The first Holmes story, the first meeting of Watson and Holmes, the first characterizations of that eccentric detective. And a mysterious murder for SThe first Holmes story, the first meeting of Watson and Holmes, the first characterizations of that eccentric detective. And a mysterious murder for Sherlock Holmes to investigate. How did a dead man arrive in the empty house? Why is there blood everywhere, when the dead man is apparently unwounded? What's that bloody writing on the wall about?
As Holmes capers go, the story is unremarkable in the Holmes canon. This is Doyle's first essay approaching Holmes, and he hasn't quite found the distinctive formula. Too many clues Holmes discovers, Doyle fails to relate to the reader, leaving the ultimate train of logic obscure without insights Holmes only relates in the aftermath. Also, at the halfway point in the novel there's a strange digression into 19th-century Mormon society. (A highly inaccurate account, according to the preface of the edition I read, Doyle having depended upon erroneous news accounts, in addition to the parts that are obvious fiction.) The Mormon side trip is ultimately topical, but a better novel would have segued more smoothly, as Part II first appears to be almost an entirely different story. (The first time I read it, in a different collection, the abrupt storyline change mightily confused me.) Ultimately, however, Holmes characteristically clears up the mystery to the reader's satisfaction.
But really, this novel is best appreciated for its characterizations of the now-familiar Watson and Holmes. When Holmes professes to not care whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa (and of the answer, "I shall do my best to forget it"), when we see Watson's grading Holmes's knowledge ("Botany — Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening."), when we see the first glimmerings of Holmes's philosophy — this is what makes the story worth reading.
I could rate this either three stars (for an imperfect story) or four stars (for the fresh impressions of Holmes). Ultimately, the story's deficits sway me to three stars....more
Polly and Digory are two children growing up in London around the time of Sherlock Holmes (that is, around 1895) in the same row of houses. Digory's uncle has been experimenting with Magic and has devised a way to visit other worlds. Digory and Polly become his guinea pigs to test it out, visiting two worlds: the dying world of Charn, and the newborn world of Narnia. Along the way we meet the White Witch, the first Talking Animals of Narnia, the first joke, the first Narnian king and queen, and -- of course -- Aslan. We see how evil first enters Narnia, and we see how that evil is addressed.
Within the Narnian arc, of course, this story is important simply for explaining how Narnia started and why a certain wardrobe acted as it did. (And why a certain professor in a future story expressed less incredulity than expected, once.) It may also be interesting for the Biblical stories it's obviously intended to varyingly echo and evoke, blended with classical mythological references. (On that note, this time reading I noticed that in Narnia it wasn't woman who sinned and offered man the opportunity to sin, but rather man who sinned with the woman at worst egging him on. I don't think anyone should particularly care about the gender blame game in either instance. But it is interesting to note nonetheless.)
Outside the Narnian context, the story itself doesn't have as much to recommend it as other Narnian entries do. Narnia's primal magic is excellent -- a world where anything planted just grows? including coins, toffee, and lamp-posts? -- and the world feels distinctly and uniquely new. But other than that, there's not a whole lot to heighten interest. There isn't an obvious driving question to the story. (Digory's mother, sure, but she's not mentioned enough to carry that story, or at least wasn't during this read.) The characters have their own identities, but they exist more to play out the story than to be intriguing themselves. And the story itself is interesting more along the lines of being informative about Narnia than being interesting so much in its own right. Plus there are its unaddressed magical loose ends -- what's the nature of the in-between place or the mark, are those green and yellow items good or evil or simply too powerful, and so on -- which are totally unlike the magic in any of the other stories. Which isn't bad per se, but it's less rationalized than one might want.
Overall, this story is definitely worth reading to get the whole picture of Narnia. And that's why you should definitely read it. But on its own it's not as great as some of the entries in the Chronicles of Narnia.
One last topic: for the newcomer to Narnia, what reading order should be followed? Lewis wrote the stories in one order, but that order is not the chronological one, so a choice must be made.
