Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is remembered for his stories of Sherlock Holmes and the Lost World. A new biography tries to reconcile these seemingly highly logical writings with his unshakeable belief in fairies and the supernatural.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an action man. Football, ice skating, skiing, bodybuilding, and golf, you name it, he did it and usually well. A physical giant with energy to spare and the spirit of the true adventurer, he had been on an Arctic whaler and on top of the pyramids. He was one of the first motor car enthusiasts and once wrote an outraged letter to the Daily Mail after being caught in one of the earliest speed traps. And the Daily Mail hasn’t progressed an inch in its world view since then.
Conan Doyle also flew a biplane, played the banjo, studied medicine, and practiced as a doctor. He stood for parliament, was friends with Houdini, Oscar Wilde, and Lloyd George. He tended a terminally ill wife while squiring a young mistress, and he campaigned against slavery in the Congo. Besides of which, he managed to turn out Sherlock Holmes stories by the dozen, as well as The Lost World and numerous other fiction and science fiction stories; on top of that all, the produced piles and piles of very bad poetry.
And if that all was not enough, he had ample time to concern himself with the weird and the wonderful. He was absolutely convinced that occultism was the most important development of the time and that the spiritualist movement would open up new ways to understand the world and science. He also championed one of the weirdest ideas ever, a Channel Tunnel from France to England.
But he loved a good séance, with moving chairs, ghostly appearances, and rapping on the wall preferably with some ectoplasm thrown in for good measure. His preoccupation with all this led him to endorse the spoof photographs of fairies appearing in his time. Produced by two girls in their garden in Cottingley, Yorkshire, with the help of cardboard cut-outs, they were seemingly good enough for him to proclaim them genuine.
But that was not the pinnacle by far. He managed to outshine even Hugh Trevor-Roper and his Hitler Diaries disaster. He widely promoted Oscar Wilde’s last book as his absolute masterpiece. The book was certainly remarkable in its way as it was written by Wilde no less than 23 years after his death by means of dictating it to a medium through an Ouija board. Someone else might call this a fake.
Conversations With Arthur Conan Doyle by Simon Parke was published by White Crow Books. The book is set up as an interview with Parke’s questions being answered by Conan Doyle through his writing be it fictional, biographical, or polemical. It might work for some people to go at the problem that way; but I can’t say it did it for me. I found the book very tedious to read, though it was interesting and in places unwittingly funny.
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