“Where is it?” Holmes whispered; and I knew from the thrill of his voice that he, the man of iron, was shaken to the soul.
—From Chapter 12, “Death on the Moor”
This was probably one of the greatest Sherlock Holmes stories that I have ever read.
I first read one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories when I was fifteen. I had always heard of “the great Sherlock Holmes, the clever detective in the funny hat” (comment if you caught that reference), but I’d never completely fallen in with the stories. I’d never even read a single one. I owned the complete volume, just never touched it.
Then, 1.5-ish years ago, I read The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet. I instantly fell in love with Mr. Holmes, and every single, perfect, deduction he made sent thrills of joy up and down my back. As a literary character, Holmes is so likable. He’s sometimes oblivious to insensitive realities not having anything to do with his cases, but that’s what makes you love him even more. As Watson describes him in the short story A Scandal in Bohemia, “He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen.”
And a machine he seems to be.
Until this story, Sherlock Holmes had always been the logical, rational, and realistically inclined man. He never feared anything or anyone. In fact, the cleverer the villain, the more excited Holmes becomes (he only really dreads Moriarty). Watson, our constant companion throughout the story, shares our emotions of fear, excitement, and anxiety, but Holmes stays far away from those.
However, in this story, we realize that this is the only time we’ve ever actually seen Sherlock Holmes at least a teeny bit afraid. It was for me, anyway.
Without making it too much of a literary debate, there really is not much in the realm of symbolism, allusion, and/or hidden messages in the Sherlock Holmes stories. While there are certainly a few present, there really aren’t many.
What makes The Hound of the Baskervilles—and the rest of the Sherlock stories—literary masterpieces is not the use of hyperbole or the employment of personification or hidden symbolism. In fact, the books don’t need literary devices to make them masterpieces. They already have a key component to make them amazing: a brilliant protagonist with an eye for the subtle details that the reader will always miss.
Now, speaking of this story in particular, Sherlock in The Hound of the Baskervilles is the same as always: to-the-point, enthusiastic, undaunted, and logical. When the story of “the hound” is first presented to Sherlock as a way to explain the death of the late Sir Charles Baskerville, he simply scoffs and says it is only interesting “to a collector of fairy tales.”
Even when Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes of a hound’s footprint next to Sir Charles’s body, “Holmes leaned forward in his excitement and his eyes had the hard, dry glitter which shot from them when he was keenly interested.”
At this point in the story, Watson is terrified and so is Dr. Mortimer, and yet Holmes is simply thrilled to the bone with utter excitement.
All throughout the story, Holmes never lets himself be overcome by fear. He walks around at night, unafraid of the noises, shadows, or flights of fancy. Holmes continues his investigation unbeknownst to Dr. Watson, with whom we follow for the middle of the story.
When Holmes and Watson are finally reunited towards the last third of the story, Holmes is as calm and collected as ever. The first time we actually see his mind change about being resolute is when he hears the scream of someone being attacked, and when the hound makes its dreaded appearance at the story’s end.
“Hist!” cried Holmes, and I heard the sharp click of a cocking pistol.
“Look out! It’s coming!”
There was a thin, crisp, continuous patter from somewhere in the heart of that crawling bank. The cloud was within fifty yards of where we lay, and we glared at it, all three, uncertain what horror was about to break from the heart of it. I was at Holmes’s elbow, and I glanced for an instant at his face. It was pale and exultant, his eyes shining brightly in the moonlight. But suddenly they started forward in a rigid, fixed stare, and his lips parted in amazement.
—From Chapter 14, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
You may have noticed that I bolded the words “all three.” That’s because this is one of the times where Conan Doyle actually groups Holmes with Watson and Lestrade. That’s because they’re all remotely feeling the same things: shock, anticipation, and fear. While Holmes doesn’t actually cry out and duck in cover like Lestrade or fumble with his gun like Watson, he does feel the exact same emotion: fear.
The thing that sets Holmes apart from Watson and Lestrade is the fact that he only stops a moment to manifest his emotion before he sprints into action. He understands that he actually is afraid at this moment, but the description “paralyzed by fear” never applies to Holmes, and especially not in this story.
A split second of fear merely passes, and Sherlock is as ready as ever to save the day. After both he and Watson fire two shots into the hound as it passes by, Holmes takes off running. Watson tells us:
Never have I seen a man run as Holmes ran that night. I am reckoned fleet of foot, but he outpaced me as much as I outpaced the little professional.
Oh, and by “the little professional,” Watson means Lestrade 😆
What my main point is as I address this scenario with Holmes’s fear of the hound of Baskerville is this: it was put away a split second after it reared its head.
The genius of creating a character as precise and on-point as Sherlock Holmes is the realization that while he is a specimen of human ingenuity, he’s also still susceptible to the human emotions. However, since he is a specimen of mankind, he also handles his emotions with incredible composure and control.
It cannot be argued that Holmes isn’t afraid when he sees the hound. He’s bewildered and terrified. But what matters is that he does not stay there. He does not enter the stereotypical protagonist who becomes “paralyzed by fear.”
This is so significant for us as non-specimens as it is for Sherlock Holmes. I’m a bundle of emotions, and that’s definitely something that we as humans let control our lives. Emotions are powerful things…most notably, fear.
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.
Instead of letting fear overtake and control, cast it aside and finish the task. Cast it to the Lord. Holmes casts his fear aside. He definitely felt fear, but he did not act on it in a negative way.
Fear is not necessarily a bad emotion to have; it can be very useful at times. The way we decide to act on fear determines whether the emotion worked for good or ill.
If we look to Holmes as an example, we can see a man overcome with emotion…and that emotion fueled him to put an end to the hound.
I loved The Hound of the Baskervilles!
I hope you guys loved my analysis of the post; I’ve really enjoyed writing about it, and I need to admit to you all that I am officially Sherlocked. I started watching the BBC show Sherlock about six months ago, and I’m absolutely in love with it. It’s absolutely genius. Mark Gatiss’s Mycroft is probably one of my favorite characters besides Sherlock himself 😆
In order to recommend the show to you guys, though, I have to just give a heads-up about episode 1 of season 2, A Scandal in Belgravia. Based on A Scandal in Bohemia, the episode really twists Irene Adler’s character, and it’s much exaggerated from the books, so just be warned. The first half-hour makes it a bit of a racy episode. It ends spectacularly, but it really is kind of risqué, so just look up the reviews and decide for yourself whether you want to watch it or not. ‘Nuff said.
Anyways, guys, there it is! I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and I am so excited to be writing the second post in 2019!
Also, I’m having trouble selecting my next book to read and write about. I’ve inserted a poll at the bottom of my current most-wanted next reads, so if you’d help me out, I’d be very grateful.
Blessings to you all, and remember to never let fear drive us away…cast the care and decide how the Lord would have you act upon it.