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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, published in 1902.

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, the most famous ones being the 1939 film which was the first to star Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, as well as the 1959 film starring Peter Cushing as Holmes, André Morell as Watson and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. There is also a 1972 Made-for-TV Movie starring Stewart Granger as Holmes and William Shatner as George Stapleton. For the Sherlock episode go here.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Holmes learns that Stapleton said his name was Sherlock Holmes to the cab driver at the beginning of the novel, he sits in silent amazement for a moment before laughing and admitting that that was pretty funny.
  • Attack Animal: The Hound.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Stapleton is a murderous villain who had chained, clearly mistreated and practically starved his own hound to death in order to make it an effective Attack Animal, he even feeds Dr. Mortimer’s pet spaniel to the hound, luckily he meets his well deserved fate in the mire.
  • 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 is uncertain what type of future she can have, either with Sir Henry or on her own.
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  • 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 will 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 Stapleton and Laura 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 is 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. Foreshadowing Stapleton's own death.
    • Sir Henry's stolen old boot at the start of the story. Stapleton was using it to incite the titular hound with Henry's smell.
  • Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun: Probably an Ur-Example: Holmes is able to deduce that Mortimer's dog must be a curly-haired spaniel... by seeing it coming up with its master.
  • 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).
  • Crime-Concealing Hobby: Stapleton is an amateur entomologist, forever going on long expeditions into the moor to hunt butterflies. It is also a good way to go to the abandoned mine where he is keeping the giant hound with which to terrify Sir Henry. Holmes tells Watson that Stapleton really is an entomologist, having even discovered a new species of moth under one of his previous identities.
  • 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.
  • Deal with the Devil: The legend of the Hound says that Hugo Baskerville had promised his soul to the devil if he catches the girl who ran away. He does. What, she is dead from fright and exhaustion? Doesn't matter; the deal if fulfilled, the devil collects. On the spot.
  • 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 (ignoring the fact that he had fled from there to avoid prosecution for embezzling public money), b) create another disguise to claim it, c) engage some accomplice to claim it for him instead.
    • Stapleton also doesn't appear to have fully considered the potential consequences of using his own wife as the bait in a Honey Trap, and that it might not be very pleasant to have to watch another man seduce his own wife.
  • Disney Villain Death: The convict Selden falls to his death from one of the Tors on Grimpen Moor. Holmes works out that, given he's wearing old clothes of Sir Henry's that his sister gave him, the hound got the scent of its intended victim and attacked, and Selden fell to his death trying to escape it.
  • 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 that she is crying because of Selden's situation instead.
  • Even Evil Can Be Loved / Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Demonstrated with the two criminals in the story. The escaped Serial Killer Selden is still loved by his sister Elisa Barrymore, and when she hears of his accidental death she is grief-stricken. In contrast, Stapleton has forced his wife through abuse into following his commands, and as the only one close to him, she is absolutely delighted on hearing of his death. Watson even mentions in the tale, "Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him."
  • 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.
  • Ghostly Animals: The eponymous hound is said to be a large black ghost dog haunting the moors. It is actually just a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax by the real murderer to cover up his murders as supernatural, painting an actual dog with phosphorus to make it glow in the dark.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Stapleton reacts poorly to Sir Henry's interest in Beryl (which makes a lot more sense when we learn that she is Stapleton's 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. He has alienated his own daughter, he picks fights and legal disputes with everyone, and complains about trivial matters.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Holmes commenting on Stapleton not allowing Sir Henry to declare his passion for Beryl has... different implications nowadays.
    He took particular care that Sir Henry did not make love to her, as you have yourself observed.
  • Hell Hound: The Hound in the old Baskerville legend. (Its modern counterpart turns out to have a more mundane origin, though no less threatening.)
  • Hell Is That Noise: Watson hears the Hound's apparent howling from a distance twice. Both times, he describes the sound as essentially demonic.
  • 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 Beryl is 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 Jerkass husband, so he tricked her into writing a letter asking Sir Charles for help, which he would use to stage the Fright Death Trap.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Most of the litigious Frankland'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. He apparently cares more for proving himself right rather than upholding any particular legal principle, or even whether or not winning his case would actually accomplish anything useful. This is a large part of why he isn't very popular with his neighbours.
  • 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.
    • The stolen boots. The fact that one boot was stolen from two different pairs owned by the same man, followed by the new boot suddenly reappearing, caused Holmes to figure out that the Hound was a mortal creature that tracked through mortal means. Had Stapleton been more indiscriminate in his pilfering, and not returned anything, the clue could have been shrugged off as a member of the hotel staff helping himself to the guest's belongings.
    • 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.
    • Holmes himself, when spotting the unknown tail, proceeds to loudly announce it and head right after him, giving Stapleton ample time to escape. Holmes himself bitterly admits his lapse of common sense.
  • Inheritance Backlash: The heir to the Baskerville estate in The Hound Of The Baskervilles fears he might also have inherited the curse which causes him to be stalked by the eponymous creature. It's actually a large dog, trained by a nearby distant relative who wants to kill him and claim the estate.
  • 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, and had already murdered the previous tenant of Baskerville Hall. He plans to inherit the property, possibly via a third person posing as the heir. He had his own wife act as his sister to further ensnare Sir Henry. And the Baskerville estate was worth nearly three quarters of a million pounds, which is about 90 million pounds (115 million USD) in 2020.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness: Stapleton goes nuts on seeing Henry Baskerville hit on his sister. This is because she's actually his wife, and despite Sir Henry's infatuation serving his plans he's unable to control himself and very nearly blows his own cover in doing so.
