Before Viewing: Questions and Activities
- The Hound of the Baskervilles is marked by the constant juxtaposition of the rational and scientific with the irrational and supernatural. (For example, the film begins with rapid cuts between the "civilized" setting of a courtroom and chaotic and frightening scenes of the wild moors and an escaped convict.) To investigate how much the tension of the story depends on this interplay, have students write the words "Rationalism, Civilization, Science" on one side of a piece of paper, and on the other write "Superstition, Wilderness, the Supernatural." (You may want to help the class define these terms first.) Ask students to make a list of all the people, places, things, scenes, and ideas in The Hound of the Baskervilles that seem to fit in one category or another. On which side does the hound itself seem to belong? Which of the two forces triumphs at the end? Review the last scene of the film and re-read the last few paragraphs of the novel to determine how Conan Doyle informs his Victorian audience which side has the "last word."
- Who is Sherlock Holmes? No single story describes him completely. This film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles attempts to give viewers a more rounded picture of the great detective by borrowing traits and scenes from several of the stories. Ask students to describe the Holmes of the film by listing as many adjectives as they can to describe him, then listing scenes, lines of dialogue, or anything else they observe in the film that supports each adjective. Do students find his traits consistent or contradictory? What do they make of his drug use? How does he represent the rational/ irrational split that the story explores?
- The moors in The Hound of the Baskervilles are so central to the plot that they could be considered as a character in the story. If you were to describe them the way you'd describe a human character, what would you say about them? Which human character in the story do they most resemble? How?
- Giving Holmes a very ordinary sidekick, Watson, from whose point of view the tales can be told, is noted by historians of the detective story as one of Conan Doyle's most important contributions. How does the fact that Watson, as Holmes says in A Scandal in Bohemia, "sees but does not observe" make him a useful narrator? Ask students to consider the second segment of the film, from when Watson arrives in Dartmoor to his discovery of Holmes on the moor. How would that segment be different if Holmes were present?
- Richard Roxburgh, who plays Holmes, comments that Holmes and Watson, "offset one another, and complement one another, perfectly. The deficits in one are covered by the pluses in the other." How so? What other famous fictional pairings can students name (in detective fiction or any other genre)? Do the roles in any of these other pairings complement one another in the same way? How?
- Have students pretend they are part of an advertising team that wants to interest a new generation -- today's teens -- in The Hound of the Baskervilles. The team believes that the way to get teens to watch or read a "classic" is to show them how it relates to contemporary works they already enjoy. Ask students to create a print, television, or radio ad for either the film or the novel that uses quotes from the piece, compares it to other works, and highlights the aspects of it they believe their peers will most enjoy.
In the Classroom | Viewing Strategies | Plot Summary
The Era of Sherlock Holmes | Before Viewing Questions
After Viewing Questions | Sherlock Holmes as Icon
Novel into Film | The Mystery Genre | Detective's Log | Resources
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Essays + Interviews | Novel to Film | Who's Who | Story Synopsis
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About The Series |
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