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The Hound of the Baskervilles: Oxford Children's Classics
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The image of Sherlock Holmes in 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' is perhaps the most enduring image we have of him. You see, an Inverness cloak and deerstalker cap are inappropriate wardrobe for the town, and belong in the country. Sherlock Holmes is predominantly a city dweller and city investigator; it is relatively uncommon that he treks out on adventures, but the case of the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the attempted murder of Sir Henry Baskerville led him to the Dartmoor plain. Thus, country garb was in order. This is where we get much of our imagery.
Also helping with this is that every major actor to play Holmes has considered 'Hound of the Baskervilles' to be the ultimate Holmes story to act -- rather like the Hamlet of Conan Doyle's work. Holmes was a popular film icon, and in the early decades of the twentieth century several dozen films were made of Holmes, but the first after these many films to be set in Victorian times (and not be updated for the screen) was a version of Hound. Ellie Norwood, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett -- many distinguished actors have considered this among their greatest roles.
Watson dates the case to 1889, but various reading authorities, knowing the good doctor's occasional attempts to distort details to protect the privacy of the innocent, have dated this to between 1886 and 1900.
In fact, the novel appeared in serialised form in the Strand magazine, the great first-publication site of most Holmesian tales, between August 1901 and April 1902, after Conan Doyle had attempted to kill off the great detective in the short story The Final Problem, which showcased Holmes' battle with Moriarity, the Napoleon of Crime. In fact, Conan Doyle came to dislike the character of Holmes because it was a distraction to his other pursuits.
So, bowing to public pressure, Conan Doyle penned Hound of the Baskervilles to placate the public demand for more stories, but took care to place it before the death of Holmes, in the hopes that he could leave the detective safely dead (if not buried). Such was not to be, and we find a few years later that in fact Conan Doyle 'resurrects' Holmes in a rather ingenious fashion.
But, on to the story at hand. Holmes and Watson, at home at 221b Baker Street, are approached by a Dr. James Mortimer regarding the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and a family curse which involved evil forces in the form of a satanic hound. Mortimer is concerned for the safety of the new proprietor of the family lands, freshly arriving from Canada, who had a new boot stolen, then an old boot stolen, in his hotel in London. Later Holmes would put together the significance of this seeming strange minor act (no, I won't tell you).
Holmes sends Baskerville and Watson together to the country estate while he tends things in London on another case. In reality, Holmes is setting Watson up as a diversion, while he investigates the moor and the surroundings of the Baskerville estate under cover. Life at the estate is a bit strained, given the murder, an attempted murder, a curse, and all. The neighbours seem nice enough, though. Or are they? Watson picks up on curious little details of their relationship, which he reports back in written notes to Holmes (which have been redirected to his moor outpost).
Eventually Holmes reveals himself to Watson, and then to Baskerville, and the chase is on in earnest, to discover the reality of the mysterious creature each have seen or heard. In good mystery fashion, we come across long lost relatives and an inheritance to be had; we find plots and subplots muddied by superstitious belief and fear, on a mysterious plain in southwestern England.
All the elements combined that are now considered standard bits for a well-done country English mystery. But the mystery does not stop merely with the story. In true mystery fashion, appearing in the Daily Express edition of March 16, 1959, there were doubts cast upon the authorship of Hound of the Baskervilles. The one who carried the dispute was named none other than Baskerville, Harry Baskerville. He credited the story to one Fletcher Robinson, who died (perhaps of the Egyptian mummy's curse) at age 35 shortly after the publication of Hound. With his death, only Baskerville remembered the issue of co-authorship. Baskerville claims it was Robinson who 'borrowed' the Baskerville name.
One of Conan Doyle's heirs, Adrian Conan Doyle, heatedly denied involvement of Robinson past possible 'conversations' that might have taken place between Arthur Conan Doyle and Robinson. But, he did not deny Conan Doyle's possible 'inspiration' from Robinson.
One Baker Street Irregular (an exclusive club of Holmesian experts) was doing a monograph on this issue as well, claiming that the reason why Holmes appears so infrequently is due to the fact that he had to be written in to an otherwise essentially completed story. This Irregular travelled to meet with Baskerville, and hinted at discoveries he had found. But alas, the Irregular died three weeks later in America, his monograph never published and his notes were never found. Perhaps a dog ate the homework? A mysterious hound, perhaps?
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The image of Sherlock Holmes in 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' is perhaps the most enduring image we have of him. You see, an Inverness cloak and deerstalker cap are inappropriate wardrobe for the town, and belong in the country. Sherlock Holmes is predominantly a city dweller and city investigator; it is relatively uncommon that he treks out on adventures, but the case of the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the attempted murder of Sir Henry Baskerville led him to the Dartmoor plain. Thus, country garb was in order. This is where we get much of our imagery.