  • Jerkass: Hugo Baskerville is clearly painted as such, he abducted a woman with the clear intention of raping her and when she escaped, he set loose his pack of dogs to tear her apart.
  • 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.
  • Love Forgives All but Lust: Stapleton's wife, who he passes for his sister, was his reluctant partner in crime until she discovered he was making advances towards another woman (whether or not he actually intended to propose is not known), which finally caused her to snap, forcing him to tie her up before she can warn the heroes. Stapleton himself nearly screws up his own plans when he finds himself unable to not act like a Crazy Jealous Guy one seeing her being wooed by Sir Henry (despite her not looking happy about it).
  • Made of Iron: It takes Holmes and Watson multiple bullets to bring down the titular hound.
  • My Card: Played with. When Dr. Mortimer first comes to see Holmes and Watson, they are 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 is because Beryl is actually his wife. He is 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. Nobody can actually retrieve the corpse.
  • Not So Invincible After All: The titular hound, once Holmes scores a hit on it.
  • Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious: The titular Hound is based on the old Devon legend of the Yeth Hound — a spectral dog, said to be the spirit of an unbaptised child, that roams Dartmoor at night making wailing noises.
  • 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 such an entity, there is not much that he can do about it.
  • 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 the resemblance 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).
  • Police Are Useless: Reminder: Holmes and Watson are private detectives but are not policemen.
    • Downplayed with the principal case. Lestrade actively participes at the case resolution and cames from London to arrest the villain. But he is the only police officer who participates, and he does much less than Watson and Holmes. In add, he is the only policeman participating at the resolution, the other ones found absolutely no clue and aren't here during the climax. To be fair, the Hound of Baskerville was a case where Sherlock Holmes himself struggled to solve it, common policemen never had a chance.
    • Played straight with the Selden case. Not only was he arrested by Holmes and not by the police years before the novel began, while Selden is described as dumber than average. But in add, he escaped from his penitentiary, and none of the policemen or soldiers sent to capture him succeed.
  • 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 is when she learns that he has 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 evidence, she is 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 Trope Namer in Russian. The Hound isn't paranormal after all; it is 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 is 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 are not real 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.
  • Swamps Are Evil: The whole region surrounding the Grimpen Mire is talked about with much dread from most characters, be it because of the legend, the mysterious prehistorical settlements, the escaped killer (and the penitentiary he escaped from, which is said to be nearby) or the deadly mire itself. The narration itself loves talking about how gloomy and miserable-looking the place is.
  • 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 which informs Holmes that they are dealing with a real, non-supernatural animal.
  • Tragic Monster: The Hound is a half-starved, mistreated animal that is being used as an Attack 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 is 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.
  • Villainous Lineage: It is suggested that the villain has inherited his criminal tendencies from his notorious ancestor Hugo Baskerville. Despite the fact that the two men were separated in time by 2 centuries (17th to 19th).
  • We Would Have Told You, But...: How Holmes justifies tricking Watson (and everyone else) into believing that he is still 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.
    • Also played straight in that the novel was published in between the stories of Holmes’s supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls and of his later return. The novel is subtitled as a “Reminiscence” of Holmes and is a Whole Episode Flashback to before his supposed death.
  • Worthy Opponent: Holmes calls the villain like this. Considering that the villain outsmarted Sherlock Holmes himself several times during the first third of the novel, and he almost succeeded his plan to kill Henry without leaving any evidence acceptable by a court –failing only because Selden was wearing Henry's clothes, something on what nether him, Holmes or Watson planned – we can understand how and why even Holmes is impressed.
  • The X of Y: Hound, the Baskervilles

Adaptations provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Deviation: In the 2021 Audible adaption, the danger of the mire is introduced when Watson attempts to save a horse that has fallen into the mire.
  • 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.
      • Likewise, the 2002 version also lifts the reimagined legend of the Baskerville curse straight from the 1937 German film version with Bruno Güttner as Holmes and Fritz Odemar as Watson.
    • 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.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: In the 1983 film, while Laura Lyons had an interest in Stapleton in the original novel, here she is mentioned as having formed a deeper relationship with Sir Charles Baskerville, Stapleton just acting as their go-between.
  • 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.
  • Character Tics: In the Hammer version, Peter Cushing's Holmes had a habit of raising his finger in exclamation. Christopher Lee would often tease him about it.
  • 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.
    • Laura Lyons is murdered by Stapleton in the 1983 movie when Holmes deduces that the murderer is the friend who carried notes between her and Sir Charles and has almost got the name out of her.
    • In the 1959 version, Cecile (who is the film's version of Beryl and is Stapleton's willing accomplice) perishes by being sucked into the Great Grimpen Mire.
  • Destination Defenestration: The 1959 version opens with Sir Hugo Baskerville throwing a hapless servant through a window at Baskerville Hall.
  • 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).
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the 2021 Audible Audio Adaptation the origin of the hound is left a mystery, after Holmes has solved the case and decides his off-the-cuff theory of phosphorus is incorrect he and Watson return to where the body was left to study the corpse of the hound, only to find it has disappeared…
  • 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.
  • Ship Tease: The 2002 adaptation builds up some tension between Beryl Stapleton and Watson, who is devastated when he sees her hanged body and then rushes to outright shoot Stapleton in the head.