sharing my love of books with you

Month: August 2022 (Page 1 of 6)

A Real Snorter

I’ve made it to chapter six of The Valley of Fear, one of The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It is a kind of locked-door mystery, except in this case, instead of a door, it is a moat. But I wanted to share this quote with you from the local inspector.

“I said it was a snorter!” he cried. “A real snorter it is!”

White Mason, The Valley of Fear, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, circa 1914

(A snorter, informally, is “a thing that is an extreme or remarkable example of its kind.)


This is a fun word to roll around on your tongue. I found it in The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I have heard and read it before, but now that I’ve looked it up, I understand it much better. Even before I found the definition, I thought the word seemed like a rolling, waving word, and I find that that isn’t too far from the truth.

Undulating – to move with a wavelike motion, as with a smooth rising-and-falling or side-to-side movement; to have a wavy form or surface

Usage: “It is a wonderful place, the moor,” said [Mr Stapleton], looking round over the undulating downs, long green rollers, with crests of jagged granite foaming up into fantastic surges. “You never tire of the moor. You cannot think the wonderful secrets which it contains. It is so vast, and so barren, and so mysterious.”

Cairns and Tors

These two terms are used several times in The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Dr Watson uses these often when describing the moor. I looked them up just to be sure I could imagine the setting correctly, and I found this wonderful definition at the Discovering Sherlock Holmes website by Stanford University.

Cairns and Tors – “”Cairn” is a loose term for a pile of stones, usually marking an ancient burial place. A “tor” is a natural granite outcropping on the moor, exposed by years of weathering. Granite bedrock lies under the moor, keeping water from draining away, so that the ground remains saturated.”

I found this great website with many pictures and histories of the tors around Devon in England: Tors of Dartmoor. Below is a picture of Bowden Tor. You can see the outcropping of rock and the ground below which may remain marshy in wet seasons. Dr Watson described the moor in The Hound of the Baskerville as having many tors. I wonder if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had an exact place in mind when he wrote The Hound. It must have been a lovely place to be, even when he added threat of a cursed hound.

Finished: The Hound of the Baskervilles

I finished The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a few days ago. This was the third full-length novel Doyle wrote that featured his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. In the introduction to my volume of Holmes, Doyle is quoted calling The Hound “a real creeper”, which I wholly agree with. His publishers called the plot “one of the most interesting and striking that have ever been put before us”.

When I was very young, my grandma let me borrow a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was a small hardback, a little thicker than a Nancy Drew, with a dark blue cover. I think there was an illustration of the hound on the front. However, at that age, I found Doyle’s language old-fashioned and boring, so I returned the book to my grandma’s shelf. But I never forgot that there was a detective called Holmes who solved a mystery about a hound. As I got older, I watched the old movies and listened to the old radio shows featuring the detective, rekindling my admiration for both Sherlock Holmes and his author. For a time, I was listening to the stories and novels as audiobooks, but I am so glad I finally decided to read this novel for myself.

The Hound of the Baskervilles begins as a narrative; then several chapters are told as though they were from the letters of correspondence to Holmes from Watson; then, one chapter is an “extract from the diary of Dr Watson”. After that, the story proceeds as narrative again. I believe that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s genius is seen in his use of Dr Watson as the story teller in all of the Holmes tales, but especially this one. If he had written them from the detective’s point of view, then many of Holmes’ amazing abilities would have seemed like boasting. And if Holmes was the story-teller, he would have to tell his readers his plans. Since Watson is the writer, however, Holmes’ plans and movements remain a mystery to both Watson and the reader on many occasions.

Another stroke of genius on Doyle’s part is how real he makes Dr Watson seem. When Watson presents the letters he wrote to Holmes as part of the narrative, he states, “One page is missing, but otherwise they are exactly as written.” It strikes me as funny that Doyle as Watson would write this line. Since this is a work of fiction, no real letters ever existed. Yet, it gives credibility to Watson as the writer, and helps the reader to forget for a moment that the work is fiction.

