In The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, and his partner, Watson, are approached with the case of Sir Charles Baskerville’s mysterious death. Many speculate his death is due to the ancient legend that has haunted the Baskerville family for generations, but when Holmes is called in, he challenges this supernatural explanation. Holmes uses logic to try to outrule any imaginary idea of what happened to Sir Charles. The Hound of the Baskervilles addresses the idea of supernatural versus practical through various characters belief in the myth of the Baskerville family told by Dr. Mortimer, while Sherlock Holmes and Watson observe and examine facts to find the answers. Holmes is able to devise the truth of the world around him, as his author strove for understanding in fiction and in fact. Holmes tends to see that every clue leads to points towards a real, logical explanation of the things that have occured.
He tries to avoid the unrealistic nature of things, like the Baskerville legend. When Dr. Mortimer first comes to Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s practice, he speaks of Sir Charles’ “supernatural” death. Holmes is in denial of the “supernatural” activity and proposes that, “…In the modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task.
Yet you must admit the footmark is materialistic” (23). In this statements, Holmes is proving his point that if Sir Charles’ throat had been gouged out by something, it would have to be real. He attempts to bring the legend into his analysis by using reasoning. This is an example of how Holmes uses the information he is given to think of a logical interpretation of what has happened. However, Holmes does acknowledge the possibility of a supernatural explanation. “The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?” and this shows how Holmes considered the chance of it being the unrealistic answer, the devil can materialize, but will only come to this conclusion as a last result (27). Holmes believes there is a reasonable explanation for the things interpreted as unexplainable, and Watson shares a parallel view to his.
Watson shares similar view to Holmes, as he is his partner. When Watson writes in his journal, he explains how Stapleton has fallen into the “spectral idea” of things, like how the hound is described as “hell-fire shooting from his mouth and eyes” (101). Watson believes this is not true, “I have one quality upon earth it is common sense, and nothing will persuade me to believe such a thing..
. Holmes would not listen to such fancies, and I am his agent” (101). Along with Holmes, Watson refuses to cave into the unrealistic idea of the hound. He also points out that it is common sense that it is not possible for a hound to be as it is described, yellow, glowing eyes.
Additionally, it is shown that Watson refers to Holmes like he is in charge of him and he believes in whatever Holmes believes. Characters like Watson and Holmes contradict the supernatural belief of the hound. The ancient legend of the Baskerville family is one of the main sources of how some characters, like Dr. Mortimer, believe in the existence of a vicious hound that lurks in the moor behind the Baskerville house. When Dr. Mortimer is first introduced, he brings a manuscript titled “Baskerville Hall” written in 1742.
After he tells Holmes and Watson of the legend of how Hugo Baskerville made a deal with the devil, he reads a newspaper article about the death of Sir Charles which he believes to be connected to the myth. “There is a realm in which the most acute and most experienced of detectives is helpless”, and this quote first introduces us to his opinion of this situation being supernatural (22). He implies that there is a “realm” in which there is paranormal activity where detectives cannot help explain the unexplainable, therefore believing Holmes is incapable of solving this mystery. This exemplifies his belief that the death was not a coincidence but the result of Hugo Baskerville encounter with the devil. Although Holmes and Watson discuss the realistic side of the events, Dr. Mortimer demonstrates his belief in the unrealistic explanation to what has been occurring in the Baskervilles. In the beginning, he shares the story, “Baskerville Hall”, with Holmes and Watson, which is one of the first signs that he engages in the mythical story.
Mortimer lives out on the moor, where the hound is supposedly hiding, and was a close friend to Sir Charles who had been recently killed. Despite his interest in science, he appears to be interested in skulls, Mortimer reverts to the more childish idea of paranormal activity. Holmes ability to put clues together so well is “supernatural”, yet Holmes believes there’s logic and an explanation to most things. Holmes is able to observe the environment around him in ways that seem unhuman like. Although he does not believe that things occur for no reason, his ability contradicts his beliefs. For example, Holmes is able to tell where Watson has been before he came to the office and Watson is astonished that he figured it out, “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes…” (26).
He goes onto explain how he was able to figure out where he was by simply using his bare eye to spot him. Once Holmes explains how he knew where Watson was, it makes his ability seem not as extraordinary because any person is able to do what he can. Another example is when Holmes secretly follows Watson to the Baskerville house, he finds out information of his own. He was lead to the same places Watson was, but Holmes was able to put the pieces together better and faster than Watson. When Watson discovers Holmes has been undercover the whole time, he feels as though Holmes never really trusted Watson to be able to find out liable information. This makes him feel that he is not good enough to do what Holmes has trained him to do and was being used. As Holmes has collected as much information as Watson had, his ability to put the pieces together is supernatural.
Although the reader is not told beforehand that Holmes had done some research of his own, it makes his ability seem more impressive when he reveals that he has the same or more information than Watson. Holmes appears to be brilliant, but he is only using common observation to discover information. Holmes extraordinary observation skills give him an advantage when he is solving crimes. Throughout the novel, characters express their views on whether the recent events are supernatural or practical. Holmes and Watson use reasoning to try and explain the unusual problem they are presented with, while Dr. Mortimer leans in the direction of the supernatural meaning, contradicting the two detectives.
The legend of the Baskervilles family brings about the questioning if the story is real or not, showing the main characters response. The two contrasting ideas of unnatural versus natural is continuously expressed throughout the characters beliefs and the stories they tell.