How Did Stapleton Navigate The Moor

The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of the best known of the Sherlock Holmes novels, written by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1901. The novel was serialized in The Strand Magazine (1901–02) and was published in book form in 1902. It was the first Sherlock Holmes tale since the detective’s shocking “death” in the story “The Final Problem” (1893) but was set prior to his demise. The popularity of The Hound of the Baskervilles helped pave the way for Holmes’s appearance in later works.

Based on a local legend of a spectral hound that haunted Dartmoor in Devonshire, England, the story is set in the moors at Baskerville Hall and the nearby Grimpen Mire, and the action takes place mostly at night, when the terrifying hound howls for blood. After Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead with his face twisted in stark terror, Holmes is called upon to protect his heir, Sir Henry Baskerville. Narrating the story is Holmes’s assistant, Dr. Watson, who is sent to Dartmoor while the busy Holmes remains in London. Upon his arrival, Watson learns that an escaped convict is on the loose. More unsettling events occur, including the appearance of an unknown figure on the moor. Watson later discovers that the mysterious person is Holmes, who has been conducting his own investigation. Holmes deduces that the killer is Jack Stapleton, a neighbour who is actually Rodger Baskerville. Hoping to inherit the family estate, he has plotted to kill his relatives using a vicious hound that he has painted with phosphorous to appear sinister. The superstitious Charles suffered a heart attack after being frightened by the animal. Stapleton also hopes to kill Henry Baskerville but is thwarted by Holmes. Afterward Stapleton flees and is believed to have died, swallowed by Grimpen Mire.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles Conan Doyle uncharacteristically emphasized the eerie setting and mysterious atmosphere rather than the hero’s deductive ingenuity. One of the all-time classic mysteries, the novel was hugely popular as readers rejoiced at the return of Sherlock Holmes. (His death in “The Final Problem” had enraged fans, causing thousands to cancel their subscriptions to The Strand.) Although Conan Doyle had previously claimed to have grown “weary” of Sherlock’s name, he subsequently revived the character after negotiating a large payment from publishers. A series of short stories were published in 1903–04 and later collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905). The Hound of the Baskervilles was adapted for film numerous times, beginning with a silent German production in 1914.

Cite this page as follows:

“What is the role of the moor in The Hound of the Baskervilles?” eNotes Editorial, 23 June 2020, Accessed 15 Sep. 2022.

The moor surrounding Baskerville Hall is an appropriate setting for the strange goings-on in The Hound of the Baskervilles. The dark, vast expanses of moorland lend themselves easily to murder, bloodshed, and mystery. They represent, in physical terms, the dark heart of the vicious hound—or is it an even more vicious human?—stalking the land in search of prey.

More importantly, though, the moor plays the role of antagonist. Its sheer size makes it all the more difficult for Holmes and Watson to get to the bottom of this seemingly unfathomable mystery. People who live in the area are separated by vast distances, making it difficult for even the world’s greatest detective to gather the necessary clues and eyewitness accounts needed to solve the crime.

Locating the eponymous hound is also made considerably more difficult by the moor’s size, as there are any number of places where it could be lurking, lying in wait to sink its blood-stained fangs deep into the next unsuspecting victim. Holmes has his work cut out for him here, which only makes his eventual solving of the mystery all the more satisfying.

It is surely no exaggeration to say that the moor is a character in its own right and one of the most formidable foes that Sherlock Holmes has ever had to face.

Further Reading

In Arthur Conan Doyles dark novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, the moor plays a significant role as one of the settings against which the action of the novel takes place. By definition, a moor is a piece of land, often in Britain, that is uncultivated and often of a higher elevation that the land that surrounds it. Moors are not exactly hospitable to human society, which is why the of a moor can carry a negative connotation in literature.

The moor in Doyles novel is a remote and foreboding element of the Devonshire landscape, and it inspires a sense of fear and anxiety in readers who know what this kind of landscape looks like. Doyle uses adjectives like “gloomy,” “dark,” “God-forsaken,” and “sinister” to enhance the ominous and mysterious quality of the moor. These details, as well as the general history of moors in Britain, ensure that the role of the moor as an atmospheric element is effective in compounding the suspensefulness of the reading experience of the novel.

The setting of The Hound of the Baskervilles, emphasizes the gothic, dreary, haunting nature of the novel. The moor is covered in an ominous mist that shrouds the place in mystery and superstition. The themes of good and evil, and natural and supernatural, are underscored by the eerie setting. Holmes is highly logical and practical, and uses his skills of reasoning and pragmatic, critical thinking to solve mysteries. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmess use of logic and reasoning is challenged by the superstitious nature of the moor and the haunting presence of the hound. The landscape creates a sense of time traveling to an ancient place where superstition and the supernatural reign. It is in this disorienting landscape that Holmes must continue to use his skills of reasoning and logic.

