Literature / The Hound of the Baskervilles

Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third and perhaps most famous Sherlock Holmes novel by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The great detective is called on to investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, which his doctor attributes to a legendary family curse connected to an enormous spectral hound. For better or worse, Sir Charles's nephew Sir Henry is coming from the USA to claim his inheritance, and so Holmes and Watson have to team up to keep him safe from this supposed "family curse".

The Hound of the Baskervilles has been adapted and parodied many times, in nearly every possible medium. For the Sherlock episode go here.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Attack Animal: The Hound.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Holmes manages to save Henry Baskerville's life, but he is left a nervous wreck. And then we find out what Beryl was put through.
  • Book Ends: Near the beginning of Dr. Watson's stay on Dartmoor, Stapleton runs into the Grimpen Mire. Near the end, he does it again — but unfortunately for him, a thick fog has risen, and he can't see the markers which allow him to do it safely.
  • Broken Bird: Beryl Garcia-Stapleton and Laura Frankland-Lyons.
  • Bound and Gagged: Beryl Stapleton, near the end. It's because she had intended to warn Henry, so Big Bad Stapleton hit her and then got her restrained.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Dr Mortimer, is skull obsessed, absent minded, constantly accompanied by his spaniel and has yellow nicotine stained fingers — but he is also a skilled surgeon of high esteem.
  • The Butler Did It: The butler John Barrymore is a major suspect, but turns out to be a Red Herring. What he and the housekeeper/his wife Elisa did do was sheltering another killer... Selden.
  • Canis Major: The titular hound is "the size of a small lioness".
  • Chekhov's Gun: Stapleton shows Watson the Grimpen Moor and notes that the boggy moor is certain death to anyone who wanders in and doesn't know the way out.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: Sir Henry receives one warning him to stay away from Baskerville Hall. Holmes is able to identify the newspapers that had been chopped up, by the font, and the type of scissors used to do it. It came from Beryl, locked away in an hotel room by Stapleton to not lose sight of her as he made his evil plans; she still managed to grab the nearest newspaper and make the letter. She ended up having to manually write the word 'moor' in crude letters that disguised her handwriting, as that isn't a word that is generally found in the typical daily newspaper of a city that isn't near one (Why she didn't piece the word together by cutting up and rearranging the letters of the commonly used word 'room' isn't mentioned).
  • A Day in the Limelight: In many ways, this is Watson's novel, as Holmes is offstage for six of the novel's fifteen chapters and reappears only after Watson has already done much of the legwork.
  • Domestic Abuser: Stapleton's treatment of Beryl, as she explains and later Holmes expands on.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The escaped Serial Killer Seldon is still loved by his sister Elisa Barrymore. Upon seeing her completely heartbroken reaction after Seldon is accidentally killed by the Hound, Watson comments "Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him." Which, although Watson doesn't make the connection explicit, tells us something about the villain of the novel, whose death at the end is mourned by nobody; the one woman who might have been expected to mourn him, his much abused wife Beryl, is positively glad to see him go.
  • Fright Deathtrap: How Sir Charles Baskerville was killed.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Mr. Frankland liked to sue people as a way of showing off his knowledge of law, including the more obscure points. He was particularly proud of getting one man convicted of trespassing on his own property.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Mr. Frankland.
  • Hell Hound: The Hound in the old Baskerville legend. (Its modern counterpart turns out to have a more mundane origin, though no less threatening.)
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: There is a female character involved with the villain who ends up helping the heroes. It's actually subverted: Beryl (said woman) helps not just because of Henry's love, but as her revenge against the villain who treated her like shit for years, which smacks of The Dog Bites Back. (Though in some adaptations she also loves Henry because he was kind to her.)
  • Honey Trap: The villain forces a young woman named Beryl Stapleton to act as one for Sir Henry.
    • He also used Laura Lyons (the estranged daughter of Grumpy Old Man Frankland) as such. Laura was desperate after being abandoned by her Jerk Ass husband so he tricked her into writing a letter asking Sir Charles for help, which he'd use to stage the Fright Death Trap.
  • Idiot Ball: Dr Mortimer and the official overseeing the inquest of Sir Charles. Seriously; you do not need to be Sherlock Holmes in order to be able to tell that if you can suddenly only see the toes of a person's footprints, it means said person is running for their life.
  • Inheritance Murder: Holmes and Watson are both in the dark as to why Stapleton would want to murder Sir Henry and allow him to court his sister but not propose. Then Holmes sees a series of family portraits and it clicks: Stapleton is the descendant of the Black Sheep of the Baskerville family, who'd already murdered the previous tenant of Baskerville Hall and plans to inherit the property, possibly via a third person posing as the heir (and had his wife act as his sister to further ensnare Sir Henry).
  • In the Blood: It is suggested that the villain has inherited his criminal tendencies from his notorious ancestor.
  • Kick the Dog: almost literally: Stapleton feeds Dr. Mortimer's pet spaniel to the hound.
  • Legacy of Service: The butler, John Barrymore, whose family has served the Baskervilles for generations.
  • My Card: Played with. When Dr. Mortimer first comes to see Holmes and Watson, they're out; in a fit of absent-mindedness he leaves his walking stick behind and doesn't leave a card. Holmes being Holmes, the walking stick tells him nearly as much as the card would have.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits!: The naturalist Jack Stapleton is very protective of his beautiful younger sister Beryl. In a cruel subversion, it's because she is his wife and he's forcing her to pose as his sister as a part of his Honey Trap scheme.
  • Never Found the Body: The villain's body is lost in the Grimpen Mire.
  • Not So Invincible After All: The titular hound, once Holmes scores a hit on it.
  • Paranormal Investigation: Subverted in that Holmes, though conceding the possibility of the Hound being a supernatural creature, deliberately excludes it from his considerations, on the grounds that if it truly is a such an entity, there's nothing he can do about it in any case.
  • Perma Shave: On finding that Holmes has been secretly living in a stone hut on the moor for several weeks, Watson notes that "he had contrived, with that catlike love of personal cleanliness which was one of his characteristics, that his chin should be as smooth and his linen as perfect as if he were in Baker Street."
  • Photo Doodle Recognition: Holmes recognizes the Big Bad from a series of Baskerville family portraits, and demonstrates to Watson by putting his arm over the hat and period costume. Now seeing only the facial features, Watson sees the similarity at once ( which gives them the motive: the Big Bad is the son of the Baskerville Black Sheep, and so is set to inherit the manor if the current owner dies).
  • Quicksand Sucks: The Grimpen Mire. Which is the perdition of the Big Bad.
  • Red Herring: There are a lot of suspicious characters lurking in the vicinity of Baskerville Hall. None of them did it.
  • Scooby-Doo Hoax: The Hound isn't paranormal after all.
  • Sherlock Scan: Holmes, of course. Watson makes an semi-successful attempt at one in the first chapter. Dr Mortimer also makes one off-screen, correctly deducing something that Holmes found quite interesting (There was a significant amount of cigar ash on the ground near the moor gate the morning Sir Charles was found dead, suggesting that when Sir Charles went out for his evening walk and smoke on the night of his death, he lingered by the gate for several minutes).
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: The Stapleton siblings. Older brother Jack is coolheaded, polite and blond. Younger sister Beryl is tall, darkhaired and Hot-Blooded. Subverted, they're not siblings.
  • Signature Item Clue: The protagonists find the boot used by Stapleton to set the hound onto Henry Baskerville in the Grumpen Mire after he fled, but they didn't find him, and assumed he fell into the mire.
  • They Have the Scent: The Hound is trained to track Sir Henry's scent. The theft of his old shoes (to be used in the training) is one of the clues that tells Holmes they're dealing with a real non-supernatural animal.
  • Trouble Magnet Gambit: Happens by accident when the escaped convict Seldon is secretly given some old clothes of Sir Henry's. The Hound is set on the trail by the smell of Sir Henry's boot, and understandably mistakes Seldon for its real target because of the clothes' odor.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Sir Charles' wayward brother Rodger is said to have resembled a family portrait of Lord Hugo, a distant and also wayward ancestor, to an uncanny degree. Later it turns out to be VERY important: Rodger had a son who looked a LOT like his father... and he turns out to be the Big Bad. This is proved by Holmes covering the portrait's hair in front of a shocked Watson.
  • We Would Have Told You, But...: How Holmes justifies tricking Watson (and everyone else) into believing that he's in Baker Street.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Averted—and this is probably why The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most famous Holmes novel. All of the other three Holmes novels include extended flashback sequences in the second half where the narrative follows the person Holmes is investigating and explains how matters came to where they are. The Hound of the Baskervilles is the only Holmes novel where the narrative sticks with Holmes and Watson and their investigation for the entire book.
  • The X of Y: Hound, the Baskervilles