The allusions this story makes to the contents of the other are few: at start explaining that this story would explain how "the comings and goings" between our world and Narnia started, and at end to set up the mechanism of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I don't believe these brief allusions damage those stories. Knowing that there is a lamp-post in Narnia from this book doesn't really spoil Lantern Waste in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, except to prove that that is Narnia. But a series reader won't be surprised by this, so it hardly matters. (And even someone not seriously reading through the series doesn't need to know these details -- the story setup primes the reader to expect magical events and explanations.)
In the end, then, I think the chronological order is the right order to read through these stories, if you intend to read them all. (And you definitely should!) If you're quite sure you're not reading them all -- but really, they're all short enough and enjoyable enough, that why bother? -- publication order might be reasonable. But I think there's enough magic to each entry that you might as well still read chronologically....more
The great detective Sherlock Holmes has another case to solve. Sir Charles Baskerville has recently died of unexplained causes. Might he have fallen pThe great detective Sherlock Holmes has another case to solve. Sir Charles Baskerville has recently died of unexplained causes. Might he have fallen prey to an old family legend of the Baskervilles being terrorized by a demonic hound? The footprint of a dog was noticed near an unmarked Sir Charles, and a local doctor wonders. And when the heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, returns to England, the plot only grows thicker: mysterious warning notes, spies, and more. How exactly did Sir Charles die? And does Sir Henry have anything to fear?
This novel resides in the Holmesian timeline a couple years prior to Holmes's final encounter with Professor Moriarty. As usual Watson recounts the story. Somewhat unusually, the two are separated for much of the story, with Holmes directing Watson to conduct preliminary investigations without Holmes. Whereas in many of the stories Watson is for all but a brief bit just before the climax and explanations, here Watson is involved in investigation throughout: making for a different sort of feel, contrasting Holmes's judicious approach with Watson's eagerness to immediately run down every possible lead.
The story is much enjoyable, but it happens not to be one of my favorites. Holmes is offscreen too much for my tastes; Watson's far more conventionally-minded investigations aren't as intriguing as Holmes's unorthodox approaches. And to a slightly greater degree than normal, I feel the denouement is less amenable to prediction than a proper Holmes story ought to be. In my opinion the reader simply doesn't receive enough information along the way to make the requisite connections. Nonetheless it's classic Holmes, with the supernaturally-minded Doyle effectively accommodating both that side of his thinking and the methodical side at once. (Contrast with some of his later short stories where the supernatural is the highlight and the factual and criminal take a back seat.) A solid four stars.
A brief note on Kindle editions. Sadly in a world of open source where one might think things would turn out better, you get what you pay for. There may be editions that are free, but they have poor formatting, may lack illustrations, and are generally less readable. A low-cost edition is recommended. I used two different editions when reading: The Hound of the Baskervilles (Finisterra Books, ASIN B0050VA428) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (Top Five Books, ASIN B00ECJ18HO). I purchased the former based largely upon its claim to contain Sidney Paget's illustrations. Unfortunately it doesn't have all the illustrations, only a semirandom scattering of them. When I discovered this, I immediately began searching for another version that did contain all of them, and I stumbled across the Top Five version. I've had good experiences with Top Five for other classics, and my experience was equally good here: it contained all the illustrations and in general offered slightly nicer formatting. (I would have called out a few quotations as block quotes -- for example, the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles -- but other than that I can think of no complaints.
A last bit of Holmes arcana: the Finisterra version appears to be based upon a very subtly different edition than the Top Five version. This is most clearly visible in the dedication: Doyle over time apparently gave less and less credit to his friend Robinson for providing him with approximately the Hound of the Baskervilles legend. The Finisterra version credits Robinson with relating the legend, while the Top Five version credits him with inspiring the story. There's also one small difference in that an image embedded in the story in the Top Five version is found before the dedication in the Finisterra version. (The original edition, as viewable on archive.org, appears to have placed it before the dedication.) But in general they're the same content excepting the Finisterra's lacking some illustrations....more