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Audio & Video Workouts Awareness: Awareness includes focusing consideration training the athletes had improved. In his lifetime Conan Doyle endured no small measure of derision a€” a€?Is Conan Doyle Mad?a€? asked one newspaper headline a€” but for him Spiritualism would become a matter of faith. Kelvin Jones and Joe Cooper have both attempted to bring a sense of history and context to Conan Doylea€™s spirit crusade.
With the exception of John Lamond, himself a committed Spiritualist, Conan Doylea€™s previous biographers have all been skeptics and disbelievers. Charles Higham, who devotes considerable space to Conan Doylea€™s spirit crusade, takes a similarly delicate stance.
These brickbats seems unduly harsh when measured against the depth of feeling expressed so eloquently in Conan Doylea€™s many works on Spiritualism. That I am perfectly certain is surely demonstrated by the mere fact that I have abandoned my congenial and lucrative work, left my home for long periods at a time, and subjected myself to all sorts of inconveniences, losses, and even insults, in order to get the facts home to the people .
All fine-drawn theories of the subconscious go to pieces before the plain statement of the intelligence, a€?I am a spirit. One may disagree with Conan Doyle about spirits, psychic photographs and fairies, but one cannot doubt the strength of his convictions or the purity of his motives.
In Conan Doyle and the Spirits, Kelvin Jones traces the development of Conan Doylea€™s beliefs from his childhood in Edinburgh through his worldwide campaign to spread the a€?vital message.a€? Jones gives a careful accounting of Conan Doylea€?s rejection of Catholicism, his first tentative experimentations as a young doctor in Southsea, his public declaration of belief and the experiments and lecture tours which dominated his last years.
By surveying Conan Doylea€™s entire life, Jones effectively lays to rest the persistent notion that he turned to Spiritualism for solace following the bereavements of World War I. It is possible that, in devoting so much attention to Conan Doylea€™s early life, Jones has cast his net too wide. Of a€?John Barrington Cowles,a€? we are told: a€?It seems clear that at this period of his life Conan Doyle saw the relationship between the conscious and the subconscious in terms of an inexorable battle for control between the male and female aspects of personality.
Not every reader will agree with such statements, and the edges begin to fray when Jones revives the notorious alimentary interpretation of a€?The Leather Funnel,a€? the short story in which a leather funnel is revealed by psychic means to have been a torture device, employed to force a vast quantity of water into the villainous Marquise de Brunvilliers.
The book comes on to firmer ground as the mature Conan Doyle, no longer a struggling doctor and writer, but now a celebrated author and public figure, becomes a public champion of the Spiritualist movement. Even as Conan Doylea€™s commitment deepens, Jones is careful to demonstrate that his powers of discernment remained intact. One must allow, however, that on occasion Conan Doylea€™s ostensible skepticism was simply a rhetorical device.
Jones himself appears open-minded on the subject of psychic phenomena, though he is even-handed in his presentation. A similar cloud hangs over the sensitive topic of Lady Conan Doylea€™s talent for automatic writing.
The issue of Lady Conan Doylea€™s mediumship crops up again during the notorious Atlantic City seance with Harry Houdini in 1922. The Atlantic City seance all but derailed Conan Doylea€™s friendship with Houdini, but Jones gives only scant attention to the unhappy fallout from the affair. Conan Doylea€™s Spiritualist activities during this period left little time for fiction, so the publication of The Land of Mist, serialized in The Strand Magazine in 1925, is especially notable.
Jones goes on to point out a similarity between Professor Challenger and Joseph McCabe of the Rationalist Association, whom Conan Doyle had debated in a public forum in 1920.
By this time Conan Doyle had developed a thick skin, which proved fortunate as the press became more and more antagonistic. Actually, it was not only the a€?camp followers of conventiona€? who questioned Conan Doylea€™s views. Jones says nothing of this friendly fire, though such jabs undoubtedly influenced Conan Doylea€™s ultimate resignation from the SPR following a quarrel with editor Theodore Besterman. Jonesa€™s reticence on some of these points is understandable; Conan Doyle has taken plenty of heat from other writers for his Spiritualistic beliefs. Whatever onea€™s personal views, Jones cuts to the heart of the matter when he says, a€?It would perhaps be more profitable to address the question why Arthur Conan Doyle chose spiritualism as his most deeply felt cause.a€? Conan Doyle and the Spirits does not adequately address this knotty question a€” the book has only two pages left to run when Jones poses it a€” but he has made a solid start, and opened the door to a fascinating and necessary field of inquiry. In September of 1981, at a snack bar in Canterbury, 74-year-old Frances Griffith turned to Joe Cooper and said, a€?From where I was, I could see the hatpins holding up the figures. By all rights, this should have been the end of the notorious episode of the Cottingley fairies, which so captured the worlda€™s attention sixty years earlier. The Coming of the Fairies, as even Conan Doyle himself would acknowledge, did little to enhance his reputation. Cooper also gives a spirited history of fairy folklore to illustrate that Conan Doylea€™s position was not unprecedented, and he demonstrates that Conan Doyle was not the only great man to hold such views.
