HALLOWEEN 2017: BY RACHEL KOVACINY
I can still remember the first time I read an entire, unabridged Sherlock Holmes adventure. I must have been about thirteen and knew I loved mysteries. I’d been devouring books about Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew for years, and my appetite for fictional crime-solving adventures just kept growing.
I’d read two abridged Sherlock Holmes stories in the Great Illustrated Classics I was fond of. So I knew a little bit about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Enough to know I wanted to read more. And then one day, while perusing the stacks at our little hometown public library, I found a great big hardcover called The Hound of the Baskervilles with a lurid green cover featuring a terrifying, slavering fiend of a dog. I put that book back on the shelf. I’ve just never been good at handling scary stories, and that cover alone seemed destined to cause me nightmares.
But I wanted to read more Sherlock Holmes stories. And I’d heard somewhere that The Hound of the Baskervilles was one of the best books about him. So I looked through the library shelves again the next week, hoping they had a different copy with a less frightening front cover. It’s possible they had another copy. I don’t remember anymore. All I remember is toting home that big book and hiding the scary cover from my little brother so he wouldn’t freak out about it. And I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as I read it. It’s still my favorite book in the canon. I’ve read no other mystery with quite the same heady mix of atmosphere, intrigue, and excitement.
For twenty years, I’ve remembered that hardcover copy and the horrible hound that graced it. Whenever I think of that story, that weird, putrid green cover comes to mind. Try as I might, I can’t track down a copy of that same edition. In fact, I can’t find any trace of its existence at all! I’ve found a book similar to what I remember, so big it could almost be a coffee-table book. It has The Hound of the Baskervilles and other Sherlock Holmes stories in it, but the cover features Holmes and Watson, not the hound. It’s kind of a greenish-grey, not putrid green. And it’s definitely not terrifying.
Did I imagine the cover of the book I read? Have I been mis-remembering it all these years? Did I conflate some other illustration with the greenish-grey cover of this other collection?
Perhaps the power of A. Conan Doyle’s storytelling is so great I mixed his descriptions of the hound with the book cover in my mind. I tried going back to that library and looking through their stacks to see if they still possessed the copy I remember, but to no avail. Either I dreamed it up, or they got rid of it. I don’t know.
But I know I’ve loved the Sherlock Holmes stories ever since reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, no matter what the cover may have looked like. I have thrilled to his adventures whether they took place on the foggy streets of London or the vacant moors. I’ve imagined myself navigating the deceptive, decorous, dangerous world he slipped through with ease. I’ve read Sherlock Holmes pastiches, literary analyses of the canon, and non-fiction accounts of the fictional world he inhabited. I’ve watched a multitude of filmed adaptations of his stories. And I’ve returned to the canon time and again, eager to revisit the characters I love.
Always, I search used bookstores, thrift stores, and the internet, trying to find that distinctive edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles I remember so vividly. Maybe I’ll find it one day. Maybe it never existed. But either way, I will always look back on that first reading with a little shiver of anticipatory excitement as I remember turning the pages and beginning my adventure as a fan of Sherlock Holmes.