A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is classic Holmes and Watson, and also free of some of the more problematical content that crops up elsewhere in the Sherlock canon (e.g. the famous 7 percent solution of cocaine). Probably more cerebral and less spooky than its many movie treatments, it's still effective at evoking an atmosphere of foreboding, which may be an issue for more sensitive kids. This edition also includes the original illustrations that accompanied the story when it was first serialized in The Strand, a nice atmospheric period detail.
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What's the story?
Sir Henry Baskerville, a young man recently arrived from North America to take possession of the estate of his uncle, who's died suddenly, seeks the counsel and protection of Sherlock Holmes. The wealthy Sir Charles apparently died fleeing in terror from an unknown enemy; meanwhile, Sir Henry himself is receiving mysterious threats, perhaps related to a Baskerville family curse involving an innocent maiden, a reprobate ancestor, and a vengeful hound. Holmes, busy with other affairs, sends the faithful Dr. Watson to the country to keep watch over Sir Henry and send back reports, which are soon flowing with accounts of the gloomy moor and surroundings. Among the cast: Dr. Mortimer, the eccentric country practitioner; the enigmatic Barrymores, who have has been servants to the Baskervilles for generations; Stapleton and his ubiquitous butterfly net, not to mention his sister, who quickly becomes Sir Henry's romantic interest. Meanwhile a murderer has escaped from the nearby prison and is loose on the moor, spine-chilling howls are heard at night by sober men, and Watson and Sir Henry are more nervous than they care to admit. Surprise revelations and terrifying moments ensue before Holmes brings things to a generally safe conclusion.
Is it any good?
There's a pretty good case to be made that this is Holmes at his finest; in any case, it's a great introduction to the master detective and his faithful chronicler. The plot moves along at a good pace, the quality of the writing is excellent (even if Watson and Doyle are a bit wordy by today's standards), and none of the potential pitfalls that crop up elsewhere in the canon and might require parental intervention, from Mormon-bashing to drug use, is in evidence here. Holmes and Watson are well portrayed and have some classic, character-defining interactions.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about detectives and how they solve problems. How did Sherlock Holmes figure out the true nature of the threat to Sir Henry and the identity of the villain?
What do you think about the idea of a family curse? Do you think they're real? How might the idea of a family curse be used to manipulate people in ways other than in this story?
Do you think Holmes and Watson might have done a better job of protecting Sir Henry? How?
One of the great scenes in this story involves Holmes looking at the portraits of Baskerville ancestors in the hallway of the mansion and seeing their resemblance to his contemporaries. What stories come to mind when you look at photos of your ancestor? What living family members do they remind you of?
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