Also helping with this is that every major actor to play Holmes has considered 'Hound of the Baskervilles' to be the ultimate Holmes story to act -- rather like the Hamlet of Conan Doyle's work. Holmes was a popular film icon, and in the early decades of the twentieth century several dozen films were made of Holmes, but the first after these many films to be set in Victorian times (and not be updated for the screen) was a version of Hound. Ellie Norwood, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett -- many distinguished actors have considered this among their greatest roles.
Watson dates the case to 1889, but various reading authorities, knowing the good doctor's occasional attempts to distort details to protect the privacy of the innocent, have dated this to between 1886 and 1900.
In fact, the novel appeared in serialised form in the Strand magazine, the great first-publication site of most Holmesian tales, between August 1901 and April 1902, after Conan Doyle had attempted to kill off the great detective in the short story The Final Problem, which showcased Holmes' battle with Moriarity, the Napoleon of Crime. In fact, Conan Doyle came to dislike the character of Holmes because it was a distraction to his other pursuits.
So, bowing to public pressure, Conan Doyle penned Hound of the Baskervilles to placate the public demand for more stories, but took care to place it before the death of Holmes, in the hopes that he could leave the detective safely dead (if not buried). Such was not to be, and we find a few years later that in fact Conan Doyle 'resurrects' Holmes in a rather ingenious fashion.
But, on to the story at hand. Holmes and Watson, at home at 221b Baker Street, are approached by a Dr. James Mortimer regarding the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and a family curse which involved evil forces in the form of a satanic hound. Mortimer is concerned for the safety of the new proprietor of the family lands, freshly arriving from Canada, who had a new boot stolen, then an old boot stolen, in his hotel in London. Later Holmes would put together the significance of this seeming strange minor act (no, I won't tell you).
Holmes sends Baskerville and Watson together to the country estate while he tends things in London on another case. In reality, Holmes is setting Watson up as a diversion, while he investigates the moor and the surroundings of the Baskerville estate under cover. Life at the estate is a bit strained, given the murder, an attempted murder, a curse, and all. The neighbours seem nice enough, though. Or are they? Watson picks up on curious little details of their relationship, which he reports back in written notes to Holmes (which have been redirected to his moor outpost).
Eventually Holmes reveals himself to Watson, and then to Baskerville, and the chase is on in earnest, to discover the reality of the mysterious creature each have seen or heard. In good mystery fashion, we come across long lost relatives and an inheritance to be had; we find plots and subplots muddied by superstitious belief and fear, on a mysterious plain in southwestern England.
All the elements combined that are now considered standard bits for a well-done country English mystery. But the mystery does not stop merely with the story. In true mystery fashion, appearing in the Daily Express edition of March 16, 1959, there were doubts cast upon the authorship of Hound of the Baskervilles. The one who carried the dispute was named none other than Baskerville, Harry Baskerville. He credited the story to one Fletcher Robinson, who died (perhaps of the Egyptian mummy's curse) at age 35 shortly after the publication of Hound. With his death, only Baskerville remembered the issue of co-authorship. Baskerville claims it was Robinson who 'borrowed' the Baskerville name.
One of Conan Doyle's heirs, Adrian Conan Doyle, heatedly denied involvement of Robinson past possible 'conversations' that might have taken place between Arthur Conan Doyle and Robinson. But, he did not deny Conan Doyle's possible 'inspiration' from Robinson.
One Baker Street Irregular (an exclusive club of Holmesian experts) was doing a monograph on this issue as well, claiming that the reason why Holmes appears so infrequently is due to the fact that he had to be written in to an otherwise essentially completed story. This Irregular travelled to meet with Baskerville, and hinted at discoveries he had found. But alas, the Irregular died three weeks later in America, his monograph never published and his notes were never found. Perhaps a dog ate the homework? A mysterious hound, perhaps?
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on May 30, 2004
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has created perhaps the best detective in Sherlock Holmes. "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is narrated by the faithful Watson, a man of genius not quite on par with that of Holmes, the master mystery solver. Holmes is forever quizzing Watson to see things the way he does, to figure out the mysteries of small things, like a walking stick left behind by a visitor.
