Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Box Clever Challenge - November)

When I visited Bath earlier in the year, I came across a book by Christopher Frayling - "Inside The Bloody Chamber on Angela Carter, the Gothic, and other weird tales." The book is a memoir about the literary friendship Frayling had with the late author Angela Carter. It focuses on the conversations and ideas the two of them would throw about until the early hours of the morning, the research he carried out about The Vampyre in literature, and some of his articles and essays on the various aspects of the "Gothic."

Whilst reading his book, I realised that I had not read or watched many of the books and films Frayling mentioned and I thought that I needed to rectify that. Carter sounded like an inspirational and interesting woman, and at some point I need to read her work, but as I went through the book, the chapter entitled Nothing But a Hound Dog made me think about November's book challenge...here was a classic novel I hadn't read, but one that I really should.

Sherlock Holmes...the great detective

One of my memories relating to childhood was watching The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with my mum. It was a show on Granada TV starring Jeremy Brett and David Burke, and in our house it was watched on a black and white TV! I loved that show, Brett and Burke were the perfect double act; it wasn't quite the same when David Burke was replaced by Edward Hardwicke, but it was still, for me, the ubiquitous take on Sherlock Holmes. People all around the world remember the series with such fond affection. Nowadays, Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch has given the super sleuth a fresh face, but whilst reading Frayling's book I realised that whilst I really loved Holmes and Watson, I'd never once read any of the books.  I have sitting on my bookshelf The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes https://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Sherlock-Holmes-Vintage-Classics/product-reviews/0099529939?pageNumber=2 it was about time I dusted it down and started reading.

I therefore decided that having read Frayling's notes about The Hound of the Baskervilles, I would choose that book as the "classic" from my anthology for my reading challenge. (I must now ensure I find some time to read the rest of the stories in my book!)

They were the footprints of a giant hound

The Hound of the Baskervilles was originally produced for a run of The Strand Magazine. In a letter to the editor, the author Arthur Conan Doyle said "I have the idea for a real creeper for the "Strand". It would run, I think, to not less than 40,000 words."

The tale starts with a walking cane left in the office of 221b Baker Street. Watson is amazed by Holmes' powers of observation as he solves the clues and advises Watson that they will be visited by James Mortimer, the owner of the said cane.

Mortimer appears and introduces the reader to the legend and folklore surrounding a Devonshire landowning family. Sir Charles Baskerville has been found dead, seemingly of a heart attack, however, Dr James Mortimer is convinced that it is supernatural proceedings which have killed his best friend. Mortimer explains that Hugo Baskerville had imprisoned a young woman on his Devonshire estate, but on one night, as he pursued her on the moors he was attacked by "a hound from hell." From then on, the Baskerville family were cursed, forever plagued by a mysterious and terrifying black hound. Following the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, his heir arrives ready to take up his rightful position on the family estate, however, he has already received a note which warns him to stay away. Once he arrives in London, it seems that he is being followed, and so Sherlock Holmes is called upon to solve what is going on.

Holmes is too busy to take on the case, and so he sends his loyal companion Dr Watson to Devon to find out what is going on and to report back to him what he finds out. Watson is normally the narrator of the Holmes tales, writing up the case notes at the end of every tale for the Sherlock Holmes Casebook. It is Holmes' job to do the sleuthing! In this novel however, Watson is not just retelling a story, he is also central to it, writing letters and journals, giving the story a more "in the moment" appeal. It reminded me of another Gothic tale, that of Dracula, and the notebooks of Dr John Seward. (What is it with Dr's and notebooks?!)

Dartmoor steals the show

The most interesting aspect of this Sherlock Holmes story, is that Holmes doesn't appear in much of the tale. Rather than Holmes dominating the story, Dartmoor is the star of the piece. The descriptions of the eerie landscape make you feel afraid for anyone out on the moor! Dartmoor gives the tale a vivid and Gothic atmosphere, you are seduced into turning the page to find out more. This is what probably gives the book its timeless appeal and makes it a favourite story for filmmakers, it is a great setting for a mystery, with such scope for other incidental story lines running throughout the piece.

The tale is really Dr Watson's adventure and Holmes just arrives to finish the tale off. From the very start, when Watson arrives he is confronted When Watson arrives on Dartmoor he is confronted by a search for an escaped convict. Everyone becomes a suspect, their strange behaviour slowly making sense as Watson unravels various clues. For the reader, there is this string of red herrings, what do you believe, what do you ignore? Holmes of course is able to piece together the clues from Watson's communications, and there is a dramatic climax before Watson can finally stamp the case CLOSED!

This is an enthralling and chilling book, and one not to be missed.



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