Two days after Halloween, I’m still in a spooky mood.
That’s because I’m in the afterglow of the Oct. 29 meeting of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. Many of us wore costumes, the story of the evening was “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,” Vincent Wright talked about mass murderer H.H. Holmes, and Leslie Klinger brilliantly held forth on the undead.
All of this was appropriate for a Sherlockian group. Arthur Conan Doyle masterfully evoked a Gothic mood with his word portraits in more than a dozen Holmes stories. For example, here’s how he has Dr. Watson describe Stoke Moran in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”:
“The building was of gray, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin.”
This picturesque description employs both nouns and adjectives to paint a haunting word portrait of a house the Addams Family could love. Nouns used to similar effect in other stories include decay, ghost, curse, soul, fate, secret, fiend, supernatural, hell-hound, monster, devil, lunacy, lunatic, menace, shadow, despair, demon, Satan, terror, horror, fear, shock, delirium, freight, danger, gloom, darkness, and night.
Spooky adjectives adding to the chills in the Canon include menacing, malignant, ill-omened, spectral, weird, wicked, furtive, crazy, horror-struck, unnatural, distorted, grim, haunted, deadly, bleak, hysterical, delirious, demented, hellish, horrible, mysterious, devilish, diabolical, lonely, terrified, singular, strange, creeping, extraordinary, somber, depressing, dangerous, maniacal, melancholy, inexplicable, devil-ridden, deformed, dark, sinister, fantastic, medieval, monstrous, bizarre, and (perhaps my favorite) grotesque.
Coming from the Ernest Hemingway school of writing, I try not to use adjectives and adverbs as much as strong nouns and verbs in my own writing. But in Conan Doyle’s hands they are very, very effective.