"The Hound of the Baskervilles" tells the story of Henry Baskerville, a man who has inherited his family's home and fortune (as the supposed final heir), but also their apparent curse. His uncle was recently found dead on the grounds of Baskerville Hall, with little explanation for his death. The locals are sure as to the cause; it is the mysterious hell-hound that haunts the moors that was the cause of his death. The local doctor brings the matter to Holmes and Watson and they are charged to protect the young Henry Baskerville from a similar fate, as well as to solve the mystery of the hound.
While trying to gather facts for his intrepid employer, the faithful Watson narrates the strange happenings among Sir Henry's neighbors, wanting to add his own theories, but leaving the mystery solving to his much-admired mentor. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes a well-paced narrative that builds to a climax that is still exciting even when we know the real mystery behind the hound. At the end, it is Holmes and not his faithful sidekick Watson, who reveals the tricks of his trade and how he solved the mystery that no one ever suspected. Doyle has created a wonderful pair of complementary characters in Holmes and Watson and it is a joy to read their adventures.
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on March 15, 2004
This is a great mystery novel - probably Sherlock Holmes' best - and a good thriller in its own right. Arthur Conan Doyle creates a genuinely creepy atmosphere by his setting on the English moors and the legend of the demonic hound. Of course, being a Holmes story, most things end up with a rational explanation, but there is good, honest, Victorian terror along the way. Reading it, I was struck by how much it must have influenced the movie, An American Werewolf in London.
Conan Doyle has a wonderful, economic prose style and his Holmes stories always move at a quick pace. The only maddening thing is how much time Sherlock himself spends off-stage. I guess Conan Doyle treats the character the way most authors treat villains - only allowing the reader glimpses of him. I guess that is because Sherlock's mind is so atypical, he is ultimately unknowable to us. In this story, Holmes has to stay behind in London for a while, so he sends the very competent Dr. Watson to Baskerville hall to investigate the strange goings-on.
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The image of Sherlock Holmes in 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' is perhaps the most enduring image we have of him. You see, an Inverness cloak and deerstalker cap are inappropriate wardrobe for the town, and belong in the country. Sherlock Holmes is predominantly a city dweller and city investigator; it is relatively uncommon that he treks out on adventures, but the case of the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the attempted murder of Sir Henry Baskerville led him to the Dartmoor plain. Thus, country garb was in order. This is where we get much of our imagery.
Also helping with this is that every major actor to play Holmes has considered 'Hound of the Baskervilles' to be the ultimate Holmes story to act -- rather like the Hamlet of Conan Doyle's work. Holmes was a popular film icon, and in the early decades of the twentieth century several dozen films were made of Holmes, but the first after these many films to be set in Victorian times (and not be updated for the screen) was a version of Hound. Ellie Norwood, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett -- many distinguished actors have considered this among their greatest roles.
Watson dates the case to 1889, but various reading authorities, knowing the good doctor's occasional attempts to distort details to protect the privacy of the innocent, have dated this to between 1886 and 1900.
In fact, the novel appeared in serialised form in the Strand magazine, the great first-publication site of most Holmesian tales, between August 1901 and April 1902, after Conan Doyle had attempted to kill off the great detective in the short story The Final Problem, which showcased Holmes' battle with Moriarity, the Napoleon of Crime. In fact, Conan Doyle came to dislike the character of Holmes because it was a distraction to his other pursuits.
So, bowing to public pressure, Conan Doyle penned Hound of the Baskervilles to placate the public demand for more stories, but took care to place it before the death of Holmes, in the hopes that he could leave the detective safely dead (if not buried). Such was not to be, and we find a few years later that in fact Conan Doyle 'resurrects' Holmes in a rather ingenious fashion.
But, on to the story at hand. Holmes and Watson, at home at 221b Baker Street, are approached by a Dr. James Mortimer regarding the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and a family curse which involved evil forces in the form of a satanic hound. Mortimer is concerned for the safety of the new proprietor of the family lands, freshly arriving from Canada, who had a new boot stolen, then an old boot stolen, in his hotel in London. Later Holmes would put together the significance of this seeming strange minor act (no, I won't tell you).
Holmes sends Baskerville and Watson together to the country estate while he tends things in London on another case. In reality, Holmes is setting Watson up as a diversion, while he investigates the moor and the surroundings of the Baskerville estate under cover. Life at the estate is a bit strained, given the murder, an attempted murder, a curse, and all. The neighbours seem nice enough, though. Or are they? Watson picks up on curious little details of their relationship, which he reports back in written notes to Holmes (which have been redirected to his moor outpost).
Eventually Holmes reveals himself to Watson, and then to Baskerville, and the chase is on in earnest, to discover the reality of the mysterious creature each have seen or heard. In good mystery fashion, we come across long lost relatives and an inheritance to be had; we find plots and subplots muddied by superstitious belief and fear, on a mysterious plain in southwestern England.
