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The Hound of the Baskervilles

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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What is the role of the moor in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

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The role of the moor in The Hound of the Baskervilles is to act as both a setting and an antagonist. It provides the dark, gloomy setting against which the action takes place. But it also serves as a protagonist in that it provides a number of very serious challenges to Holmes and Watson in solving this most perplexing mystery.

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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.

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In Arthur Conan Doyle's 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 image of a moor can carry a negative connotation in literature.

The moor in Doyle's 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.

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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, Holmes's 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.

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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.

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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 does the moor play a major role in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

The moor in The Hound of the Baskervilles serves not only as the setting for the story, but as an antagonist as well. The wide open spaces of the moor, combined with the history surrounding Baskerville Hall and the danger of the nearby Great Grimpen Mire, come together to create an eerie setting that helps give life to the legend of the hound. More importantly, the extent of the moor provides Holmes and Watson with sufficient challenges in solving the crime to make the landscape as much an antagonist as Stapleton himself.

The moor surrounding Baskerville Hall is large and dangerous. It is shrouded in legend and mystery, including the tale of Hugo Baskerville's demise by supernatural hound, the ancient ruins, and the menace of the Great Grimpen Mire. These elements result in an eerie setting that provides Stapleton both the geography and atmosphere to put in place his plan to kill Charles Baskerville, and later to try to kill Henry Baskerville. He is able to use the space to train and hide the hound, and he uses the legend to terrify his victims. 

But the moor is more than just the setting to Stapleton's plot against the Baskerville heirs. It serves as an antagonist to both Holmes and Watson as they lead their separate investigations. The space itself is one issue, as the expansive areas of the moor and the separation between neighbors results in difficulty finding clues and eyewitness accounts. It also impedes Holmes as he attempts to locate the hound. Finally, the fact that the moor provides ample places to hide, especially among the ancient ruins, is particularly problematic for Watson's investigation as he is sidetracked by the escaped convict who is using the moor to hide. 

Thus, in addition to being responsible for the eerie feel and much of the danger in the story, the moor also serves to misdirect Watson and impede Holmes's ability to find clues and put together the solution to the mystery. It serves not just as the setting of the story, but a character in its own right, one that stands in the way of Holmes and Watson and slows their progress.

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