The Hound of the Baskervilles: No Adaptation Beats the Novel

Despite a few good attempts, no screen version of this Sherlock Holmes classic matches Arthur Conan Doyle’s prose.

Simon Dillon

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This year is the 120th anniversary of one of my favourite novels of all time: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although a somewhat tenuous reason for me to write a love letter to this splendid story, I’ll take any excuse. Existing almost as a spin-off compared with other Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles takes an interesting sidestep from crime fiction into gothic horror. Another reason it feels like a spin-off is because Holmes disappears for a vast chunk of the narrative, leaving Watson with the bulk of the investigating.

The plot — about a supposedly cursed family line stalked by a bloodthirsty hellhound — is ripping, gripping stuff. The death that sets the story in motion is vividly and terrifyingly related, as is the subsequent background of Sir Henry Baskerville’s ancestor; a “profane and godless man” who supposedly sold his soul to the devil for assistance in abducting a woman.

The text drips with atmosphere and intrigue, and no matter how many times I read it, I get shivers. After I first read the novel, I managed to scare myself silly when camping on Dartmoor by imagining the hound stalking around our tent in the shrieking winds. A recent late-night re-reading caused me to feel slightly unsettled even now, and I had only reached the end of chapter six, hardly the scariest part of the tale. Here’s an excerpt from the end of said chapter:

“I drew aside my curtains before I went to bed and looked out from my window. It opened upon the grassy space which lay in front of the hall door. Beyond, two copses of trees moaned and swung in a rising wind. A half-moon broke through the rifts of racing clouds. In its cold light, I saw beyond the trees a broken fringe of rocks, and the long, low curve of the melancholy moor. I closed the curtain, feeling that my last impression was in keeping with the rest.

And yet it was not quite the last. I found myself weary and yet wakeful, tossing restlessly from side to side, seeking for the sleep which would not come. Far away a chiming clock struck out…

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Simon Dillon

Novelist and Short Story-ist. Film and Book Lover. If you cut me, I bleed celluloid and paper pulp. Blog: www.simondillonbooks.wordpress.com