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The Hound of the Baskervilles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Hound of the Baskervilles is a crime novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, originally serialised in the Strand Magazine in 1901 and 1902, which is set largely on Dartmoor 1889. At the time of researching the novel, Conan Doyle was a General Practitioner in Plymouth, and thus was able to explore the moor and accurately capture its mood and feel. In the novel, the detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson are called to investigate a curse which is alleged to be on the house of the Baskervilles.

Inspiration for the story

Sidney Paget's illustration of the Hound
Sidney Paget's illustration of the Hound

The marsh around Fox Tor, Fox Tor Mires, was almost certainly the inspiration for the book's 'Grimpen Mire'. Baskerville Hall may be either Hayford Hall or Brook Manor, which are both near Buckfastleigh. Baskerville Hall in Clyro also claims to be inspiration for the building in the story, going so far as to have Holmes' silhouette on stationery and brochures.

It is thought that Conan Doyle, who once lived in Birmingham, may have borrowed the name from Birmingham printer John Baskerville. The ideas of journalist and writer Bertram Fletcher Robinson were important in the inception of the book, and he received credit in early publications, although the extent of his contributions are unknown. The Hound of the Baskervilles is considered to be one of Conan Doyle's best works as an author for its fantastic descriptive writing.

The story is inspired by regional mythology of the British Isles concerning hell-hounds. See Barghest and Black Shuck. The latter is of East Anglian origin, and Conan Doyle and Fletcher Robinson spent time at the Norfolk resort of Cromer. The old Cromer Hall nearby which was in the Gothic style is also said to have matched the description of Baskerville Hall. [1] and there was also links between the Cromer and Devon through the Cabell family (said to be an inspiration for the cursed family).

Conan Doyle, who wished to concentrate on his historical novels, chose to bring back Sherlock Holmes for the story despite having previously stated that he had become tired of the character. The decision was probably prompted both by the need for a powerful protagonist and by the astronomical commercial success of Sherlock Holmes at the time, especially in America. However, the events of this story were placed before those of The Final Problem and thus there was no necessity (as yet) to explain away Holmes' "death".

The story was first published in The Strand as "The Hound of the Baskervilles—Another Adventure of Sherlock Holmes" in a series of monthly parts, from August 1901 to April 1902.

Plot summary

Holmes and Watson receive a visit from Dr. James Mortimer, who wishes to consult them before meeting Sir Henry Baskerville, the last of the Baskervilles, and heir to the Baskerville estate in Dartmoor. Dr. Mortimer tells them he is uneasy about letting him go to Baskerville Hall, owing to a supposed family curse. He narrates the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles, a demonic dog that first killed Sir Hugo Baskerville several hundred years ago, and is believed to kill all Baskervilles in the region of Dartmoor. When Holmes dismisses it as a fairy tale, he narrates the events of the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville, Henry's uncle. Although he was found dead in his garden without any trace of physical damage, his face was distorted as if he died in utter terror. Dr. Mortimer then reveals something that he had not mentioned at the official inquest. He alone had noticed footmarks at some distance from the body when it was found; the footmarks of a gigantic hound.

The Hound, as it is affectionately known, has a number of details that make it enjoyed. Doyle had matured as a writer since the two earlier Holmes novels, but did not produce this story merely as a response to The Strand's financial offers. Having been conceived of as a Holmes tale for artistic reasons, one can see that the author's enthusiasm was back, and at a time when his abilities could fulfill the story's needs. More subplots, red herrings, and interesting characters drift through its pages than is usual for a Holmes mystery. Inspector Lestrade is a helpful ally. And, most importantly, it is Watson's story. Not only is he the narrator, as is usual, but it is his own activities that he is reporting. Holmes is not on hand for the middle section of the novel, and for those familiar with the Nigel Bruce portrayals, it is refreshing to see Dr Watson's intelligence, bravery, and initiative put on display. With no Holmes, he does a creditable job as his agent, as Holmes himself notes.

It is revealed that the true criminal is a local naturalist called Stapleton, who was revealed to be a long lost cousin of the Baskervilles. His intention was to send a half-starved, vicious dog as his agent, which would attack the first living thing it encountered. This dog was a mixed breed, purchased from the distributor Ross and Mangles. In order to make it seem diabolical, Stapleton daubed its coat with a luminous, phosphorus-based ointment. When the dog was sent to kill Henry Baskerville, Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade were waiting for him. They shot the hound with their guns, killing him. Stapleton fled, to drown when trying to cross the moor in the fog.

Allusions/references from other works

The Hound of the Baskervilles may be the most popular of all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It has been filmed no fewer than 18 times, with the earliest adaptation on record being a 1915 German silent production. Other adaptations include those featuring Basil Rathbone (1939), Peter Cushing (1959), and Jeremy Brett (1988). There has also been a rock music adaptation by Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman.

A 1978 comedic film adaptation of the novel featured well-known British stars such as Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Terry-Thomas, Spike Milligan, Prunella Scales, Denholm Elliott, and Penelope Keith.

