Sir Charles Baskerville has died three months prior, leaving a manuscript with his doctor friend James Mortimer. The intent of the manuscript is to be a warning to members of the Baskerville line to be aware of their temperament and beware of the moor after dark. Mortimer reads this document to Sherlock Homes and John Watson which tells of the fate of the wicked Hugo - a Baskerville ancestor, Sir Hugo is the picture of aristocratic excess, drinking and pursuing pleasures of the flesh. When a yeoman's daughter caught his eye and she did her best to avoid him, he and his friends carried her off to a room high up in Baskerville Hall. While Hugo and others drank, the girl climbed down the ivy on the outside wall and began making her way home across the moor (a marshy wasteland). When it was discovered that she was missing, one of the guests suggested using the hounds on her, which Hugo quickly acted on. When the guests realized what was happening, thirteen of them rode off on their horses to stop Hugo and the hounds. Before they reach him, a frightened shepherd tells them he saw the chase, but that there was also "a hound of hell" close behind Hugo. His horse soon passes them, riderless and on its way back. Even the hounds that were in pursuit of the maiden are now just whimpering about. Three of the riders continue on, down into a clearing where they find the girl dead and a giant black hound tearing out the throat of Hugo Baskerville. Thus starts the harrowing tale of "The Hound of the Baskervilles". A thrill ride for the ages!
We owe 1902's The Hound of the Baskervilles
to Arthur Conan Doyle's good friend Fletcher "Bobbles" Robinson, who took him to visit some scary English moors and prehistoric ruins, and told him marvelous local legends about escaped prisoners and a 17th-century aristocrat who fell afoul of the family dog. Doyle transmogrified the legend: generations ago, a hound of hell tore out the throat of devilish Hugo Baskerville on the moonlit moor. Poor, accursed Baskerville Hall now has another mysterious death: that of Sir Charles Baskerville. Could the culprit somehow be mixed up with secretive servant Barrymore, history-obsessed Dr. Frankland, butterfly-chasing Stapleton, or Selden, the Notting Hill murderer at large? Someone's been signaling with candles from the mansion's windows. Nor can supernatural forces be ruled out. Can Dr. Watson--left alone by Sherlock Holmes to sleuth in fear for much of the novel--save the next Baskerville, Sir Henry, from the hound's fangs?
Many Holmes fans prefer Doyle's complete short stories, but their clockwork logic doesn't match the author's boast about this novel: it's "a real Creeper!" What distinguishes this particular Hound is its fulfillment of Doyle's great debt to Edgar Allan Poe--it's full of ancient woe, low moans, a Grimpen Mire that sucks ponies to Dostoyevskian deaths, and locals digging up Neolithic skulls without next-of-kins' consent. "The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one's soul," Watson realizes. "Rank reeds and lush, slimy water-plants sent an odour of decay ... while a false step plunged us more than once thigh-deep into the dark, quivering mire, which shook for yards in soft undulations around our feet ... it was as if some malignant hand was tugging us down into those obscene depths." Read on--but, reader, watch your step! --Tim Appelo