Now for the story. Beginning in the flat at 221B Baker Street, Holmes uses his powers of deduction to describe a visitor that he and Dr Watson had missed the previous night merely from the walking stick the visitor had left behind. The visitor was Dr Mortimer, who returns to them that day, bringing to the detective a very strange mystery: the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Plagued at the end of his life by the family legend of a cursed hound, Sir Charles died of a heart attack brought on by stress and fear. The doctor was not entirely convinced Sir Charles’ death was natural, but there were no indications that it could have been murder. However, the purpose of the doctor’s visit to Sherlock Holmes was that Sir Charles’ heir would be arriving that day from Canada. Would Mr Holmes be willing to accompany him back to Baskerville Hall which was situated on the moor in Devonshire? His purpose would be twofold: to protect the heir, Sir Henry, and to discover if Sir Charles had truly died a natural death or if there was some truth to the legend of the hound.

After a series of mysterious events in London, Holmes sends Dr Mortimer, Dr Watson, and Sir Henry to the moor while he remains in London to clear up another case. Dr Watson is in charge of keeping Sir Henry safe and keeping Holmes up-to-date on all of the goings-on in Devonshire. Who are the neighbors? What are the servants like? Any little thing, no matter how small it may seem, Watson is to write to Holmes about it. The danger begins for Watson and Sir Henry as soon as they arrive in Devonshire. Although they are not willing to believe there is a supernatural hound hunting the moor for the Baskerville family, they do learn that a dangerous convict has escaped from a nearby prison. He had been tracked to the moor, and the police believed he was hiding on that vast expanse. They hoped to find him before many days had passed.

There are several neighbors on the moor that Watson tells Holmes about. The most prominent of which are a naturalist and his sister, Mr and Miss Stapleton; they are the closest neighbors to Baskerville Hall. Stapleton described the moor to Watson as “so vast, and so barren, and so mysterious”. Not long after their arrival, Sir Henry begins to court Miss Stapleton. This is met at first by anger and jealousy from her brother. He eventually apologizes for his behavior, stating he has only his sister in this world, and he did not want to be left alone if she ended up marrying Sir Henry.

There are two servants are Baskerville Hall, Mr and Mrs Barrymore. They had been at Baskerville Hall for many years, but on two occasions, they make it known that they are ready to leave the Hall. The will not say why. Mr Barrymore is a quiet man, but intense, and he wanders the Hall at odd hours of the night. Mrs Barrymore is a sad woman, but she denies that she is the one Watson hears sobbing in the night. Dr Watson suspects they know more about Sir Charles’ death than they are willing to tell, and this he writes to Holmes about them.

There are many twists and turns in The Hound of the Baskervilles. From what I can tell, the events of the novel take place in about two or three weeks’ time. Holmes does eventually arrive at Baskerville Hall, but only stays one night there. In that one night, he solves the riddle of why anyone would want to murder the Baskervilles. He reveals to Watson that he suspected foul play the very first time they heard about the case. Holmes also knows who the villain is, and though his investigations had confirmed this, he could not prove his case in court. He had to wait for the man to make an attempt on the life of Sir Henry so that he could be caught in the midst of the act.

The moorlands that Dr Watson describes are gloomy, vast, and foreboding. At the end, a terrible fog rolls over the moor, so that Holmes and Dr Watson can barely see. The danger on the moor that night is greater than it had ever been, and Sir Henry, walking alone on the moor in that terrible fog, must confront the curse of the Baskervilles. Will the Hound claim its last victim? Or can Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson rescue the heir before it is too late?

I’m afraid that is much as I can tell you. I don’t want to give away the ending. But I do want to encourage you to look past the old-fashioned language. The story may start slowly, but I can assure you, it is not boring. I wish someone had told me when I was young that the story would get better if I just kept reading it. I probably wouldn’t have returned it to my grandma’s shelf.

