Tuesdays during the Twenty Weeks of Buzz will present some bit of information or background about each of my twenty books, one at a time. This is week seven, and we’re talking about The Moor, published in 1998.
For two articles by LRK on ACD, see “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” in AZ Murder Goes Classic (Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale, AZ, 1997) and the Modern Library Paperback Classics edition of Hound of the Baskervilles (Random House, October 2002.)
Step one: The iconic Holmes novel is The Hound of the Baskervilles: dramatic setting, complex players, some nice spooky happenings, with rich psychological and emotional dimensions, a deft sprinkling of “Sherlockisms,” and satisfying touches of humor.
Doyle wrote the book after eight years of silence about Sherlock Holmes, following a trip to Dartmoor where he heard a tale of ghostly hounds on the moor. His first impulse was to write the story on its own, but the combination of financial concerns and the continued importuning of his readers for more on the Great Detective led him to succumb to their requests and give the world another Holmes tale.
Step two: I had been vaguely aware of Sabine Baring-Gould for some years—indeed, one of the few books I bought as an impoverished college student was a slim volume of his concerning odd myths of the Middle Ages (which, now that I know more about the man, was probably more a product of his imagination than of anything resembling research—this is a man who wrote a book on the natural history of werewolves.) And as soon as I started looking at Dartmoor as a possible setting for the book, I came across Baring-Gould’s extensive writings on that remote stretch of south-western England, both guidebooks and novels.
With trepidation, I hunted down his biography. To my delight, I found that he was still alive in the autumn of 1923, which is where I had reached with the Russell books. However, there was no time to waste, since he would die in January of the following year. I took his memoirs from the library, and settled down to read.
As I did so, I kept hitting small pings of familiarity, although I was certain I had never laid eyes on those two sizeable volumes before. Odd episodes and images would stand out as having been seen somewhere, sometime…
And then it came to me: The name Baring-Gould also belonged to the author of the definitive biography of one Sherlock Holmes, which I had indeed read—only in this case it was W. S. Baring-Gould, Sabine’s grandson. To my amusement, W.S. had lifted those episodes and events wholesale from his grandfather’s memoirs, preserving even the wording, changing only the dates.
Well, if Baring-Gould could do it, so could King. Step three: I borrowed the grandfather, came up with a previously unknown link between that curmudgeonly old man and Holmes, then moved Holmes and Russell to the country house at the edge of Dartmoor that Baring-Gould had rebuilt in the image of an Elizabethan manor. I went to Dartmoor, explored the setting, listened to the people, stayed at Lewtrenchard Manor.
And then I sat down and wrote The Moor. And as I was writing, I realized that there were overtones to the meaning of “moor” that I might play with: A moor is a place of bleak terrain and peculiar markings, but it is a man of exotic ethnicity (for that portion of twenties England.) And as for that Moorland public house, the Saracen’s Head…