In her Amelia Peabody novel The Curse of the Pharaohs, Elizabeth Peters named many of the minor characters after people featured in the Sherlock Holmes canon. The murder victim, an aristocratic archaeologist, is named Sir Henry Baskerville—"from the Norfolk Baskervilles, not the Devonshire branch of the family".

The main character in Umberto Eco's detective story set in the Middle Ages, The Name of the Rose, is named William of Baskerville, and his trustful sidekick is named Adso. The first is a reference to the novel by Conan Doyle (as well as to William Occam), and the latter might refer to Dr Watson.

In part one of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, by Keno Don Rosa, the hound is presented as the Hound of the Whiskervilles. This hound merely is a costume, having been used since 1675 by the inhabitants of Whiskerville to frighten the McDucks.

The 2nd-season Futurama episode The Honking features a were-car that roams the moors surrounding Bender's ancestral castle, echoing some events in the novel.

Vladimir Nabokov, a childhood Holmes enthusiast, sprinkled allusions through many of his novels. His widely celebrated book Pale Fire refers to Grimpen Mire and its marshy landscape, as well as referencing Stapleton's habit of butterfly collecting.

The observation that psychological stress can increase mortality through heart attacks has been given the name Baskerville effect. This alludes to the story's Sir Charles Baskerville who died from a heart attack after encountering the fierce dog of the title.

The mechanical hound of Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 is noted by the author in the afterword as being a "robot clone of A. Conan Doyle's great Baskerville beast."

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

As of 2006, there are at least 24 film versions of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Some of these shine because of their truth to the book, while others are notable for odd castings and designs. Among these are some pastiches and one parody.


1-7) The first seven productions were German ones. There is no Dr. Watson in them and it maybe assumed that none of these had very much to do with Doyle's unforgettable original story except for the main characters. Also it is likely that they are a series of some kind.

8) Eille Norwood started his career as the great detective in this silent movie with Hubert Willis as Watson. The couple would appear in 46 more productions of the canon.

9) Yet another German production with what may be euphemistically called an "international" cast. Unfortunately no print of this movie has survived.

10) The writing credits for this one go to go to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Wallace. It would seem that the visuals of this film survive, not however the soundtracks.

11) Prague born Director Carl Lamac, had previously directed the Czech comedy Lelícek ve sluzbách Sherlocka Holmese / Lelicek in the Services of Sherlock Holmesin 1932. In this film Holmes is frequently absent but Watson true-to-the-book. Barrymore is played by the delightfully sinister Fritz Rasp.

12) This may be one of the most famous and popular film versions. This and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were the only two Rathbone/Bruce films set in Victorian Days before Universal took over to pit Holmes and Watson against Nazis in the 1940s.

14-15) Rated by many as a good film the Hammer produced version took a lot of liberty with the story but has the typical Hammer feeling. The second was released in two parts within the BBC TV series and followed the original more closely.

16) One of the oddest castings - Stewart Granger is definitely not Sherlock Holmes. William Shatner appears as Stapleton. Director Barry Crane is more famous for shows like Mannix and The Streets of San Francisco.

17) This Comedy version did not meet the expectations of the audience.

18) This highly praised Russian film adaptation starring Livanov and Solomin is a part of a series which has gathered much fame in the Soviet Union. Many rate those two as the best Holmes and Watson ever.

19) This British produced Mini Series with former Doctor Who star Tom Baker was well received. Rigby would return to Sherlock Holmes in 1983 as Inspector Layton in the Richardson version of The Sign of Four

20) Ian Richardson played Holmes twice. The second time was in The Sign of Four. Denholm Elliott who had played Stapleton in the 1978 comedy returns to Holmes this time as Dr. Mortimer and Martin Shaw gives us a comfortable Sir Henry. Nicholas Clay plays Stapleton and Ronald Lacey who plays Inspector Lestrade, will return in 1987 as Bartholomew & Thaddeus Sholto in the Granada Television production of The Sign of Four, part of The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

21) Peter O'Toole lends his voice to Sherlock Holmes in this Australian animated film. In the same series were SH and the Valley of Fear, SH and the Sign of the Four and SH and the Study in Scarlet. The drawings and animations are simple and the stories are told in roughly one hour but still true to the original material.

22) Granada Television produced this as a part of The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It is rated as an excellent and true-to-the-book production. Jeremy Brett is however noticeably ill already.

23) Matt Frewer is a very odd and quirky but certainly entertaining Holmes, more famous for his role of Max Headroom. Jason London makes a suitably aged Sir Henry Baskerville and is assisted ably by Dr. Watson portrayed by Kenneth Welsh while in Dartmoor. This is the first entry in a series of four.

24) The last production to date was a BBC television adaptation. Ian Hart returns to the Role of Watson in 2004 in the non-canonical Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking with Rupert Everett as Holmes

See also

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
The Hound of the Baskervilles
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