The Hound of the Baskervilles – Hounds Summary

Within a few paragraphs of this novel’s beginning, James Mortimer says to Sherlock Holmes, “I confess that I covet your skull.” Is it right for a shiver to run down the reader’s spine? And in how many ways does that unexpected sentence foreshadow what is to come as the events of the story unfold?

This novel is often interpreted as a discussion of what happens when the rational and the scientific meet. Is it also — considering the lingering love with which Doyle has Watson describe the rank vegetation of the mire and the bleak beauty of the moor — about the collision between urban civilization and rural nature?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 14, 21 Nov 1997

For the next two weeks we read that pet story of Sherlockians everywhere, a frightening tale called The Hound of the Baskervilles. Our Q’s and comments for the first seven chapters:

  • Holmes thinks the Baskerville family history is a fairy tale. How well does the legend fit the fairy tale genre?
  • Mortimer is a medical man and an author. He also has useful powers of observation which draw praise from Sherlock Holmes. Should Watson suddenly retire, what sort of sidekick would Mortimer make for the Great Detective? Would Mortimer be interested in the job?
  • Cerberus (Greece), Garm (Germany), Xoltl (Mexico), Anubis (Egypt) to name but a few — why are dogs so closely identified with death?
  • Watson appears to genuinely like Sir Henry, and despite their dissimilar backgrounds they quickly settle into a comfortable companionship. Would Watson be happy staying on at Baskerville Hall with his new friend?
  • In February, 1979 my friend Kay York traveled to remote Maryhill, Washington (USA), on a cliff over the Columbia River, to join a group of several hundred modern Druids observing a total solar eclipse. Maryhill was chosen for their ritual because it’s home to a suitably-spooky replica of Stonehenge. Network TV was there in full force, and the local stations in Portland (the nearest major city, and where I happened to be watching that day) carried the entire event live. The sun rose, and 30 minutes later it dimmed and went black. As the Druids chanted and swayed the TV announcer suddenly exclaimed “IT’S A HOUND! A GIANT HOUND!” I looked closer at the TV screen, and sure enough, there was Kay’s big, doofy dog Willow. He had leaped atop the stone altar and was tearing hungrily into the Druids’ “sacrifice,” which Kay told me later was a basket of sausages. There was a lot of human-squealing and doggy-whimpering as the reluctant Willow was dragged off the altar. Funny as it was, I still remember the perceptable chill I felt at the spectacle of a dog, even one I knew well, ripping into meat against the shadowly background of the megaliths……

Reports……diaries…….letters…….Watson is so busy writing, it’s a wonder he has time to investigate! As we read the thrilling conclusion of The Hound of the Baskervilles, here are my questions and comments for the pack:

  • Sir Henry “offered in as many words to marry” Beryl Stapleton. It doesn’t sound very romantic! Had they not been interrupted she would have had to give him some kind of answer right there in Chapter Nine, before any of the subsequent information came out. How do you think she might have replied?
  • How do you think Watson rates as a detective?
  • Who is treated worse by Stapleton: Beryl or the hound?
  • Why is Lestrade, a veteran of countless criminal investigations, so terrorized out there on the moor? Is he simply afraid of dogs? Of ghosts? Of something else?
  • It was one of SH’s peculiarities that in the intensity of a case he seldom ate. “I cannot spare energy and nerve force for digestion,” he explained in NORW. However, in HOUNwe presume his appetite is good because of the litter of empty cans in his hut. Watson made a note of Holmes’ next meal: a loaf of bread, tinned tongue and two tins of peaches. Bread and peaches sound good to most people, but tongue is a delicacy many of us try and cut back on. Way back. Mr. Grice Paterson offers some food for thought. He claims Holmes would only consume something that gross as part of a powerful, self-abusive, purification ritual prior to doing battle with the other-worldly dog. Sort of like flagellating oneself. Mr. GP is rare in that he has never actually read HOUN, but he does have a modicum of experience with tinned tongue. His veddy proper parents were enthusiastic tongue-eaters, and forced him to join them in eating the stuff when he was a small child. The texture and flavor were bad enough, he recalls. Still worse was the emotional trauma he suffered when his parents wouldn’t answer the horrible question that formed in his young mind: “Does the cow taste me?”

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 5 Feb 1999

Sir Charles Baskerville’s death was not entirely unexpected; he had been in failing health for some time. What was startling about his demise was the way his face was contorted with some final overpowering emotion, so much so that his friend Dr. Mortimer could barely recognize him. Also startling was a fact that didn’t come out in the usual coroner’s inquest…that near Sir Charles’s body was found a single footprint. Not a man’s footprint, nor yet a womans, but the footprint of a gigantic hound, evocative of a legend about an enormous, fiendish dog that had haunted the Baskerville line for more than two hundred years.

In a few minutes the Mâitre de Chasse will unleash his Hounds upon the trail of a Dog From Hell, confident that the stalwart Pack will neither slink away nor stare with bristling hackles when they run down this fire-breathing phantom and its evil master.

Based on the information in the Medical Directory, it would appear that James Mortimer’s training would have best suited a consulting practice in pathology or comparative anatomy. Would this background have been adequate for a country practitioner? And while we’re on the subject of Mortimer, what breed of dog is the “nomsake” of one of our respected List Members, the curly-haired spaniel? And has anyone noticed the physical resemblance between Mr./Dr. Mortimer and Professor James Moriarty?

I have sometimes wondered how Stapleton got into Sir Henry’s hotel room to remove a boot on two separate occasions, and to return one of the purloined boots on a third occasion? The hotel staff stoutly denied any knowledge of the disappearance of the boots, and the German waiter in particular seemed incapable of dissembling in a convincing fashion.

It’s apparent that Stapleton followed Mortimer to London, and so learned that Sir Henry would be staying at the Northumberland Hotel. But why did he follow Sir Henry thereafter, at considerable risk of discovery? He could not hope to strike his intended victim down in broad daylight on the crowded streets of London and get away with it.

Watson says of his first report to Holmes (Chapter 8), “One page is missing, but otherwise they are exactly as written….” What follows is a coherent account of Watson’s observations to that point in his investigation. There is nothing about the account that would suggest a missing page. What happened to the page, and what information might it have contained?

I wonder if anyone else noticed that the word “as,” which was the first word of the cryptic note sent to Sir Henry, was not to be found in the Times article quoted by Holmes?

When Watson saw the silhouette of “The Man on the Tor,” who proved to be Holmes, it was three or four o’clock in the morning. What was Holmes doing out and about on the moor at that hour?

Before Sir Henry left Merripit House on the climactic night, Stapleton went to an outbuilding and did something which resulted in “a curious scuffling noise.” We may suspect, of course, that the Hound was inside the outbuilding, but what was the purpose of Stapleton’s visit at a time when Sir Henry was still inside Merripit House?

Lastly, the route through the Great Grimpen Mire to the isolated tin mine was a tortuous one, with many turns and twists. How did the Stapletons know where to put the guiding rods that marked the path without themselves falling victim to the treacherous Mire?

Rosemary Michaud – Thu, 6 Apr 2000

Brad Keefauver – Thu, 31 May 2001