Conan Doylea€™s initial resistance to the first of the fairy pictures seems to have crumbled before the assurances of photography expert Harold Snelling. Snellinga€™s authentication did nothing to turn aside the avalanche of ridicule which followed publication of the photographs. Needless to say, that new vista has yet to open, so it is left to the final portion of Coopera€™s book to bring the story up to date.
This is, however, a fascinating and valuable book, and one which may light the way to further examination of this strange cul de sac of Conan Doylea€™s Spiritualist crusade. This article was written in 1998, at a time when I was awash in research for Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle, which appeared the following year.
For all of the attention given to the subject, however, a number of misconceptions persist. And while wea€™re at it, please stop telling me that Conan Doyle believed in fairies because hea€™d been duped by a series of faked photographs.
Over the years I have tried to approach these subjects in a spirit of understanding rather than derision, and I have made an effort to keep my mind open to the beliefs of others.
Charles Higham, who devotes considerable space to Conan Doylea€™sA  spiritA  crusade, takes a similarly delicate stance. For all of the attention given to the subject, however, a number of misconceptions persist.A  Ia€™ve lost count of how many times someone has told me, usually with a knowing smile and a sad shake of the head, that Conan Doyle believed in Spiritualism because his son died in the Great War.
Conan Doyle wrote these words in a€?The Captain of the Pole-Star,a€? published in l883, he could not have known how resonant they would become. Conan Doyle and the Spirits (Aquarian Press, 1989) tracks his evolving beliefs over the course of his lifetime, while The Case of the Cottingley Fairies (Robert Hale, 1990) brings a sharp focus to the episode that did more than any other to unhinge the reputation Conan Doyle had built as a writer and a public figure.
Not surprisingly, they bring an air of strained tolerance to much of Conan Doylea€™s Spiritualist phase, and a great deal is passed over in embarrassed silence. Anticipating the deaths of Conan Doylea€™s first son and his brother in World War I, Higham declares, a€?It is fortunate that Conan Doyle became converted when he did.
Then as now, psychic investigators marveled over Conan Doylea€™s ready acceptance of even the most transparently false phenomena. In the presence of Miss Besinnet as medium and of several witnesses I have seen my mother and my nephew, young Oscar Hornung, as plainly as I ever saw them in lifea€”so plainly that I could almost have counted the wrinkles of the one and the freckles of the other .
The author, a school teacher currently living in Cornwall, fleshes out his account by drawing on the works of Conan Doylea€™s Spiritualist contemporaries, and on the archives of the Society for Psychical Research. It is certainly true that the war prompted him to go public, as Jones relates, but the foundations of his belief were already well established by this time.

Other mistakes are imported from Charles Higham; we are told once again that McClurea€™s Magazine engineered the resurrection of Sherlock Holmes, when in fact it was Colliera€™s. Conan Doylea€™s public declaration of belief in 1916 comes roughly at the booka€™s mid-point, leaving a vast amount of material to be covered in a limited space. Jones makes good use of his Spiritualist volumes and travel writings to present a lucid and interesting account of Conan Doylea€™s activities from 1916 forward.
Several times Jones shows Conan Doyle sounding a note of caution when approaching a new medium. Conan Doyle was a gifted propagandist by then, and knew the value of acknowledging an opponenta€™s view in order to strengthen his own argument.
In a few cases, however, he takes the psychic demonstrations at face value when some degree of suspicion is warranted. Earlier, Jones has quoted Sir Arthur as saying that automatic writing is the form of mediumship which must be rested most rigidly.
Jones gives a concise account of the episode, during which Lady Conan Doyle received a lengthy message from Houdinia€™s mother, Cecilia Weiss.
Within weeks the two men were attacking each other in the press a€” a€?Doyle in Denver Defies Houdini,a€? screamed one headline, to Conan Doylea€™s acute embarrassment. This is slightly misleading, since Challenger was created many years earlier, but Jonesa€™s speculation that McCabe may have influenced the later version of Challenger is entirely plausible.
Jones reports at length on the hostile reception accorded to Pheneas Speaks, a compendium of messages received through Lady Conan Doylea€™s spirit guide. Nor does Jones mention the familya€™s legal maneuvers when an account of these apocalyptic prophecies appeared in a newspaper after Conan Doylea€™s death. For the most part, Jones keeps a steady hand on the rudder, and presents both sides of each case.
Instead, as Cooper relates in The Case of the Cottingley Fairies, the confession of Frances Griffith became simply another twist in an already convoluted tale. Arthur Wright was astonished, when he developed the glass plate negative later that evening, to see a strange image emerge: young Frances peering out over a quartet of tiny winged figures.
Joe Cooper, in treating the incident as a legitimate paranormal investigation, allows Conan Doyle to keep his dignity. The Case of the Cottingley Fairies is a solid accounting of the affair, and Cooper carries it off with rare panache. The author met Elsie and Frances while filming a program about the fairies for Yorkshire Television in July 1976.
The reader may not share Coopera€™s views on the existence of fairies, but he performs an invaluable service in dispelling any lingering doubts about the photographs.
