Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hound, Chapter Two: Mortimer reads!

Reading The Hound of the Baskervilles is one thing. Hearing it actually happening live? Not so great.

No motion picture company on Earth is ever going to do an totally faithful adaptation of what is happening at 221B Baker Street in this chapter of Hound.  Why? Because nobody wants to hear James Mortimer read aloud for twenty minutes. You may read of Dr. Mortimer's "high, crackling voice," but do you actually hear it in your head when you're reading the tale? Being present at 221B and actually listening to it isn't quite the same experience.

Mortimer doesn't exactly inspire the terror that, say, a Basil Rathbone would reading the very same manuscript of the Baskerville family curse, for starters. Hearing Mortimer's voice, you can actually understand Sherlock Holmes's post-reading reaction that's basically a bored "So . . . ?"

And if the guy can't sell a story of debauchery and demon dogs, just wait until he reads a newspaper article about a homebody who dies of heart disease!

The scene in the sitting rooms at 221B Baker Street just really doesn't have a lot going for it in the second chapter of this novel, so by the time you get to Mortimer's big closer, the classic "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!" . . . well, he probably should be delivering it as "MR. HOLMES, THEY WERE THE FOOTPRINTS OF A GIGANTIC HOUND!" just to wake some of us up.

This is why tours of The Hound of the Baskerville (at least the ones I've run) usually take a detour back into Baskerville Hall in the 1640s. Big ol' flagons of wine, profanity so vile it would make a Baker Street Babe blush, and "other worse things, perchance" -- welllll, there's the party that everybody wants to drop in on! Fortunately travels in fiction leave one deprived of sense of smell for the most part, as the smell of 1640s casa Baskerville one would quickly be longing for a 221B full of cigarette smoke and boring readings by James Mortimer. As it is, I dearly long to one day show up at Hugo Baskerville's Michaelmas party with a high-pressure fire hose and just start doing a little crowd control and Saturday night baths all in one.

Of course, that would probably cool things down and kill our chances of seeing that giant dog munching on Hugo at the end of the night, the sight of which has side effects one should list like the ending of a pharmaceutical commercial: "One in three people seeing the Hound have a high risk of death in the near future. Seeing the Hound may also result in being broken for a period up to and including the rest of your days." But, hey, it's a party, right? And how often do you get to celebrate the feast of St. Michael the old school way?

Yet the devil is in the details, and the lesson of Hugo Baskerville that we should take away is this: No verbal agreements with the powers of evil. Paper deals are tricky enough, but Hugo's impulsive wish gets fulfilled immediately and exactly and off to Hell he goes. Done. And if it was anybody on one of my tours who shouted "Release the hounds!" in the middle of that mess, well you will probably get the chance to hear all about it from Hugo himself soon enough.


Okay, Dr. Mortimer, we're awake and back in 221B. On to the next chapter.


  1. Where did the first hound come from?
    Sent by who?

  2. It was the hound of Lady Baskerville afair, who faithfully avenged her death. With a little help from down below perhaps.

  3. Sir Hugo? No where in the Canon is he called such. We 'assume' he is a 'Sir', and we know where assuming gets us.

    1. Blame the Sir Hugo who used to write for The Holmes and Watson Report -- he permanently corrupted my personal Hound-cabulary. Luckily, this is the internet, which a little word like "Sir" can magically vanish from the page.