Simanaitis Says

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JUST AS IRENE ADLER would always be “the woman” to Holmes, the Baskerville Hound was “the canine.” Dr. John H. Watson introduced this giant dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1902. And it didn’t take long for the hound to become a movie star.

Here are several Holmes’ Hound’s tidbits, well beyond the canine’s first SimanaitisSays citation in ” ‘SIT!’ said the Cynologist.”

The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1902. Cover of the first edition; how odd to list Watson’s literary agent Conan Doyle as the author.

The Ur Hound. As Watson describes in his chronicles, the legend of the giant hound stretches back to the English Civil War, 1642–1646, Devonshire’s spooky Dartmoor, and the evil Hugo Baskerville. The hound’s print debut comes when Hugo is found, his throat mauled, near “the unhappy maid where she had fallen.”

Image by Sidney Paget, The Strand Magazine, August 1901.

Needless to say, the maid was unhappy because of Hugo’s “most wild, profane, and godless” attentions, not the hound’s.

According to the Baskerville legend, the hound was “a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye had rested upon.”

Other Less Supernatural Views. Once Holmes brings his expertise to the matter, he identifies the hound’s strain: “It was not a pure bloodhound and was not a pure mastiff; but it appeared to be a combination of the two—gaunt, savage, and as large as a small lioness.”

Image by Sidney Paget, The Strand Magazine, 1902.

However, as noted in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels (Slipcased Edition) (Vol. 3), 2006, edited with notes by Leslie S. Klinger, there has been considerable Sherlockian scholarship dedicated to this hound’s mixed breed.

Other opinions include “some Great Dane or Scottish Wolfhound mixture,” “staghound and bloodhound,” “Doberman pinscher and Irish Wolfhound,” “pit bull terrier,” and, bizarrely enough, a “Cuban bloodhound crossbred with a Tibetan mastiff.”

I agree with the Sherlockian scholar Philip Weller who, notes Klinger, “rises to the support of Watson, specifically rejecting some of the foregoing, as well as others in ‘Barking Up the Wrong Yew Tree.’ ”

The Hound is Ready for Its Closeups. It didn’t take long for film renderings of the tale, albeit initially without the hound’s howl. As described in Sherlock Holmes on the Screen, 1977, by Robert W. Pohle, Jr., and Douglas C. Hart, Der Hund von Baskerville, 1914–1920, appeared in seven parts, totaling around seven hours. The first English film, another silent one, was in 1921.

The Hound Gets Its Howl. The hound’s howl was first heard in The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1931, another English production.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1931, a Gainsborough Production.

In The Films of Sherlock Holmes, 1978, Chris Steinbrunner and Norman Michaels write, “Perhaps the most impressive member of the cast was the portrayer of the title role: the hound. Enormous in size, rather like a small pony, and quite animated, the animal looked somewhat too good-natured to effectively frighten the critics as it bounded over the moor (and over the cast members), but the mastiff was a registered canine aristocrat—Champion Egmund of Send—and looked every inch of it.”

Scene from The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1931.

Other Baskerville flicks included one in Nazi Germany, 1937; the first of many American versions, this one with Basil Rathbone as Holmes, 1939; and Jighansa, a Bengali thriller, 1951. It’s not clear that this last one, involving Dr. Palit and his detective friend Smarijit Sen, actually had any hound whatsoever, speaking role or not. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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