The moor plays a couple of roles in The Hound of the Baskervilles. First of all, by setting the action there, Doyle gets Sherlock Holmes out of his familiar stomping grounds of London. In London, Holmes has many factors working in his favor: this is where he has connections, helpers and accomplices, and a familiarity with the landscape. This is not so on the moors of Dartmoor. Here, the inspector is out of his element. Jack Stapleton, our villain, knows this, too. He knows that Sherlock Holmes “had taken over the case in London, and that therefore there was no chance for him there.” In Dartmoor, Stapleton hopes to have the upper hand.

The landscape of the moors also serves to set the mood of the story. This is a bleak and gloomy landscape. The prehistoric ruins, the nearby prison, the old and gloomy estates, the mists, and the howling of the hound all tell the reader that this is not the modern cosmopolitan city of London that we know from other Sherlock Holmes stories. The moors are a place where superstition (something Holmes shuns) runs free. Being that this is one of the creepier, or more gothic, Sherlock Holmes stories, the moors are a fitting setting and personify the overall mood of the tale.

The bleak and desolate moor provides an excellent setting for this weird tale. The description of the landscape establishes a mood that haunts the entire story. It is an ideal place for the murderer to set his hound on his victims, since they have nowhere to run or to hide. It is a good place for the escaped convict to hide. It is a good place for Sherlock Holmes to camp out while he is observing the whole situation. It provides a great setting for the finale when Sir Henry decides to walk back to his home after dining with the Stapletons. In a more settled and populated area people would be likely to see the hound. As it was, people only knew about the hound through legend. Stapleton wanted his hound to be thought of as a supernatural creature, so that it could frighten victims to death, or at least frighten them so badly that they would put up no resistance. Stapleton needed secrecy and isolation for the kind of crimes he wished to commit. Also, the moor was the place where he finally met his doom.

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How Did Stapleton Navigate The Moor

Perhaps the most bizarre pieces of evidence for this claim comes not from Baskerville Hall or the moors, but rather in the form of Sherlock Holmes, who finds himself only able to think when in the close atmospheres of confined quarters. Holmes is at once the most brilliant man in the story (and possibly the story’s world, if the dialogue of Dr. Mortimer is to be believed) and a firm believer in science and rationality. Doyle is a firm believer that these are the best qualities for a modern man. Yet, Holmes is only able to really utilize his abilities when surrounded by smoke and cramped into his apartment. He claims that he’s even gone to the lengths of confining himself to a box when his small flat proved too expansive. These cramped, smoked-filled conditions necessary to Holmes’ process were the very essence of London-life during both Holmes and Doyle’s time. They exist in strong juxtaposition to the expansive, empty space of the moors.

Really, Mr. Holmes, this exceeds anything which I could have imagined […] I could understand anyone saying that the words were from a newspaper; but that you should name which, and add that it came from the leading article, is really one of the most remarkable things which I have ever known.

Baskerville Hall forms the gateway between the aristocratic, orderly world of the Baskerville family—who are far more at home in sleek, urban London—and the untamed, even dangerous world of the moor. Through this liminality, the unruliness of the moor comes to infest the tidy world of the hall with its primitive ideas about ghostly, cursed hounds and the crude greed that drives the murder plot. That is, the moor contributes nothing good to life at Baskerville Hall: it only detracts from it and enables murder and secrecy. This negativity shows Doyle’s clear preference for city life, which—though cramped and frantic—he finds far more appropriate for modern man.

The moors, of course, provide plenty of evidence, too. They are, put simply, quite dangerous. To navigate the moors, one has to have specialized knowledge, lest they find themselves mired in quicksand. Even animals, who have a natural instinct about the wild (and twice as many legs with which to navigate it), find themselves often lost in these pits. Indeed, even Jack Stapleton, the one character who has the knowledge necessary to navigate the quicksand, is killed by the moors when he attempts to navigate them in the fog. In contrast, while London streets may be dangerous, that’s only because of the people there. The streets themselves won’t swallow a person whole the way the moor can. What’s more, the moors enable a level of secrecy that’s impossible in London. When Holmes and Watson are being trailed in the London streets, they discover it immediately. Though their shadow manages to escape them, the mechanization of London life allows the detectives to find the cab driver that the shadow hired and thus discover more about the man himself. By way of comparison, both Selden and Holmes manage to stalk the moors virtually unseen for weeks. Indeed, Stapleton himself manages to hide a monstrous dog there, and enact his complex murder plot, all without being seen or suspected. This would be entirely impossible in London, where someone is always around and all the land is developed.

