Sherlock Holmes versus The Supernatural

29 Sep

Sherlock Holmes, the most celebrated private investigator in all of literature, famously shunned all suggestion of supernatural agency (as he told his companion Dr John Watson on more than one occasion “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”). Despite this, a surprising number of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the great detective start with strong hints that something uncanny is at work, most obviously The Sussex Vampire, The Devil’s Foot, The Creeping Man and, of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles. There is also the famous missing, though oft-mentioned by Holmes, adventure of The Giant Rat of Sumatra. In the end, however, these seemingly supernatural accounts are always rationalised and we are left with the comforting knowledge that all can be explained, that there is no darkness too deep to be illuminated by the light of intellect and reason. Whilst this may the case with Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, however, it was not the case with all of his short fiction.

The fame of the great detective has, perhaps understandably, overshadowed much of Doyle’s other writing, in particular his contribution to supernatural fiction. Doyle had always been fascinated by ghosts, haunted houses, sepulchral voices, materialisations and mysterious lights and he turned this fascination into a number of short stories that featured scientific enquiry into the supernatural, especially the new cult of spiritualism. An example of this is Playing with Fire (click to read!), which is the tale of a medium, Mrs Delamere, and something that she conjures up when a straightforward seance goes wrong. What begins as a light-hearted tale darkens considerably towards the end and perhaps reflects Doyle’s own convictions by containing a barely concealed warning about the dangers of meddling in a foolish, ignorant fashion with the perils of the unknown. If you enjoy this story then I’d recommend reading some of Doyle’s other tales of unease, such as The Ring of Thoth and Lot 249 (the archetypal mummy tales, which inspired both Universal and Hammer studios’ versions of The Mummy), the elegiac The Captain of the ‘Polestar’ and the terrifying The Nightmare Room.

No consideration of Doyle’s interest in the paranormal would be complete, however, without mentioning his role in the famous case of the Cottingley fairies. A sensation was caused in 1917 when fairy-like beings had seemingly been captured on film in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley in Yorkshire, England. The pictures came to the attention of Doyle, who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine, in which most of his Sherlock Holmes stories had also been published. As a spiritualist, Doyle was enthusiastic about the photographs, and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of supernatural phenomena. Public reaction to the case was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, but others believed they had been faked. To the end of his days Doyle remained a believer but in this case, unfortunately, he was wrong – in the early 1980s Elsie and Frances themselves admitted that the photographs were faked using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children’s book of the time. Interestingly, however, Frances continued to claim that the fifth and final photograph was genuine…

Going back to Sherlock Holmes, if the concept of the great detective confronting things outside the realm of human experience intrigues you, then I’d hugely recommend that you seek out the anthology Shadows Over Baker Street, in which Doyle’s most famous creation enters the nightmare world of H P Lovecraft. This splendid collection of stories by modern writers is well worth a read by fans of detective and horror fiction alike, if only for Neil Gaiman’s brilliant A Study in Emerald – perhaps the finest Holmes story not to be written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

About these ads

2 Responses to “Sherlock Holmes versus The Supernatural”

  1. kxw116 December 19, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    What an interesting collection of stories you’ve collected here in just a few months! I’m so pleased you stopped by my blog and am glad to have found your blog in return. I’ve recently been very interested in Sherlock Homes, watching some older Sherlock Holmes movies as well as the new TV show Sherlock. As a result, I found this post especially interesting :)

  2. game of thrones season 2 June 3, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    I believe that is one of the so much important information for me.
    And i am happy reading your article. But want to commentary on few
    general things, The web site taste is wonderful, the articles is truly nice
    : D. Excellent job, cheers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Snapping Twig

for the THRIVE ART CREATIVE

A Round of Words in 80 Days

The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have A Life

Elizabeth Willse: Surrounded by Books

Writer, Book Blogger, Library Science Student

Armand Rosamilia

Official Site for Horror Author Armand Rosamilia

Maurice Sapiro

TONALIST AND REPRESENTATIONAL FINE ART

But Is It Art?

Pictures by Declan O'Doherty

In Flow

Creativity is within us all

Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

A blog dedicated to reviewing books, since they are "the cheapest vacation you can buy," as Charlaine Harris once said.

Joshi Daniel Photography | Images Of People

Photoblog of Images of People by Joshi Daniel

Source of Inspiration

All is One, co-creating with the Creator

Still Striving For that Elusive Halo

Thoughts, photographs and recipes of an Episcopal priest

Nicola's Photo Blog

Just another 365 project

National Trust Going Green

Fit for the Future “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Walt Disney

Cindy's Art Blog

Life-Inspired Original Paintings by Cindy Williams

Words And Peace

my book reviews and good books to read

Sagacity

The ramblings of a pilgrim through time, space, and life.

StillWalks

Bringing the outside in - beautiful walks anytime, anywhere

Mark My Words...

Peace, Love and Wordiness.

Whatever

MIGHT BE LOST BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Matt on Not-WordPress

Stuff and things.

IDeary

"Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth" -Albert Camus

Captain Maybe

Miscellaneous musings on life, literature and lots of other stuff

Stalking Fiction: Monica Enderle Pierce

Creating Incomparable Worlds and Characters

Hooked on Books!

My obsession with the literary word....

A Tone of Seriality

goes great with milk!

roughwighting

Life in a flash - a weekly blog on daily living

Legal Matters

The University of Southampton law society magazine

The Chautauquan Daily

The official newspaper of Chautauqua Institution

John R Childress . . . Rethinking

thoughts and experiences of life, business, parenting and flyfishing

Games From Folktales

Roleplaying games from historical research

PuppyChat

Getting the most out of the South African Lifestyle

A Fuzzy Mango With Wings

My name is Ari. I am a writer. My nickname is a hirsute fruit. These are my ramblings.

Thoughts on Military History

The musings of an Aviation Historian

PLUNDER AND SALVAGE

Michael Blackburn. Poet. Writer.

History for Today

... a study of the past

kendavidstewart.com

Just another WordPress.com site

Hayley's Horror Reviews

...I have such sights to show you from the latest & past in Horror...

Oddbox Comics

Comics, Fun, and Games

I READ GOOD

and a lot

Spontaneous Combustion

The Ramblings of Grant Wamack-dreamer,writer,artist.

Allallt in discussion

Some of the ideas bouncing around my otherwise hollow head.

X-Communicated

A Step-By-Misstep Guide to Going from Bad to Worse

inversorblog

investments and media

Beatles Blog

Adventures in collecting Beatles music

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,422 other followers

%d bloggers like this: