S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.
I often long to read tales of mystery and adventure, but, sadly, suffer from a guilt complex any time I divert my attention from one of my writing projects (whether it be to watch a movie/series, read a book, or play a game). So most days you can find me staring mindlessly into the void, words occasionally flowing. Time could be better spent fortifying my mind with new language, new stories, and simple joy. I try various tactics to force myself to comply, but inevitably meet with failure.
A couple weeks ago I had the honor of sitting with an older man in his home. There is no Internet here, and as I mostly write via Remote Desktop on my Chromebook to my desktop computer’s Scrivener at home, I find myself unable to write. Generally-speaking. Instead, I dedicated my spare time to folding more cranes for the fantastic derp-fiend’s magical box of joy and wonder, playing Sudoku, and–gasp–actually reading. (For an hour or so I admittedly break down and write excerpts via Google Docs to add to my Scrivener when I return home…)
I could always read from my extensive collection on my handy dandy tablet, but as I wanted to not have my face glued to an electronic device constantly (I do not know this gentleman particularly well to know if it would upset him, despite being given permission to use my laptop), I brought along a hardcover book containing a selection of Sherlock Holmes stories. The delightful treat opens with the renowned The Hound of the Baskervilles.
My memory of this novel had mostly fled and turned erroneous, outside of the obvious presence of the hound, and, shockingly, the Baskerville family. I know, I’m a genius. Anyway, there is what is known as a HOG, or, “Hidden Object Game” loosely based on the novel that I play from time to time. Upon finishing the novel it became quite clear to me that the game takes some great liberties (though I should have expected as much, since the antagonist of the game is, in fact, supernatural, something unheard of in a Sherlock Holmes tale).
But what of the story? Well, as expected, it is quite good. There is, as mentioned, a supernatural element to it, creating a perplexing fear amongst several characters. As it is a Sherlock Holmes novel, and not, let’s say, a book from a series known as The Parasol Protectorate, where supernaturals and the occasional preternatural abound, this thread instilled in me the eager curiosity to know how the hints of the supernatural would be proven to be quite based in the realm of the real.
There is a small collection of characters, with the welcome short return of Lestrade, populating the area surrounding Baskerville Hall. Watson details his visitations with them, none quite so queer as Mr. Frankland, who spends much of his funds in absurd legal battles, as is his fancy.
Sir Henry Baskerville is actually a more memorable character for me than many other characters who come and go through these stories, beaten only by the likes of Irene Adler, Lestrade, and Toby. I do not have the same chroniclistic memory that Holmes boasts, nor do I have his extensive notes and files on his cases. I rely on strong impressions, or, as it were in Sir Henry’s case, a rather singular element–that of the fiendish hellhound. I have only read the story once before, while reading through several whodunits of Holmes’ world.
One of the fun parts of reading a book written so long ago (or hell, even a year ago) is to see how the cultural and political landscape has changed, how outdated a simple aside might be in today’s world. In the case of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the most memorable of these (and admittedly, it’s quite slight and not at all unheard of today), was a remark about a Spanish woman’s disposition when wronged. Holmes’ stories often have rather outdated comments about women, and the blame lies somewhere between the era it was written in and Holmes’ own characteristic opinion about women on the whole (which is partly what makes one such as Irene Adler such a treat, but alas, she is not featured here).
One thing I will note about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing style, is that, if I read it at my usual pace, it starts to boil up and over my head. I have to take it in at a slightly more leisurely pace, reread lines here and there, to understand what is occurring. Sometimes, even that doesn’t help. Sometimes, a whole sentence or two just doesn’t make sense. I will let you in on a beautiful secret of mine for those of you who refuse to read digitally (though there are other easy substitutes these days)–e-reading apps like Kindle and Nook have software built in, where, should you be utterly stumped by a word or phrase, selecting them will search through your dictionaries and Wikipedia for help. The first time I discovered this useful tool, I was reading another Holmes novel, so it seems worth mentioning here. A prime example of terms that escaped me this round were the landform descriptors used to describe the moor. An added effect was that it made the moor even more mysterious and foreign to me.
Just as interesting and mysterious, I found, was the memorable warning that Sir Henry receives early in the tale: “As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor.”. I must tell you that I have heard this line echo in my skull on rare occasions, and I could not place it. I assumed it to be a line from Edgar Allan Poe, but I now know this to be false. Indeed, the moor is more central to the plot than even the Baskerville name or the devilish hound himself. In it, the crime finds its rightful conclusion, as the Grimpen Mire swallows up the villain whole.
Another aspect of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s way with words, is that there are things that sound logical but, upon further introspection, seem to be absolute rubbish. One finds themselves thinking less of Holmes occasionally, that the man is speaking utter bullshit. Then, you are told that the reasoning is amazing. Do you feel a fool? Does it really make sense and you are just too deaf, blind, and dumb to see it? Or do you feel indignant at the ignorance of the characters, willingly succumbing to the flowery language and grandiosity? I oftentimes find myself on both ends, often from one sentence to the next. I do not know if you are the same as I, but it is something I leave with every adventure. Something, somewhere, just doesn’t sit right with me. (Could it even be, perhaps, a fallacy in science and reasoning of the times?)
Whatever the case, The Hound of the Baskervilles is an outstanding piece. If you, like me, wonder at how the supernatural will be proven to be but a clever trick, you must wait until the absolute end of the journey to discover the trick. And then it makes perfect sense! Or does it? It all revolves around a clever use of a compound, one that would normally have quite the smell, but we are told that they simply found a way to diminish that. We are not supplied with how. But that is what makes many of these tales stand tall, and Watson readily informs us of this from time to time, that Sherlock Holmes does not perform perfectly, or that their understanding of a case is not complete, or any other such issue. To be put bluntly: the characters, as with the storytelling, are rather human, and would be too fantastic to believe otherwise.
Interested in The Hound of the Baskervilles? It can be purchased here.