Dr. Watson, paralyzed by fear, looked ahead at “… the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon [him] from the shadows of the fog. A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen” (Doyle 216).
Can this dreaded hound actually exist? Sherlock Holmes doubts it, but Dr. Mortimer believes it does in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. This contrast between natural and supernatural presents itself as the main theme of the novel. Dr. Mortimer, a family physician, approaches Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with a case in which the two sleuths must determine if the curse of the Baskerville family is real or not. These two, constantly facing the difference between truth and fantasy, agree to take the case. Through characterization, the theme of natural versus supernatural propels the reader further into the novel.
Characterization relates to the theme and reinforces it by displaying what each of the characters feel about whether or not the hound of the Baskervilles does or does not exist. Dr. Mortimer, a friend of Holmes comes to visit him. The two discuss the existence of a hound, and Mortimer, believing in the supernatural beast, states, “‘There is a realm in which the most acute and most experienced of detectives is helpless’” (36).
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Mortimer doubts the abilities of Sherlock Holmes in this case because the supernatural hound may exist. Holmes, however, not fully believing this beast to be supernatural, still cautions Sir Henry Baskerville to be careful. Holmes looked up at him and said, “‘[b]ear in mind, Sir Henry, one of the phrases in that queer old legend which Dr. Mortimer has read to us and avoid the moor in those hours of darkness when the powers of evil are exalted’” (80).
Holmes later says to Watson, “‘[k]eep your revolver near you night and day, and never relax your precautions’” (79).
Holmes doubts the fears all others exhibit, but remains on guard anyway because he believes “‘[a]n investigator needs facts and not legends or rumours’” (192).
Watson also does not quite know what to believe about the mystery. Sometimes he thinks a supernatural beast may exist, and other times he does not believe it. When recollecting on the past day, Watson contemplates of the warning Miss Stapleton gives to him and thinks it may hold some terrible meaning behind it (107).
Watson continues to question the truth behind the curse. In his diary, Watson writes, “I am conscious myself of a weight at my heart and a feeling of impending danger–ever present danger, which is the more terrible because I am unable to define it” (146).
An example of Sir Henry believing in the curse occurs when he and the baronet hear the sound of an animal upon the moor. Sir Henry thinks it is the hound. Suddenly, “[Watson’s] blood ran cold in [his] veins, for there was a break in [Henry’s] voice which told of the sudden horror which had seized [Sir Henry]” (139).
Sir Henry believes in the mystical nature of the hound, but tries not to. Later, Holmes returns and elevates Sir Henry’s fear by saying, “‘[Watson and I] heard the hound on the moor, so I can swear that it is not all empty superstition’” (198).
Lestrade, a local detective, also believes that a hound exists in the moor. When he walks with Holmes and Watson, “… he glanced continually over either shoulder, like a man who is ill at ease” (215).
The primary theme of The Hound of the Baskervilles, natural versus supernatural, portrays itself in the different characters throughout the novel.
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As the reader reads the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, natural versus supernatural becomes a prevalent theme. In the end, Holmes proves the hound, while not supernatural, does exist in the real world. Throughout The Hound of the Baskervilles, Doyle utilizes characterization to exemplify his main theme, natural versus supernatural.