This haunting story by Arthur Conan Doyle was my first introduction to Sherlock Holmes – in the 1939 film version of the story, which aired on TV in the late 1960s. But up until recently, if you had asked me “Why is The Hound of the Baskervilles famous?” I wouldn’t have had an answer.
Now I do.
There are actually two main reasons for the book’s popularity. The biggest one is that the book “resurrected” Sherlock Holmes in 1901, eight years after he had been killed off in the short story titled “The Adventure of the Final Problem.” (After being serialized in The Strand Magazine in 1901, The Hound of the Baskervilles was published as a novel in 1902.)
Why Did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle “Resurrect” Holmes?
After learning of Sherlock Holmes’s death in “The Final Problem,” published in December 1893, thousands of readers canceled their subscriptions to The Strand. These cancellations upset the publishers, of course, but it didn’t faze Doyle. That is, until about eight years later.
In 1901, “annoyed by bad imitations,” Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles. The events in the book are supposed to have taken place in 1889 – more than a decade before Sherlock’s death.
The Hound of the Baskervilles eventually became Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular book.
Two years later, in October 1903, Conan Doyle was offered a VERY large sum of money by publishers to bring Sherlock back “for good.” In the short story “The Adventure of the Empty House,” readers learned that Sherlock had faked his own death. Surprise!
Detective Story Meets Gothic Tale
The second reason The Hound of the Baskervilles is so popular is that it combines supernatural elements (the kind often found in Gothic tales) with the shrewd, intellectual elements found in popular detective novels. Strange events taking place on the haunted moors of Devonshire near Baskerville Hall, including rumors of an evil hound and an escaped convict, make for the kind of gripping tale many detective story afficiandos enjoy.
Detailed descriptions of scenery are hallmarks of most Gothic novels. Phrases like “rolling pasture lands curved upwards on either side of us” and the “long gloomy curve of the moor, broken by the jagged and sinister hills” are just a couple of examples from the book.
Are Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles Famous Around the World?
The answer is a resounding “yes!”
If you were to ask a detective story buff tomorrow – “Why is The Hound of the Baskervilles famous?” – they may not have an answer. But they would probably tell you they’ve at least heard of the story!
Movies, TV series, video games, and even Sherlock Holmes societies(!) have kept the legend alive. And in 2013, a Sherlock-themed café opened in Shanghai, China … called 221B Baker Street. (It doesn’t look like this place is still open, BUT there are several Facebook groups that Sherlock Holmes fans can join.)
If you haven’t picked up a copy of this book yet – whether at the library or a local bookstore – you can always download a free eBook version at Project Gutenberg.
Pop Quiz: Why IS The Hound of the Baskervilles Famous?
Check out the Tea, Tonic & Toxin page on The Hound of the Baskervilles – complete with lots of topics for discussion. For instance:
- Why doesn’t Dr. Watson seem to mind Sherlock’s rudeness?
- Did you notice the contradiction between the emphasis on truth and justice and the many lies being told by several of the characters?
- Were you able to keep track of all the spies in this story? (There are a LOT! It seems that everyone’s doing some spying …)
And don’t forget to subscribe! You can listen to the Tea, Tonic & Toxin podcast wherever most anywhere you get your podcasts!