Literature / The Hound of the Baskervilles

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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 Canada 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 heartbroken by the fact that Beryl was (probably) playing with his heart, albeit to save his life. Beryl is free after years of abuse and neglect, but it's uncertain what type of future she can have, either with Sir Henry or on her own.
  • Book Ends: Near the beginning of Dr. Watson's stay on Dartmoor, Stapleton runs into the Grimpen Mire to catch a butterfly, having previously put markers in the spots that are safe to walk on. Near the end, he does it again, this time to escape the people who'll be coming after him in order to bring him to justice — but unfortunately for him, a thick fog has risen during the night, and this time he can't see the markers which allow him to travel through the mire safely...
  • Broken Bird: Beryl Garcia-Stapleton and Laura Frankland-Lyons are both beautiful women with dark and troubled pasts that have completely fucked them over.
  • 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 restrained and locked her in a room upstairs so she couldn't interfere.
  • 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 shelter another killer... Elisa's brother Selden.
  • Canis Major: The titular hound is "the size of a small lioness".
  • Chekhov's Gun: Stapleton shows Watson the Grimpen Mire and notes that the boggy moor is certain death to anyone who wanders in and doesn't know the way out.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Seldon is making a break for freedom, dressed in Sir Henry's old clothes which his sister provided him with, on one of the nights Stapleton lets the hound loose.
  • 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 a hotel room by Stapleton so as not lose track 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.
  • Didn't Think This Through: In the Epilogue, Watson points out that Stapleton's scheme had one major flaw — how could he claim the Baskerville fortune without instantly raising suspicion on himself? Holmes says that Beryl told him that her husband planned to either a) go back to South America and claim the inheritance from there, b) create another disguise to claim it, c) engage some accomplice to claim it for him instead.
  • Domestic Abuser: Stapleton's treatment of Beryl, as she explains and later Holmes expands on.
    • When Watson notes that the otherwise calm and collected Elisa has been crying at night, he briefly wonders if Barrymore abuses her. It turns out she's crying because of Selden's situation instead.
  • Even Evil Can Be Loved: 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 the reader 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.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Beryl doesn't quite fit under Even Evil Has Standards, since she mostly collaborates with her husband's schemes under a combination of physical abuse and what appears to be a form of Stockholm Syndrome to begin with. Nevertheless, while she is willing to go along with many of his plans, she draws the lines at murder and does everything she can to prevent it.
  • Fright Deathtrap: How Sir Charles Baskerville was killed, since his heart gave up on him as he was fleeing in terror from the Hound.
  • 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.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Stapleton reacts poorly to Sir Henry's interest in Beryl (which makes a lot more sense when we learn that she's his wife) even though part of his plan to begin with is for her to act as a Honey Trap for him. Apparently he wasn't quite prepared for the reality of watching his wife seduce another man.
  • 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: Both female characters involved with the villain end up helping the heroes... but they subvert it:
    • Beryl 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. note 
    • Laura Lyons is furious that Stapleton lied to her about the possibility of marrying her and used her to help kill Sir Charles, who she owed so much to, and helps the heroes out of spite as much as anything else.
  • Honey Trap: The villain forces his wife Beryl Stapleton to act as one for Sir Henry, pretending to everyone that she's his sister.
    • 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.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Most of the litigious Franklin's cases are contradictory in nature and involve holding to completely opposite principles. In one example, he gloats over simultaneously winning a case which enables a neighbour's land to be used for a public path under public right-of-way laws and winning another case which closes off a local park to the public under privacy laws.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Dr Mortimer and the official overseeing the inquest of Sir Charles. Seriously; you do not need to be Sherlock Holmes 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.
    • Stapleton makes a HUGE mistake by mentioning an actually true part of his backstory to Watson: that he was a school teacher and used to manage a Boarding School, but some of his pupils died in an illness outbreak and he was bankrupted. When Watson includes this fact in a letter to Holmes, he very easily tracks Stapleton down by gathering info about such an incident in a government-related education office; he even lampshades it by saying that Stapleton must have kicked himself repeatedly for Saying Too Much.
  • 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. He also treats his wife appallingly, essentially pimping her out to Sir Henry and physically abusing her when she defies him.
  • 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, though Holmes wonders if this comes from Stapleton showing jealousy when he sees that Beryl does show concern for Sir Henry.
  • Never Found the Body: The villain's body is lost in the Grimpen Mire, after he makes a failed attempt to escape.
  • 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 fate of the Big Bad.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Beryl puts up with a lot from Stapleton because she loves him, but it's when she learns that he's been seducing Laura Lyons as part of his scheme that she completely breaks with him.
    • Similarly, when Watson and Holmes tell Laura about Beryl and give her the proofs, she's understandably furious and immediately tells them all she knows about his plans.
  • Red Herring: There are a lot of suspicious characters lurking in the vicinity of Baskerville Hall, from John Barrymore the stoic butler, to his distraught wife Elisa, to an escaped convict roaming the moors and who is Elisa's younger brother. None of them did it.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The Hound isn't paranormal after all; it's merely an enormous dog painted with phosphorous to make it glow in the dark.
  • Scully Syndrome: Discussed at one point. Watson is firmly skeptical of the legend of the Hound, and points out the many flaws in the idea that the curse has come back to haunt the Baskerville family. However, he's also forced to admit to himself that he can't actually come up with a rational, down-to-earth theory which isn't also full of holes. This being a Sherlock Holmes story, there is of course such an explanation.
  • 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 cool headed, polite and blond. Younger sister Beryl is tall, dark haired and Hot-Blooded. Subverted, as 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 don't find him, and assume he fell into the mire.
  • Speech-Impeded Love Interest: Beryl is this for Henry.
  • Speech Impediment: Beryl Stapleton has a lisp, though it may be just her accent.
  • 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.
  • Troll: Franklin's lawsuits are mostly for his own amusement and self-satisfaction, even if they involve bringing great trouble and strife to his neighbours. He's not incredibly popular.
  • 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 are Adapted Out, and not only does Stapleton murder 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 the 1939 version.
  • Adaptational Nationality: In the Hammer version, Sir Henry goes from being Canadian to being South African so Christopher Lee could use his natural accent instead of a North American one.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Beryl (renamed Cecile) becomes Stapleton's much more willing accomplice in the Hammer film, 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; it's rather fitting that, having brought the case to Holmes' attention in the first place, he's also included in bringing Sir Charles' murderer to justice.
    • Laura Lyons is almost always left out as well, since her plot thread is rather superfluous.
  • Death by Adaptation: Beryl is murdered by Stapleton in the 2002 movie when she refuses to help him any further in harming Sir Henry. 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In the Hammer version's prologue, Sir Hugo's entourage of drunken jerks are horrified when he calls for his hounds to be loosed upon the girl they intended to rape, who has escaped; apparently even boozed-up would-be rapists draw the line at having someone ripped to pieces by dogs (making the maniacal Hugo irredeemably evil by comparison).
  • 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, as Selden himself looks in shock.
    • And the Grand Finale has Holmes fall into the mire while pursuing Stapleton and barely surviving thanks to a Big Damn Heroes by Watson. Stapleton isn't swallowed up by the mire while alive, as in the book, but is shot in the head by Watson first.
    • This is also the fate of Cecile in the Peter Cushing version made by Hammer.

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