The Hound of the Baskervilles – Hounds Summary

J Randolph Cox – 22 Jan – 13 Mar 1994

22 Jan 1994

  • Why can this story be called “a ghost story which belongs more to the literature of skepticism than the literature of belief”?
  • Does the absence of Sherlock Holmes from so much of the story enhance or detract from our enjoyment? Consider such things peculiar to detective fiction as “suspense” and interest in learning what will happen next.
  • With Holmes absent, we must depend on Dr. Watson’s account as it stands with no one to contradict it. Does this suggest what we are asked to accept, what we must believe?
  • Note the exchanges between Holmes and Watson. What can we assume about the nature of their relationship in spite of Holmes’ caustic remarks? How can you support this assumption?
  • Suggest reasons for our being given such a lengthy account of the Baskerville legend. Why is it presented as an ancient document and not an account just narrated by Dr. Mortimer?
  • Give a brief biographical sketch of Sir Charles Baskerville, based on what we are told in the newspaper account of his death. What purpose does the newspaper account serve as contrasted to the presentation of the legend? What effect does Dr. Mortimer’s first hand account have?
  • Can you account for the frequent references to scientific matters? (The work of Monsieur Bertillon, Holmes’ work, that of Dr. Mortimer, for example) What seems to be the purpose of the repetition of a phrase like “man of science” in a story of this sort?

29 Jan 1994

  • Why is there such a need to seek a rational solution to the mystery? How does this section contribute to the search for a rational answer? State the arguments for such a solution. Is it significant that Dr. Mortimer be so observant?
  • State the case for a supernatural explanation, i.e., that there really is a ghostly hound. Can you divide the cast of characters according to their degree of belief or unbelief?
  • Draw up a character sketch of Sir Henry Baskerville. Explain which side of the controversy he should be on. Why do you think so?
  • Consider the warning note. Why is so much attention paid to it and the way it was prepared? How does this add to the controversy and which side does it support?

6 Feb 1994

  • Explain how Holmes’ explanation for not being able to go to Baskerville Hall is made to seem plausible. What is gained by his staying in London? What evidence is there that he respects Watson’s judgment?
  • What does the scene with the cab driver establish? How does this serve to remind the reader of events just past?
  • Consider the trip to Baskerville Hall. Does Watson pay attention to his surroundings? Does this tell us anything about him? How does the time of year contribute to the mood of supernatural events to follow?
  • Describe the setting on the approach to Baskerville Hall and the Hall itself. How does this re-establish the theme (or power) of the supernatural? Do we see anything to remind us of the power of science to contradict this theme?

12 Feb 1994

  • Characterize the Stapletons. What impression do we get of them, and how is the idea of a rational explanation for the ghostly hound advanced?
  • Give some examples of the gothic atmosphere, along with signs of the great antiquity of the area. How do these support the supernatural theme?
  • How is the mood of impending disaster kept alive?
  • This is the section where we read the first of Dr. Watson’s notes or reports to Holmes. What does this switching of styles (to the “epistolary style”) do to the story? Do we get as clear a picture of the events?
  • Consider Mr. Frankland. What purpose does a character like this serve? Is he here only for comic relief? Is he a scientist of some sort? What kind might he represent?

18 Feb 1994

  • Describe the relationship that seems to be developing between the Stapletons and Henry Baskerville. Does this complicate the matter of finding a solution to the mystery or serve to delineate their characters more?
  • Explain how the discovery of Barrymore’s secret by Watson and Sir Henry helps advance the mystery plot. How does the situation contribute to the mood?
  • What helps keep alive the supernatural theme at this point? Consider the time of night. How are we reminded of the legend? Does the fact that Sir Henry and Watson are alone help to emphasize the appearance of the stranger at this point?
  • Who is Laura Lyons? What part does she play in the mystery? Is her appearance at this point significant or merely a red herring?

25 Feb 1994

  • How is the story of Laura woven into the fabric of the mystery of Sir Charles’ death? Are we still left with unanswered questions about her past?
  • What purpose does the reappearance of Frankland at this point serve? Is he still comic relief or is there a practical reason for his presence? Does he establish anything that advances the plot?
  • What has been the reason for Holmes’ absence and all of the secrecy? Does this reinforce our understanding of their relationship (Holmes and Watson)? Does Holmes approve of Watson’t achievements in his absence?
  • How is the solution presented at this time and why not leave it until the very last chapter? If we know the identity of the human agent do we need to be reminded of the presence of the Hound? Why isn’t the murderer arrested?

4 Mar 1994

  • Explain how we can say that Holmes is the subtle partner and Watson the direct man of action.
  • Why are we given this history lesson in the Baskerville family here? What does it establish?
  • Why does Holmes draw analogies from past cases which are not his own? Is he still holding back everything he knows?
  • How is the description of the scene up to the moment the Hound is sighted designed to heighten the suspense? Note the part played by the use of the fog.

13 Mar 1994

  • How does the swift pacing of the first section help us keep up with the excitement of the discovery and dispatching of the Hound. (This may be called the part where we “lay the family ghost”)
  • What do we learn in the last part of chapter 14 that relieves the tension and establishes the final evidence? Do you think it is also significant that the fog has lifted?
  • Why is there a need for a “clearing up” chapter? What is there that we don’t know already?
  • Is it significant that the final chapter takes place after a passage of time? How does this fit into the theme of the supernatural vs. science?

Chris Redmond – Sat, 24, 31 Aug 1996

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 perceptible chill I felt at the spectacle of a dog, even one I knew well, ripping into meat against the shadowy 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 HOUN we 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 woman’s, 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?

Discover more about The Hound of the Baskervilles and read the canon.