Adaptations provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The 2002 movie adds several details. e.g., Dr. Mortimer is actually an old man and quite more serious than in the book, his wife is an ardent believer in the supernatural and hosts a séance that turns out to be being very plot-important, Selden not only is directly shown but actually becomes an Ascended Extra, Frankland and Laura aren't included, and not only Stapleton murders poor Beryl, but his motives go much more by It's Personal than the huge Baskerville inheritance itself.
      • The 2002 version of Mortimer and his wife is lifted straight from the 1939 adaptation with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.
    • The Hammer Horror version, which starred Peter Cushing as Holmes and his old partner Christopher Lee as Sir Henry, added a poisonous tarantula, which wasn't in the book.
    • The Hammer film also begins with an extended prologue involving Hugo Baskerville and the vile acts he commits to (supposedly) bring a curse down upon the family.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Beryl becomes Cecile in 1959 version. Barrymore becomes Barryman in 1939 version.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Beryl (renamed Cecile) becomes Stapleton's much more willing accomplice, intentionally luring both Sir Henry, and before him, Sir Charles, to death.
  • Adapted Out: Lestrade in several adaptations, replaced with the already established character of Dr Mortimer.
  • Death by Adaptation: Beryl is murdered by Stapleton in the 2002 movie. Also, while still heavily implied dead in the novel, Stapleton himself is given a much more definite death scene, likely as some catharsis for the former act.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Cranked Up to Eleven in the 2002 movie, which starts with two policemen who were pursuing Selden being swallowed by the Grimpen Mire on screen.
    • And the Grand Finale has the Big Bad Stapleton swallowed as well. Holmes barely survives thanks to a Big Damn Heroes by Watson.
    • Although somewhat subverted, since instead of being swallowed up while alive, as in the book, Stapleton is shot in the head by Watson first.
    • This is also the fate of Cecile in the Peter Cushing version made by Hammer.