Hart’s Tongue Fern

Here is another example of moorland foliage that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have been familiar with, but that I have never seen here in America. The Hart’s-Tongue Fern is mentioned several times in The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I found this really neat website, Woodland Trust, with pictures of the fern as well as some interesting background on the fern.

Photo Credit Woodland Trust
Photo Credit Woodland Trust

According to Woodland Trust, the Hart’s-Tongue Fern is a sign of ancient woodland and may indicate that its habitat is unique. Some of the United Kingdom’s ancient woodlands date back to the 1600s. Woodland Trust has another full article about what ancient woodlands are and how to spot them.

Dr Watson mentions in The Hound of the Baskervilles that there are old stone huts on the moor, indicating a thriving, ancient civilization that lived there once. One of the characters, Dr Mortimer, studies those ancient people by excavating near the ruins and recovering skeletons and other artifacts. Holmes himself makes use of the ruins when he needs a place to hide and watch the villain. It is safe to say, then, that the moor, as Dr Watson described it, is ancient.

Exclamations by Sir Percy

“Sir Percy Blakeney, as the chronicles of the time inform us, was, in this year of grace 1792, still a year or two on the right side of thirty. Tall, above the average, even for an Englishman, broad-shouldered and massively built, he would have been called unusually good-looking, but for a certain lazy expression in his deep-set blue eyes, and that perpetual inane laugh which seemed to disfigure his strong, clearly cut mouth.

chapter VI, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy, 1905

“Zounds, my dear fellow did you ever see such a beastly day?”


“Odd’s fish!”

“Demmed uncomfortable things, duels, ain’t they, Tony?”

“Odd’s life, m’dear!”



“Beastly uncomfortable place Paris, just now.”

“La! m’dear.”


“Suddenly… a sound… the strangest, undoubtedly, that these lonely cliffs of France had ever heard, broke the silent solemnity of the shore.
So strange a sound was it, that the gentle breeze ceased to murmur, the tiny pebbles to roll down the steep incline!
It was the sound of a good, solid, absolutely British ‘D***!'”

chapter xxxi, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy, 1905

(I don’t make it a point to share curse words often, however, the above quote is at one of the greatest turning points in the story. It makes me laugh every time. All I can say is you’ve got to read the book.)

Sholmes on Suspicious Characters

“There are, perhaps, some suspicious characters in the same block of buildings?”

“Two,” said Sholmes. “The flat above is tenanted by a member of Parliament, and the flat below by a house-agent.”

Dr Jotson and Herlock Sholmes, “The Case of the Musician”, The Complete Casebook of Herlock Sholmes, circa 1920

Sholmes on Mistakes

“Leave the case in my hands,” drawled Herlock Sholmes. “Unless I am mistaken, which Jotson here will tell you is impossible, the taxi-driver will soon be found.”

Herlock Sholmes, “The Mystery of the Taxi-Cab”, The complete Casebook of Herlock Sholmes, circa 1920

Wagonette and Cobs

I found these two words in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. To find the meaning of the words this time, I turned to a Sherlock Holmes website. From the context, I could guess that wagonette was some kind of horse drawn wagon and cobs were the horses. And that is exactly what it meant.

Wagonette and Cobs – A wagonette, as its name implies, was an open wagon with side benches, rather more rustic than any conveyance Watson would have been used to in London. Cobs are sturdy draft horses, used for farm work. (definition found on Discovering Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from Stanford University)

Usage: “The train pulled up at a small wayside station and we all descended. Outside, beyond the low, white fence, a wagonette with a pair of cobs was waiting.”

photo credit Horse & Hound

A Quick Thought on the Dictionary

In this day and age of easy internet searches with results at your fingertips, I must admit that I have not used a physical dictionary in many years. As a lover of books, of course I own a large Webster’s American Family Dictionary. I also own a pocket sized Webster’s American Dictionary (literally, it fits in my palm). But – like I did with my Thesaurus – I pulled my dictionaries off the shelf today just to relearn how to use them and find some of my “New Words” definitions the old-fashioned way. It’s nice, getting reacquainted with old friends.

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