All the elements combined that are now considered standard bits for a well-done country English mystery. But the mystery does not stop merely with the story. In true mystery fashion, appearing in the Daily Express edition of March 16, 1959, there were doubts cast upon the authorship of Hound of the Baskervilles. The one who carried the dispute was named none other than Baskerville, Harry Baskerville. He credited the story to one Fletcher Robinson, who died (perhaps of the Egyptian mummy's curse) at age 35 shortly after the publication of Hound. With his death, only Baskerville remembered the issue of co-authorship. Baskerville claims it was Robinson who 'borrowed' the Baskerville name.
One of Conan Doyle's heirs, Adrian Conan Doyle, heatedly denied involvement of Robinson past possible 'conversations' that might have taken place between Arthur Conan Doyle and Robinson. But, he did not deny Conan Doyle's possible 'inspiration' from Robinson.
One Baker Street Irregular (an exclusive club of Holmesian experts) was doing a monograph on this issue as well, claiming that the reason why Holmes appears so infrequently is due to the fact that he had to be written in to an otherwise essentially completed story. This Irregular travelled to meet with Baskerville, and hinted at discoveries he had found. But alas, the Irregular died three weeks later in America, his monograph never published and his notes were never found. Perhaps a dog ate the homework? A mysterious hound, perhaps?
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on January 15, 2003
Familiar with his stories for years, I finally decided to buckle down and read one of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories of Sherlock Holmes, and "The Hound of the Baskervilles," the most famous of the novels, was the one I decided to pick up. To my surprise, I tore through it. It was a simple read, yet a complicated and satisfying mystery.
As with all the Holmes stories, his assistant Dr. Watson is charged with telling the tale of the bloody Baskerville curse. Sir Charles Baskerville, who was the charge of the family estate, has recently been gored to death by some sort of animal, and Sir Henry, the new heir to the household and the family fortune, fears that the mythic curse of a hellhound stalking the family grounds is true.
A strange twist occurs in this investigation, though, for it's not Holmes who goes to investigate the house. It's Watson, who studies the suspicious neighbors and staff, keeps close watch over Sir Henry and begins to notice that some very odd things are lurking about the moor.
Is the curse behind this killing, or is it a villain of flesh and blood?
The lead characters are defined well, and, though this is my first Holmes story, I understood the basics and the rhythm almost immediately. The narrative structure that Doyle is famous for is, as expected, charming, and the characters are well-defined. The mystery is properly twisted, and I didn't really guess the middle or the ending.
The best twist, to me, wasn't the reveal of any villain or method. It was the twist involving the shadowy figure on the moor. I didn't see it coming at all, and, when I read it, I realized that this old novel still had the narrative tools to surprise me.
It's a classic for a reason.
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"The Hound of the Baskervilles" ranks as the most famous and also the best of the four Sherlock Holmes novels. It is the first Holmes novel I read as a child, and the combination of ancient curse, foreboding moor, and modern danger kept me turning the pages.
"The Hound" is unique among the Holmes novels because for a large part of the mystery, Holmes' character is offstage, appearing only at the last moment to bring events to a hair-raising denouement.
Holmes is a brilliant but eccentric detective. Sometimes his personality quirks lead him into danger. Holmes is both tenacious and audacious, and the interplay of those two qualities almost bring him to grief. He loves to hold his cards close to his vest, and sometimes excludes others from information vital to their safety. He also loves to engineer dramatic climaxes to highlight his deductive powers. Holmes' joint penchants for secrecy and sensation almost gets his client killed, but all's well that ends well.
The Dover Thrift Edition offers quality entertainment at a rock bottom price. Inexpensive, but definitely not cheap.
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I'd be happy to argue the point, but it seems to me that the four greatest fictional characters of all time (excluding Don Quijote, who's in a league of his own) are : Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and Tarzan. There are certainly no other characters who are so familiar, so often revived in plays, movies, song, television, and books, nor so often parodied and imitated as they. Take a look at your TV Guide and there'll be a movie featuring at least one of the four on the air at some point this week. They are all still just as popular as the day their authors introduced them. The reason for this is, first of all that they are simply brilliant creations, but secondly that they each in their own way tap into very powerful human fears and aspirations. Frankenstein's monster and Dracula represent victory over mortality. Tarzan represents victory over Nature. Sherlock Holmes represents the ultimate and inevitable triumph of reason over the mysteries of human behavior.
