Thursday, 4 July 2013

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1901-2

Many people think they know this story of how an evil dog terrorises the Baskerville family, causing their untimely deaths. It has been filmed so often that there seems little point in reading the book. But it is worth it. The more leisurely pace of the written word allows you to soak up the atmosphere (which is never successfully captured on celluloid). One particular difficulty with providing a visual retelling is how to portray the Hound itself, a problem which does not exist in a novel as your imagination does the work.
As usual, Holmes displays his remarkable skills but only after Watson has been allowed to reveal the plot, piece by piece. For a large proportion of the text, Holmes is on the periphery, so when he does arrive in the centre of events, the scene is set for the big ‘reveal’ which he, of course, has worked out from Watson’s reports, keeping him, as us, in the dark until the climax.
The story is set on Dartmoor and Conan Doyle allows its great expanse to surround and control its inhabitants, almost becoming a character all of its own. Grimpen Mire in particular personifies the evil of the man who will frighten an old man to death by resurrecting a seventeenth century legend.
Holmes is on sparkling form, allowed in this, his first appearance in print since his death at the Reichenbach Falls (although set before). The opening allows him to shine with his deductive reasoning concerning Dr Mortimer.
Because this is a full-length novel, we are also treated to fully-rounded supporting characters, rather than the analytical sketches afforded by the short stories.

I saw Christopher Frayling lecture on the novel once. It was in the British Library in London. I took my glasses out in order to view his presentation and snapped the case shut; it reverberated around the room like gunshot. I also remember that, as well as my brother, my friend G was with me and she was almost fainting from being on the cabbage diet. Frayling was captivating and expounded on the ‘Black Dog’ myths and, when he found out that we knew Dartmoor well, was keen that we should search out the original X-rated version of ‘Widecombe Fair,’ along with Sabine Baring-Gould’s research. That, I regret to say, is something that I still have not done. 

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