The late Victorian setting of The Hound of the Baskervilles is an orderly one. In it, each person has a role to fill, and when every role is suitably filled, society prospers. But the social order is endangered by those bent on its destruction, and the villains come in many disguises.
The opening scenes place Sherlock Holmes in the comfortable surroundings of his home at 221B Baker Street in London. But quickly the action shifts to the dreary “Grippen Mire,” a vast moor or bog-marsh area of England. This bleak and deserted wasteland provides a startling contrast to Holmes’s refined London world. Reason seems to break down, and the atmosphere becomes eerie when it appears that a supernatural creature is responsible for the terrifying happenings on the moors. Conan Doyle carefully recreates both the Baskerville family history and the outlying areas around Baskerville Hall. The myth of the hound itself is reproduced through Dr. Mortimer’s efforts and acts as necessary background.
As the story progress, the Grimpen Mire comes to symbolize an ominous mire of evil, where, to his horror, Dr. Watson hears the panic-stricken cries of moor ponies, captured by the muck that lurks beneath the deceptive vegetation. One false step means death, both in the moor where what looks like solid ground may suddenly give way and in a society where a seeming friend could be a clever murderer, or even a demon with a frighteningly huge hound at his command. For Holmes, the setting becomes as much of a clue to the nature of the crime as other physical clues. The middle passages of The Hound of the Baskervilles are among the most suspenseful in literature in large part because of the unrelieved atmosphere of doom that surrounds the well-drawn, appealing characters of Watson, Sir Henry, and Holmes.