Of this quartet, it is Holmes, because he is the most realistic character and because his victory seems closest to our grasp, who resonates most deeply with us. Realistically, none of us expect to gain eternal life nor to be plopped down in the jungle unexpectedly, but there's a sense in Holmes that, for all his genius, he is really just using the brain power that all of us share better than the rest of us do. As he tells Watson here, after one of his those classic moments where the good Doctor is stunned by one of Holmes's analyses :
The world is full of obvious things, which nobody by any chance ever observes.
Nobody that is except the world's greatest detective. But the idea that things are just waiting to be observed, and the simplicity of Holmes observations, serves to foster the illusion that the mysterious will yield to our intellect should we merely apply rigorous reason. For all his foibles and quirks, it is this that makes Sherlock Holmes an aspirational figure.
Holmes and Watson are so familiar to us as to need no further exposition. Suffice it to say that this quintessential novel features many of the elements that made the series immortal : inexplicable doings at stately manor houses, chases across the moors, pea soup fogs, beautiful damsels in distress, and the like. And if the villain is not the equal of Dr. Moriarity (then again, who is ?), surely this tantalizing intoduction to the mystery is as enticing as any ever committed to paper :
"On the night of Sir Charles's death Barrymore the butler who made the discovery, sent Perkins the groom on horseback to me, and as I was sitting up late I was able to reach Baskerville Hall within an hour of the event. I checked and corroborated all the facts which were mentioned at the inquest. I followed the footsteps down the yew alley, I saw the spot at the moor-gate where he seemed to have waited, I remarked the change in the shape of the prints after that point, I noted that there were no other footsteps save those of Barrymore on the soft gravel, and finally I carefully examined the body, which had not been touched until my arrival. Sir Charles lay on his face, his arms out, his fingers dug into the ground, and his features convulsed with some strong emotion to such an extent that I could hardly have sworn to his identity. TheFe was certainly no physical injury of any kind. But one false statement was made by Barrymore at the inquest. He said that there were no traces upon the ground round the body. He did not observe any. But I did -- some little distance off, but fresh and clear."
"Footprints?"
"Footprints. "
"A man's or a woman's?"
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:
"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"
The reader, if he exists, who doesn't yearn to discover the secret of this gigantic hound may as well give up reading.
GRADE : A+
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on September 20, 2000
[This is a review of the Dover thrift Edition of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'] Dover Thrift Editions have done a lot to get me to read great literature: classic lit at an *incredibly* affordable price (at the time I'm writing this review the book retails for a *buck fifty*...even if it goes up, that's still one of the best book values you'll ever find!).
Dover's no-frills approach (generic jackets, inexpensive paper) belies the classic range of their thrift editions, and this is one of my favorites: Conan Doyle's best-known Sherlock Holmes adventure, genuinely chilling and moody. If you haven't read it in a long while, you might have forgotten how well-drawn and detailed this is. Conan Doyle's characters, dialogue, cliffhangers (Chapter Two's end is, in my opinion, one of English lit's best example of suspenseful cliffhangers that will have you flipping the page), setting and the suspenseful climax have made this a mystery classic for over a hundred years. If you're familiar only with Nigel Bruce's humorous but bumbling portrayal of Doctor Watson, you'll enjoy the *true* Watson of the novel...intelligent man of action, trusted by Holmes to investigate the scene ahead of him.
The price makes this an excellent gift (aw, at this price, go ahead and pick them up a few more Dover Thrift editions, including 'Six Great Sherlock Holmes Stories') or a great book to take on a trip (at this price, you can afford to give it away to a fellow traveler when you've finished).
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Most Sherlock Holmes stories (especially the short stories like The Red Headed League) are like playing chess in a Victorian drawing room. You get a period piece with some subtle moves. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a total change-up from that format. Doyle builds the atmosphere of ancient legends, foul play, and a dark moor in an irresistible way. You will find yourself looking out over your shoulder if you read this book on a dark, lonely night. So if you like a novel with a true gothic feel, this will be your main reward.
Your unexpected reward will be one of the most famous clues in all of detective fiction. In searching out who is haunting the Baskerville's, Doyle has Holmes solve the puzzle by looking for something that is missing. This is the only mystery that I know of that is solved by vacuous fulfillment (an odd concept of mathematics that Doyle must have known about).
The third feature of this story are the many fallacious beliefs about how science works (like phrenology -- the shape of the skull determining your mind and character). You may find this interesting or annoying. In either case, try to remember that we probably have many similar false beliefs today that will look silly a hundred years from now. Can you think of one?
Wrap up in a blanket by the fire, have a glass of wine, and enjoy!
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