The Hound of the Baskervilles: Hunting the Dartmoor Legend - Reviewed
Reviewed by Charles Prepolec
“A book with all the information which you have here is a must for all of us who love this adventure.”
- Edward Hardwicke
The above quotation, from Edward Hardwicke’s foreword to Philip Weller’s The Hound of the Baskervilles: Hunting the Dartmoor Legend sums up my feelings quite nicely. Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the first serial publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles in The Strand magazine, we are presented with an invaluable research tool and highly fitting celebration of Doyle’s classic story. 

Based on publicity, I half expected the book to be a travelogue of Dartmoor, I was happily surprised to discover that the book is no such thing. As a matter of fact, the location-spotting game takes up only a fraction of the information presented here. This book is an overall look at
The Hound and many of the factors that went into its creation!

The Hound of the Baskervilles: Hunting the Dartmoor Legend is divided into two nearly equal segments. The first, entitled The Men on the Tor is Philip Weller’s investigation into the history and genesis of The Hound; the second segment contains the full text of The Strand version of Doyle’s story annotated by Weller.

Weller approaches his subject as more or less a historical or textbook investigation. Now don’t be frightened by either of those terms, as the writing is personal, readable and highly engaging from start to finish, it is simply structured like a textbook. Weller never falls into a lecturing tone and manages the occasional sly wink to the reader as well. His firsthand research of Dartmoor’s history, geography, literature and locations is remarkable; his appreciation of the region and the story itself is apparent throughout the work.

The first chapter serves as something of an introduction to the Sherlockian game and creates a context from which the reader can better appreciate the approach to the material that follows. From there Weller dives directly into the genesis of the story, explaining how and why Doyle found himself on Dartmoor in the company of Bertram Fletcher Robinson and the coachman Harry Baskerville. More importantly he breaks down the specific order of events that lead to Doyle’s ‘collaboration’ with Robinson and just how far Robinson’s involvement goes (if you want specifics, read the book!).

The next few chapters focus on detecting the possible sources that may have inspired Conan Doyle in creating
The Hound. These sources are helpfully broken down into historical, literary and legendary. The latter being the most interesting, to this reader, as Weller discusses the various legends associated with spectral hounds and to my mind successfully presents a rational argument for his conclusions.

The next two chapters deal with Dartmoor locations, both real and Imaginary, to be found in
The Hound. Weller’s love and knowledge of the region is very clear in these chapters, and once again he provides reasonable evidence for his assignment of story locations to actual locations. He also supplies alternatives and the reasoning for their rejection.

By this point, the reader will have an excellent grasp of Dartmoor and its relation to the heart of
The Hound, so Weller leaves the Moor and discusses the effect of the book in a wider framework. In what is to me the most interesting chapter – The Authorship Controversy - in this already fascinating study, he sums up the many accusations that arose surrounding the actual authorship of The Hound.  Starting with The Bookman article in October of 1901 we are carried through the whole gamut, right up to the present day, concluding with the ravings of Rodger Garrick Steele.

The final two chapters in the first half of the book briefly explore the numerous film adaptations of the story and the ongoing Hound phenomenon respectively. In his conclusion, Weller rightly points out that while this volume does gather together much of the available data, the hunt for the Hound continues.
Cover image courtesy Carol Ballenger
Cover background:Carol Ballenger
Vixen Tor
Photo: Bryan Harper
Merrivale Stone Rows
Photo: Bryan Harper
Bellever Tor
Photo: Bryan Harper
The second half, as mentioned earlier, is a reprinting of The Strand Magazine text of The Hound, Paget illustrations included, with notations by Weller. Strangely, it is here that my one main criticism arises. The annotations are not indicated in the text itself, but presented as an appendix with page and line numbers directing the reader back to the appropriate page in the story. While I enjoyed reading the notes on their own, there is something to be said for having them handy, or at the very least indicated, while reading through the story.

A sturdy binding, high-quality paper and wonderful photo reproduction are all brought together under an evocative dust-jacket, making the book a high quality production and well worth the £24.95 price. If you should buy only one book on
The Hound of the Baskervilles, make it this one…you won’t regret it!

Highly Recommended.
By Philip Weller with a Foreword by Edward Hardwicke
Date: July 2001 ISBN: 1 85522 790 8 Publisher: Devon Books/Halsgrove
Price: £24.95
To order this title, try your favorite Sherlockian bookseller or click here to visit Halsgrove Publishing
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Review copyright © Charles Prepolec 2001. All images are copyright their respective owners and are used here with permission from Halsgrove. Please do not duplicate images without permission.