2016 Reading Challenge: The Hound of the Baskervilles

I visited my parents over the weekend, and one night as we were cooking supper, my mom remarked on the dense fog hovering across the yard. “It’s a very Hound of the Baskervilles night out there,” she said.

“I haven’t read that yet,” I admitted. In spite of this, I knew exactly what she meant by that description of the fog.  “I started reading all the Sherlock Holmes in order but I haven’t made it to Hound yet.”

“There’s a copy in the bookcase,” she said.

And so – my next reading challenge item fell into place. And a good thing, too, because I was lagging behind on my usual schedule. Usually I update it at the beginning of each month, and as this post betrays, I made it to almost mid-month without even finishing an item from my checklist. Since I seem to be falling behind, I’m combining two of the remaining three items from the original challenge listThe Hound of the Baskervilles is serving as both a classic novel, and a book that was published over a hundred years ago. Those two categories are a bit redundant, and it’s my blog, so I’m bending the rules at will! My blog is really the only place I can do that, and I’m taking full advantage.

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My copy is even from 1902, so I managed to literally read a book that was over a hundred years old. I handled it rather gingerly, although it’s still quite sturdy. I enjoyed seeing the family inscription inside as well, since this was evidently a gift at one time.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902. The structure of the story works well for a serial, because each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, to keep the reader coming back to each new issue. As I discovered, when all the parts are together in book form, it also works well for keeping the reader determined to keep reading, even at the expense of not getting research done or getting to sleep at a decent hour.

I won’t give away any spoilers in case others haven’t read the book, but the premise of The Hound of the Baskervilles is that Lord Charles Baskerville has been found dead on his estate, presumably of a heart attack. Lord Baskerville’s body – face frozen in an expression of terror – was found at the end of a long path called the ‘Yew Walk’, and his footprints indicated that he had been sprinting. A large paw print was also found nearby. Since Lord Baskerville believed in the tale of an old family curse, where the family would always be hunted by a huge spectral hound, it seems suspicious enough to call in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to investigate.

As they begin to examine the case, the new heir to Baskerville Hall, Lord Charles, arrives from Canada and receives a note warning him away. A few of his belongings mysteriously disappear and re-appear as well. Watson arrives on the moors first, sending reports back to Holmes, and hears bone-chilling cry of the hound a few times, and learns that some of the household staff are hiding secrets. The mystery thickens, and it does indeed seem like the ghostly hound is stalking the Baskervilles.

A more recent cover shows the vicious looking hound.

A more recent cover shows the vicious looking hound. It’s claws are very bear-like! 

The idea of a giant, spectral hound is quite spooky, and made even more so by the wonderfully evocative setting of the moors outside Baskerville Hall. Isolated, wild, and yes, often misty, the moors are not a safe place to wander, especially at night. During the day, Grimpen Moor (I love that name, it sounds so grouchy and inhospitable) is an ideal place for finding rare moths, though, as one of the characters is wont to do.

I enjoy the puzzle of reading mysteries, often trying to solve the story before the hero-detective, but I have to admit I didn’t figure out everything in this book. Afterward, I realised I should have, because of my past penchant for reading Nancy Drew mysteries – there’s a parallel in one of them. Carolyn Keene must have been a Holmes fan, too. I won’t say which one though, because I am determined not to give away spoilers!

Even without the mental exercise of trying to solve the mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a very enjoyable read. If anyone has read Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteen Tale, you might recall that the main character, after undergoing a shock, is recommended by her doctor to rest for a few days and read lots of Sherlock Holmes. I kept thinking of that while I read this, because it really was very pleasant. Having the old copy was a nice perk as well. It included a few illustrations, and I liked to imagine how many of my family members might have read that same copy before me. Judging by the pages, it turns out we are all bad for getting drops of coffee on books.

One of the illustrations. It's dual purpose, because it also illustrates why I am a writer and not a photographer.

One of the illustrations. It’s dual purpose, because it also illustrates why I am a writer and not a photographer.

This brings the 2016 Reading Challenge almost to a close. I have one more item left, a non-fiction on a subject I’ve been curious about.

I have something different planned for 2017 to replace the Reading Challenge as a recurring feature on the blog, which I will probably kick off in late December. Stay tuned!

Updated 2016 Reading Challenge List:
– A National Book Award winner– complete, Fifteen Dogs
– One of Shakespeare’s plays– complete, Hamlet
– A mystery – complete, And Then There Were None
– A graphic novel – complete, Bayou
– Book in a genre you usually avoid – complete, The Wild Seasons series
– Book about or set within a culture you’re unfamiliar with – complete, The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon (duology)
– Book you haven’t read since high school – complete, Anne of Green Gables
– At least three poems – complete, Tennyson, Rossetti, and Shakespeare
– A book translated to your native language – complete, Gigi
– A book that’s at least 100 years older than you / a classic novel – complete, The Hound of the Baskervilles
– Non-fiction about a subject you’ve been curious about – I’m thinking of reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

 

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