Study Guide

The Hound of the Baskervilles Summary

By Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles Summary

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson are hanging around the apartment that they share (as platonic bros) when Doctor James Mortimer appears to consult Holmes about a very strange matter that occurred in his town of Dartmoor. While Baskerville Hall may be fictional, Dartmoor—with its beautiful, barren, boggy, hilly countryside—is definitely a real place.

Apparently, in the 1640s, a bad guy named Hugo Baskerville kidnapped a young woman and stuck her in his castle. When she escaped, he rode out after her. And when his friends went to find Hugo to stop him, they discovered two dead bodies. The girl had died of exhaustion and fear at being ridden down by a creepy madman on the moors (wetlands) at night. But Hugo Baskerville suffered a worse fate: his drinking buddies found him getting his throat torn out by a giant black dog from hell. Supposedly, this demon hound haunts the Baskerville family to this day.

The latest Baskerville, Sir Charles, has also just died under Mysterious Circumstances. Sir Charles was known to be terrified of the Hound, and he was found lying dead just beyond his own driveway with an expression of horror on his face. Doctor Mortimer strongly suspects that the ghost dog—the Hound—had something to do with it.

Doctor Mortimer doesn't want Holmes to investigate; he just wants to know if he should tell this to Sir Henry Baskerville, the new heir. He doesn't want to frighten the guy, but he doesn't want Sir Henry to become Devil Dog Chow, either. Holmes agrees to meet Sir Charles.

When Sir Henry arrives at Holmes' apartment with Doctor Mortimer, he has his own news. Someone has sent him a warning telling him to "keep away from the moor" (4.11). Someone took one of his new brown boots and later on, one of his old black boots went missing. Holmes and Watson also discover a strange-looking man with a big beard following Sir Henry

Holmes sends Sir Henry back to Baskerville Hall and asks Watson to go along with him to investigate. Once they arrive, they find the place to be (a) huge, (b) rich, (c) old, and (d) gloomy.

Here are just a couple of reasons why no one in their right mind would want to be at Baskerville Hall: first, Sir Henry's butler Barrymore plans to quit his job and leave Sir Henry on his own. Barrymore's a prime suspect for Sir Charles' murder, since he and his wife benefited from Sir Charles' will; he also has a large beard. If that's not bad enough, there's news that a homicidal maniac named Selden has escaped from the nearby prison (a real prison). Between the crazed murderer and the butler, Sir Henry isn't exactly overjoyed with his new digs.

When Watson's out for a stroll, a man carrying a butterfly net (yeah, we know—weird) introduces himself as Stapleton, a neighbor of Sir Henry. He seems to know a lot about the Hound and Sir Charles' fear of it. He's also aware of Watson's relationship with Holmes.

When Stapleton runs off to catch a butterfly, a woman suddenly approaches Watson, whom she mistakes for Sir Henry, and warns him to go back to London right away. When Stapleton returns, she immediately changes the subject. Turns out she's Stapleton's sister Beryl. When she figures out that Watson is not Sir Henry Baskerville she refuses to tell Watson why it's so important for Sir Henry to leave Baskerville Hall. Not looking good for Sir Henry.

Watson reports to Holmes that Sir Henry seems to be falling for Beryl Stapleton, which is upsetting Stapleton for some reason. And something else: at about 2:00AM, Watson saw Barrymore looking out at the moors and holding a candle up to the window. That guy is obviously hiding something. Could he be our murderer? (Cue the creepy organ music.)

A couple of nights later, Watson and Sir Henry find the butler standing at the same window with his candle. And there, out on the moors, they spot—another candle! Yep, the candle is some kind of signal. Sir Henry fires Barrymore on the spot for plotting against him, but Barrymore's wife appears and tells all. The candle out on the moor belongs to her brother, Selden, the psychotic murderer. They've been feeding him when he signals, because she can't bear to let him starve, no matter what awful things he's done. Watson and Barrymore try to track Selden down but he manages to escape. But Watson spots yet another unknown guy on the moors.

Barrymore tells Watson he knows why Sir Charles was in his driveway so late at night, despite his fear of the moors and the Hound. He got a letter signed "L.L." from a woman asking to meet him at that precise spot. Doctor Mortimer tells Watson there's a woman named Laura Lyons living nearby in Coombe Tracy. She's the disowned daughter of Mr. Frankland. Watson visits Laura Lyons, and while she finally admits to writing the note, she swears she never went to meet Sir Charles that fateful night.

But wait, there's more! Mr. Frankland tells Watson he's seen a boy bringing food to one of the Stone Age huts on the moors. He believes it's Selden, the murderer. But Watson guesses it's his mysterious man from the night before. Watson goes to the hut and lies in wait, only to find the man is Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes apologizes to Watson for keeping him in the dark. His observations depended on secrecy, and feared that Watson couldn't help but give away Holmes' location. Holmes has discovered that Laura Lyons has been seeing Stapleton, and that she hopes to marry him. But she can't: the woman who Stapleton's living with as his sister? She's actually his wife. (Ick.) Suddenly, Holmes and Watson hear a horrible scream and rush out to find a corpse with a crushed skull at the bottom of a cliff. They think it's Sir Henry Baskerville, but in fact, it's Selden dressed in Sir Henry's clothing. Stapleton comes by and appears visibly shaken to see a dead body that's not Sir Henry. (More organ music.)

To prove that Stapleton is connected to the murders, Holmes lays a trap. He claims that he and Watson are going back to London but insists that Sir Henry go to Stapleton's house for dinner that night. Holmes and Watson plan to ambush Stapleton when he tries to kill Sir Henry.

Holmes and Watson visit Laura Lyons again. When she hears that Stapleton has a wife, she tells Holmes everything: that Stapleton dictated the letter she sent to Sir Charles, that he then insisted that she not keep the appointment, and that he bullied her into keeping silent about Sir Charles' death. They return to Stapleton's house to set up their trap.

As Sir Henry leaves the house, a giant black dog with flames jumping from its mouth and eyes gallops after him. The dog manages to bring down Sir Henry and to bite his throat. Holmes finally kills the dog, and they find Sir Henry freaked out but mostly okay considering he's just been mauled by Cujo's great-great-great-great-grandfather.

The dead dog's fur had been coated in phosphorus. It was the terrifying sight of the glowing dog that frightened Sir Charles into a heart attack and drove Selden off the cliff to his death. Inside the house, they find Beryl Stapleton tied up and gagged. She leads them to his hiding place in a dangerous bog, but he's not there. They find Sir Henry's black boot sunk in the bog —Stapleton has been using it to train the Hound to follow Sir Henry's scent. Watson suspects that Stapleton lost his footing in the bog and wound up being sucked down, never to be seen again.

Back in London, Holmes ties up the loose ends for Watson: Stapleton was actually the long-lost son of Rodger Baskerville, Sir Charles' brother. Old Rodger had moved to South America many years before and died there. Young Rodger—a.k.a. Stapleton—moved to England with his wife and learned that he was in line to inherit the Baskerville fortune if he could only get rid of Sirs Charles and Henry. He used the legend of the Hound to try to do just that.

So that's it—Stapleton is lying at the bottom of the bog and Holmes and Watson are back in London. Score: Logic 1, Superstition 0.

All this talk of devil dogs is making us hungry. We'll be right back.