“Exactly. I fancy the yew alley, though not marked under that name, must stretch along this line, with the moor, as you perceive, upon the right of it. This small clump of buildings here is the hamlet of Grimpen, where our friend Dr Mortimer has his headquarters. Within a radius of five miles there are, as you see, only a very few scattered dwellings. Here is Lafter Hall, which was mentioned in the narrative. There is a house indicated here which may be the residence of the naturalist — Stapleton, if I remember right, was his name. Here are two moorland farmhouses, High Tor and Foulmire. Then fourteen miles away the great convict prison of Princetown. Between and around these scattered points extends the desolate, lifeless moor. This, then, is the stage upon which tragedy has been played, and upon which we may help to play it again.”


In viewing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles through the lens of names, we can glean a great many hints about the type of story being told and the world the story is set in simply from the names Conan Doyle gives to his characters, towns, and buildings. That is, before we learn anything about the particulars of what happens on the moors, the names Conan Doyle uses to set the scene give hints about what’s to come.


For example, one of the farmhouses is called Foulmire, and we later hear a great deal about the mire from Stapleton himself in a later chapter. In addition to that, the name Foulmire is very Gothic and in keeping with the tone of the story. Foul means offensive to the senses, and it may also be a Macbeth reference, for Conan Doyle, a well-educated, literary individual, would surely have read Macbeth–and The Hound of the Baskervilles itself has a very similar setting to the Scottish play. The name also echoes of the famous lines of Macbeth, “Fair is foul and foul is fair” could be a hint, as befits a good mystery story, that things are not always as they seem.


The other farmhouse is called High Tor, tor meaning a rocky hill, and that makes that house (by name at least) the direct opposite of Foulmire–a mire would be found in a valley, between tors, and the words foul and high can be construed as opposites, in the sense that “foul” is a low-sounding word, and that “high” is much more lofty.


Also consider the name of the hamlet–Grimpengrim meaning, well, grim–dark, foreboding, unwelcoming–and pen meaning a pen, a fenced-in area. A finite space. Pen in this sense is usually used to mean an enclosure for animals–like, say, a certain hound. A pen is also a prison, and there is an actual prison fourteen miles from where the story takes place–Princetown. This establishment has significance in the narrative because we later learn there’s an escaped convict running around on the moors. Also, a ghostly monstrous dog in English folklore is called a grim. So Grimpen is literally a pen for a grim.

I’ll wrap this post up by talking about death-related symbolism, because it appears in two counts here and is rather more heavy handed. First off, yew trees, especially in British literature, are strongly associated with death, often being found in graveyards–not to mention that every part of them is poisonous–so the yew alley could be easily interpreted as an alley of death. The last name I want to touch on is Mortimer–mort meaning death and mer meaning sea. This sinister-sounding name implies that the seemingly helpful Dr. Mortimer may not be as much of an ally as he seems.