Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hound, Chapter Fourteen: Bring out the virgin!

When Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Inspector Lestrade get together and discuss whether or not they're all packing heat, you know something's about to get settled. And in this case, it's a giant supernatural hound from Hell that's apparently been around for centuries.

But you don't just find such a mythological creature on a map, noooooo. You have to bait him with a sacrificial virgin or something. In this case, Sir Henry Baskerville.

There's a lot of creeping and peeping in this fourteenth chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles. If Holmes's plan went nowhere, it might have seemed a little silly the next day, the three men hiding behind a low wall outside Merripit House, where a dinner party is going on. We can't hear what Sir Henry Baskerville and Jack Stapleton are discussing inside, but given Jack's animation and Sir Henry's paleness, it has to be more stories of big black dog being seen by folk of the moor, and how it liked to kill Sir Henry's relatives. Stapleton has to be laying it on thick at this point, ready for his big play. You know, if he could he'd shout, "Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!" at some point here, but that might blow his whole plan.

Interestingly, it's Holmes and not Watson who wonders why we can't see the lady of the house while they're playing peeping toms. Watson is having a very unobservant evening, but he's not the only one. If the criminal you're after leaves the house for a moment to do something in a shed that makes a curious scuffling noise, wouldn't your first instinct be to go see what was going on with the shed?

But mythological beasts must have their virgins, and so Holmes and company let the drama play out. It's almost like they know they're in a novel as much as we do.

The fog that slowly rolls in over the moor is one of the creepier things about this particular evening on Dartmoor. A chance of seeing a mythical hound is one thing, but something that looks like its being poured out of some weird god's vapor flask spreading acrossing the landscape . . . now that's creepy.

And once that fog has layered the countryside in a thick white cloud of ground cover, then and only then can we release the virgin . . . or Sir Henry . . . to his ceremonial walk of danger. Really, one might as well add native drums in the background here. It's a set-up, we know, but a lot scarier than sitting in a bank vault or some step-daughter's bedroom as in other Holmes cases.

And then we get to see it. The Hound summoned from Hell itself.

For a moment, for all intents and purposes, this thing is a supernatural beast. Holmes, being a scientist at heart, immediately tests that theory with bullets. Now there's a spin-off I want to see: "Sherlock Holmes, Bullet Scientist. Every week the great Sherlock Holmes fires bullets into a new supernatural creature to see if it's really supernatural. Dracula? BLAM! Headless horseman? BLAM! Chupacabra? BLAM! It's Sherlock Holmes, Bullet Scientist!" But for now, Holmes has just tested the hound of legend, and it has, I'm afraid . . . . SPOILER ALERT!!! . . . come up short.

Of course, even with a bullet in him, this non-supernatural dog still wants to get Sir Henry, which is kind of weird, like he's got a grudge or something. Did Stapleton put on Sir Henry's boot and kick the dog all day or somesuch? I'd think a bullet wound would give most dogs cause to give up an idle scent-chase. But not this dog. It takes five more bullets to get his attention away from Sir Henry, and if they hadn't killed him, one wonders if they would have worked then.

Watson, of course, has scientific methods of his own, and when he sees dripping blue flame-saliva, he sticks his hand right into it. Sir Henry is, for all intents and purposes, physically undamaged, but seems a little shook up by the whole dog attack . . . or was it having five bullets shot directly in his vicinity? And while the trap netted the dog, the true villain of the piece still has to be caught . . . which seems like, for all the risk to Sir Henry in this little game, should have been part of the package.

Jack Stapleton's wife turns stool-pigeon on him, they find all sorts of physical evidence, but in this day and age, we don't believe a villain is truly dead until we see the body. Guessing that he just got sucked down by the mire isn't really as satisfying as it once was.

The case seems to be done, but as in any good tale there are still stories untold. Watson mentions how Sir Henry Baskerville and Dr. Mortimer "were destined to travel together round the world before Sir Henry had become once more the hale and hearty man that he had been," which sounds like the set-up for a spin-off show. Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer, traveling the world with the villainous Jack Stapleton (who isn't dead, it could turn out) following and trying various complex plots to kill the baronet with seeming accidents and local legends. What a finale that tale would have, when the two Baskerville cousins inevitably face off!

But as I said, that is another story. For now, it's time to get the hellhound out of Dartmoor and back to the comforts of Baker Street, which is what we get to do in the one remaining chapter.

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