Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Student Question

What are the mood and tone of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story "How It Happened"?

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The mood of the story "How It Happened" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with its nighttime setting and car out of control, is one of fear and foreboding. The tone, however, is detached and light-hearted, reflecting that the narrator is dead and no longer attached to the concerns of the earth.

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The tone of the story's narrator in "How It Happened" is factual and light-hearted, creating a jarring contrast with the mood of fear and foreboding that accompanies the nighttime setting and the car hurtling towards a terrible crash.

We don't know at first why a "medium" is writing down this story, but the tale is told largely in a factual, dispassionate way. For example, the narrator states that

Claystall one of the worst hills in England, a mile and a half long and one in six in places, with three fairly sharp curves.

This sounds like a description in a police report. Even when the narrator describes his fear, he does it in a detached tone:

When I put all my weight on my side-brake, and the lever clanged to its full limit without a catch, it brought a cold sweat out of me.

The mood, however, is one of foreboding. It is late at night when the narrator arrives at the station. We feel a sense of unease as the chauffeur, Perkins, advises the narrator that it might not be a good idea to drive the car:

"The gears are not the same," said he. "Perhaps, sir, I had better drive."

As the gears get stuck, the brakes fail, and the car careens at breakneck speed down the hill and towards the gates of the house, the mood of fear and foreboding increases dramatically. We can anticipate the horror of the crash:

The wheels were whirring like a high wind and the big body creaking and groaning with the strain.


I whirled round my wheel with all the strength of my wrists. Perkins and I threw our bodies across, and then the next instant, going at fifty miles an hour...

The car does crash, adding horror to the mood. We still are filled with foreboding, wondering what will happen to the two men in the car. As it happens, the narrator is killed, which is why the story is dictated to a medium. The narrator being dead also explains the tone of detachment, indicating that he is no longer part of the earth and its concerns.

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