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.