson is the narrator and always has been, I did find it surprising that for most of the story, we’re getting his impressions and investigations more than Holmes’. And by that I mean Watson is actively involved in the case, in meeting Baskerville’s neighbors and following up on hunches or leads. He does a pretty good job, I have to say, but it does make you wonder, when we don’t hear from Holmes for quite a stretch, what exactly he is doing.

Still, perhaps it’s this unique setup and different way of working that make this story as well known as it is today. I always liked the story, and even now, after all this time, I still like it.

I think now I’m old enough to appreciate it better. I can’t really think of anything I’d change if I could.

Worth a re-read if it’s been a long time, and definitely worth reading if it’s never been on your reading list.

Yes, read it–even if you’ve seen most of the filmic versions–because adaptations don’t always get it down just right.

Sherlock-isms:

“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…. I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth. Not that you are entirely wrong in this instance.” (pg 669-70)

“The more outre and grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be examined, and the very point which appears to complicate a case is, when duly considered and scientifically handled, the one which is most likely to elucidate it.” (pg 764)

Watson-ism:

One of Sherlock Holmes’s defects–if, indeed, one may call it a defect–was that he was exceedingly loath to communicate his full plans to any other person until the instant of their fulfilment. Partly it came no doubt from his own masterful nature, which loved to dominate and surprise those who were around him. Partly also from his professional caution, which urged him never to take any chances. The result, however, was very trying for those who were acting as his agents and assistants. (pg 754)

Happy reading (or remembering, and I hope you don’t hear the Hound!).

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