Hound of the Baskervilles

Why You Guys Really Should Think About Reading Some Sherlock Homes. (It has nothing to do with Benedict Cumberpatch.)

So Debi has stopped crying upstairs, and I have a moment of peace to write.  She’s got a mild cold, and she’s in that stage where she really needs a nap but refuses to take one, and we didn’t got to preschool today because we were both sick and yeah, we are just a wee bit tired of each other.  It rarely happens—we’re usually just crazy about each other.

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Debi and I on a better day

On a good note, I thought I’d tell you that we did finish Hound of the Baskervilles.  That’s a Sherlock Holmes mystery, probably his most famous, and while I expected Sherlock to be the main character, it was the moor that stole the show.

I had forgotten how masterful Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was with setting.  He had a way of making the moor so lovely, desolate, foreboding, melancholy, gloomy, fearsome, and dark.

The setting ties in so well with the characters and plot—Baskerville is the man that has come to inherit Baskerville Hall under tragic circumstances.  Many suspect his uncle was murdered there and his death seems tied in with a dark family legend regarding a phantasmal hound that has plagued the Baskervilles for generations.  The characters, the story, and the setting all converge here to get the reader a sense of foreboding and fear.

Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a wood there rose in the distance a gray, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream. Baskerville sat for a long time, his eyes fixed upon it, and I read upon his eager face how much it meant to him, this first sight of that strange spot where the men of his blood had held sway so long and left their mark so deep. There he sat, with his tweed suit and his American accent, in the corner of a prosaic railway-carriage, and yet as I looked at his dark and expressive face I felt more than ever how true a descendant he was of that long line of high-blooded, fiery, and masterful men. There were pride, valour, and strength in his thick brows, his sensitive nostrils, and his large hazel eyes. If on that forbidding moor a difficult and dangerous quest should lie before us, this was at least a comrade for whom one might venture to take a risk with the certainty that he would bravely share it.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gives us even more to worry about when he adds an escaped convict to the moor, a convict who committed atrocious crimes against humanity.  He is hiding out in the moor somewhere and villagers are also claiming to have seen the hound howling out on the moor. So Doyle gives us danger in layers here; and the moor itself seems to be conspiring against our heroes.

Our wagonette had topped a rise and in front of us rose the huge expanse of the moor, mottled with gnarled and craggy cairns and tors. A cold wind swept down from it and set us shivering. Somewhere there, on that desolate plain, was lurking this fiendish man, hiding in a burrow like a wild beast, his heart full of malignancy against the whole race which had cast him out. It needed but this to complete the grim suggestiveness of the barren waste, the chilling wind, and the darkling sky. Even Baskerville fell silent and pulled his overcoat more closely around him.

We had left the fertile country behind and beneath us. We looked back on it now, the slanting rays of a low sun turning the streams to threads of gold and glowing on the red earth new turned by the plough and the broad tangle of the woodlands. The road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet and olive slopes, sprinkled with giant boulders. Now and then we passed a moorland cottage, walled and roofed with stone, with no creeper to break its harsh outline. Suddenly we looked down into a cuplike depression, patched with stunted oaks and firs which had been twisted and bent by the fury of years of storm. Two high, narrow towers rose over the trees. The driver pointed with his whip.

My boys loved the book as did I.  As I read it I thought of what Caleb Warnock, my writing teacher once said, “Readers read to experience an emotion.”  Doyle was a master of that–the characters, the plot, the setting were one in making us feel tense, uneasy, confounded, and uncertain.  Isn’t that why people read mysteries?  They want the fear put in them!

The captain decided he wanted a turn reading to the boys (I can’t have all the fun can I?)  He’s started Huckleberry Finn with them.  He read Tom Sawyer to the a year ago, and they just LOVED it.  I think they will love this one too.

What are you reading right now?

The New Scary Book We Are Reading

If you can believe it, we finished A Wrinkle in Time, and we have now moved on to The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  In other words, we are reading Sherlock Holmes.

Davy was very resistant at first, saying that he hated Sherlock.  I asked him to give me a few readings first, and now he’s hooked.  Trouble is, now Eli does not like it.  Davy is definitely into scary while Eli is not.

The Neighborhood Halloween Parade

Ha! Ha! Ha! A “scarecrow.”

A tip if you are reading this to yours kids:  the first part is a little tough to get through.  Basically, the whole point of the first few pages is to show how brilliant Sherlock is.  Somebody goes to his office when he’s not there and accidentally leaves his cane. From the cane alone, Sherlock can tell you everything you want to know about the guy who left it.  But he does it in a tedious and confusing way, and so knowing I had an impatient eleven year old, I just said, “So you guys know that Sherlock is a genius detective, right?”

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I then got right into the very frightening family history of the Baskervilles.  It was straight forward and easy to understand.

What Doyle does so remarkably well is suspense.  He builds up slowly and carefully until the terrifying moment.  For example, before the evil Henry Baskerville is found being eaten by a phantasmal hound, we pass another man who is terrified out of his wits.  Then we see the reaction of the first witnesses, their horror before we experience the actual horror ourselves.  The build up is brilliant.  Doyle takes his time, letting the fear slowly sink in.

He gives us just enough details to great both a sense of mystery and terror.  Davy really loves it now and says, “Well, I didn’t think I’d like it because I didn’t know it would be so scary.”

A warning—the scene where they find Baskerville is quite graphic.  You may want to tone it down a little if you are reading it to your kids.  That’s up to you.  Davy is eleven, but loves scary.  Eli is thirteen, and it’s a bit much for him.

What makes me feel a little better about it is there truly is a mystery here.  You have clues, Sherlock puts them together, and then we figure out at the end who the culprit is.  Even though it seems like we have ghosts involved, in the end it’s just like Scooby Doo.

Do you have any favorite mysteries?