It’s important that, though Baskerville Hall has been a liminal space for some five centuries, it seems to have had little impact on the moor itself (whereas the moor has infiltrated it handily). What seems wanting is money—which, at the story’s end, Sir Henry Baskerville has in spades. This influx of capital will allow the hall to become a glorious and modern place, which the moor’s residents in turn hope will serve as an example for both its current residents and any newcomers inspired to move there by the moor’s shifts in fortune. That is to say, Sir Henry hopes to infiltrate the moor in order to convert it into an entirely urban space, replicating the London atmosphere of which he’s so fond, in this way destroying its liminality altogether.

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    When readers first meet Mr. Jack Stapleton, he seems an innocuous though eccentric character. Watson seems slightly taken by surprise when Stapleton runs up to him on the moor, introducing himself and telling him he already knows who Watson is. Stapleton attributes his presumption to the close-knit nature of the moor, but Watson is left a bit unsettled by the remark, foreshadowing later events in the novella.

    These words uttered by Stapleton to Watson during their first meeting double as a simple surmising by Stapleton and a foreshadowing device by Conan Doyle. Watson may not be aware of the truth, but Stapleton has just revealed what he did to kill Sir Charles Baskerville: He used Sir Charles Baskerville’s heart condition to scare him to death with an embellished real-life hound.

    Stapleton asks Watson about Sherlock Holmes’s opinion on the case of Sir Charles Baskerville’s death, a question that takes Watson’s breath away. The two men have just met, and Stapleton’s presumption about Watson’s connection to Sherlock feels vaguely intrusive. Stapleton’s calm and steadfast manner quells Watson’s nerves, but here readers see how Stapleton’s composure masterfully hides his sinister character.

    Stapleton offers to help Watson with the case, but Watson refuses. Stapleton commends Watson on his discretion and pleasantly excuses himself. Of course, readers later learn that Stapleton offers to help Watson simply to stay close to the case and manipulate what Watson does and does not discover. Watson’s tight-lipped refusal shows his worth as Sherlock’s colleague.

    Here, Stapleton drops one other important clue that will later help Holmes and Watson piece together important plot events. Stapleton tells Watson that he knows the environment around Grimpen Mire better than most people who live there. Ironically, Stapleton’s overt bragging makes him similar to Sherlock, who also has a habit of boasting.

    Stapleton tells Watson about a pony he witnessed get sucked into a bog-hole in the mire the day before. This interaction occurs during Watson and Stapleton’s first meeting, as they are surveying the Grimpen Mire, a mysterious-looking landscape where the supposed murderous Hound of the Baskervilles roams. Stapleton’s comment foreshadows his own death later in the novella.

    When Watson first meets Stapleton, he appears to be a bookish, even-tempered, unimposing man. Stapleton introduces himself as an entomologist who tracks rare plants and butterflies on the moor. In a statement reminiscent of Holmes, Stapleton boasts that only a person with “wit” could compete with his abilities to catch and study his specimens. Stapleton’s unassuming outer appearance continually contrasts with his brash inner nature throughout the novella.

    When Watson says he would like to investigate the Grimpen Mire, Stapleton quickly tries to dissuade him, pretending he is concerned for Watson’s safety. In reality, Stapleton doesn’t want Watson to find the hound he is hiding. As he appears to be harmless and possesses an extensive knowledge of the topography of the mire, Stapleton is able to manipulate Watson into dropping his idea to investigate the moor.

    Stapleton reveals to Watson that he once had a school, a detail Holmes utilizes later in the novella. When Holmes checks up on this fact, he is able to construct a sound explanation for the case and establish a motive for Stapleton. Some of the most seemingly innocent and unrelated statements help Holmes crack the mystery of the hound on the moor.

    Stapleton catches sight of a butterfly and rushes off to capture the insect with his net, citing the species genus name. Stapleton creates a convincing character of a bookish, harmless entomologist living on the moor. Due to his innocuous appearance, no one suspects Stapleton as the culprit in the case and as the conniving architect of evil he is.


    What did Stapleton tell Dr Watson about the moor?

    As they walk through the moors, Stapleton tells Watson that the ground in this area is not stable: there are bogs and marshes all over the place. Stapleton warns that, if Watson went into the Mire on his own, he would probably drown in the swamp. The two men hear a long, low howl over the moor.

    What does Stapleton say brought him out on the moor?

    What ides Stapleton say brought him out on the moor? He heard screams and became concerned about Sir Henry because he had invited him over. How did Seldon die?

    What did Mr Stapleton do?

    Watson may not be aware of the truth, but Stapleton has just revealed what he did to kill Sir Charles Baskerville: He used Sir Charles Baskerville’s heart condition to scare him to death with an embellished real-life hound.

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