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The Hound of the Baskervilles

Scheduled broadcast: Sunday, January 19, 2003
(Confirm with your local station)

The brilliant, secretive and volatile Sherlock Holmes faces his greatest challenge -- an ancient family curse, a desolate moor, a spectral hound, a deranged killer on the loose and events threatening to spiral out of control -- The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most celebrated Holmes story of all, a masterpiece of mystery, suspense and terror.

Discussion Questions

The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)

  1. Sherlock Holmes is one of the few fictional characters so internationally famous that even before readers encounter the Holmes stories, they are already familiar with the great detective. Now that you have read The Hound of the Baskervilles and seen the film, how would you answer the question, "Who is Holmes?" What scenes or details in Hound do you think illustrate his character especially well? To what extent do you think the character described in the story lives up to his myth?

  2. The Hound of the Baskervilles is marked by the constant juxtaposition of the rational and scientific with the irrational and supernatural. How can you see this tension in the novel? In the film? Which of the two forces -- science or the supernatural -- triumphs at the end? How is this made clear? Why might this tension have been especially riveting for a Victorian audience?

  3. The moors in The Hound of the Baskervilles are so central to the plot that they almost act as an extra character. If you were to describe them the way you would describe a human character, what would you say about them? Which person in the story do they most resemble? How?

  4. Historians of the detective novel recognize the pairing of the brilliant Holmes with a very ordinary partner -- Watson -- as one of the Arthur Conan Doyle's key contributions to the genre. Why do you think their pairing works so well? How would Hound be different if Watson were taken out of the tale? Holmes remarks in another novel that Watson "sees but does not observe." How does that make him a useful narrator for a detective story?

  5. In a well-crafted detective story, nothing is wasted; each scene adds suspense and clues to the hunt for "whodunnit." How tightly written is Hound in this sense? What particular clues, details, descriptions or lines of dialogue do you think worked particularly well to build suspense? Which do you consider the climactic scene? Why?

  6. Though the film is generally faithful to the novel, the opening scenes of the two are quite different. Which do you find more effective: the opening of the novel, or the opening of the film? Why? Why do you think the director of the film version chose to depart from the novel in this way?

  7. A great detective needs a worthy nemesis. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Stapleton plays this role, though in the film he is even more diabolical than in Conan Doyle's original depiction. When did you begin to suspect Stapleton? What clues gave him away? In what ways are Holmes and Stapleton similar? How does that heighten their conflict?

  8. The essential premise of The Hound of the Baskervilles is classic, a story line that can be found in countless other works of fiction: Someone new comes to stay in an isolated place about which legends and mysteries are associated. This person's life and/or sanity is threatened by increasingly frightening events until a perpetrator is caught. Brainstorm a list of books, films, television shows, legends, myths, ghost stories or other stories that share this same basic setup. Why do you think it is such an enduring premise for a story?

  9. Why do you think people like to read mystery and detective stories? Why are we so fascinated with crime -- especially murder? Does the fact that most murder mysteries have a predictable structure make them more or less pleasurable for you to read? Why? How are reading murder mysteries or detective fiction different from reading "serious literature"?

© WGBH Educational Foundation 2002

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