I believed at the time a€” as I do today a€” that both authors were to be commended for their open-minded treatment of Conan Doylea€™s fascination with Spiritualism. Yes, the infamous Cottingley photographs were the catalyst for his public pronouncements on the subject, but the episode cana€™t be explained away by a single instance of trickery. The reader may not share Coopera€™s views on the existence of fairies, butA  he performsA  an invaluable service in dispelling any lingering doubts about the photographs. Conan Doyle was a man of many opinions a€” some of them very strange indeed a€” and not all of his biographers have resisted the temptation to ridicule.
Both authors draw on a great wealth of knowledge about the Spiritualist movement, and Conan Doylea€™s beliefs are treated with respect. He makes particular use of Conan Doylea€™s correspondence with the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, another leading light of the Spiritualist movement.
Even after the war, however, Conan Doyle remained on his guard against phony mediums, whom he regarded as beneath contempt.
Taken individually, these mistakes arc minor enough, and no doubt some of them are simple typos, but they gather a cumulative force as the book goes along.
While Jones is right to emphasize that Conan Doylea€™s beliefs took hold early, this approach leaves him in the awkward position of giving equal weight to two unequal segments of his life a€” the early phase, in which he was a mere dabbler, and the later one, when he became the worlda€™s most outspoken champion of the cause. This ambiguity only serves to heighten the sense of sexual perversity which runs through the narrative.a€? This interpretation, it seems fair to say, has not gained any luster since Charles Higham unleashed it in The Adventures of Conan Doyle.
Conan Doylea€™s own accounts are supplemented by material from Light, Two Worlds, and other Spiritualist journals of the day. In a few cases of suspected trickery, Conan Doyle appears to have been too polite to make a public declaration of fraud.
We learn, for instance, that Conan Doyle was amazed when a particular medium referred to his departed loved ones as a€?Kingsleya€? and a€?Innes,a€? the names used within the immediate family. He then carefully records that Lady Conan Doyle was introduced to automatic writing by her friend Lily Loder-Symonds, who subsequently died, and that Lady Conan Doyle was reluctant to attempt it herself for fear that any messages she produced might emanate from her own subconscious. In Conan Doylea€™s view, this message was unquestionably a€?evidential.a€? Better still, Houdini himself had manifested psychic power by jotting down the name a€?Powell,a€? which Conan Doyle took to be a sign from the late Dr.
Two years later, Houdini presented his side of the episode in his book A Magician Among the Spirits. When Pheneas began to warn of an impending global apocalypse, voices of dissent could be heard in Conan Doylea€™s own camp. In some instances, however, he leaves an open verdict on mediums who probably do not warrant his good faith.
From the very beginning, many who saw the images agreed with the curt dismissal of Arthur Wright. Given his well-documented interest in otherworldly affairs, it seems only natural that the images should have captured his attention.
Cooper, whose other books include The Mystery of Telepathy and Modern Psychic Experiences, approaches the Cottingley incident with appreciable caution. At times he seems to be mugging for the cameras a€” a€?Ia€™m a foiled songA­and-dance man,a€? he tells Frances at one stage, a€?with a dash of the cheery thug intellectuala€? a€” but his facts are in order.
In hindsight, it is clear that this confidence was misplaced, but Snellinga€™s ringing endorsement gave ammunition to the girlsa€™ supporters: a€?These two negatives are entirely genuine and unfaked photographs of single exposure, open air work, show movement in all fairy figures, and there is no trace whatever of studio work involving card or paper models, dark backgrounds, painted figures, etc. One newspaper photograph showed him with fairies buzzing around his head, another suggested that at the crisis of Peter Pan, when Peter exhorts the audience to revive the dying Tinkerbell, the loudest shouts of a€?I do believe in fairies!a€? would be Conan Doylea€™s. At the time, the two women had stuck to their story for more than half a century, and Cooper had no reason to suppose they would recant at this late stage.
Cooper provides a thorough examination of Conan Doylea€™s role in the affair, but the underlying reasons for his belief are not addressed a€” and it seems reasonable to say that Cooper, the genial fairy enthusiast, is not the best candidate for the job. Conan Doyle knew more than most men of his time about camera techniques, having been interested in photography since his student days.
In November of 1999, shortly after Teller of Tales appeared, I received an angry letter from a gentleman who had attended Conan Doylea€™s memorial service at the Royal Albert Hall some seventy years earlier. His devotion to the cause of Spiritualism has always presented a challenge to those who would understand his life. Many readers will find these accounts inclining too much toward the Spiritualist viewpoint, but both men bring a fair measure of objectivity to the endeavor. These letters, currently housed at Cambridge, offer useful glimpses of a less guarded Conan Doyle, expressing his enthusiasm over a new medium, or his distress over an anti-Spiritualist attack.

At every opportunity Jones is careful to show that Conan Doyle retained some measure of critical perception, even after he had given himself over to the cause. This shakiness is compounded by the booka€™s index, which bears only a nodding acquaintance with the text. As a result, in the first half of the book Jones seems to be straining to find psychic significance in every nook and cranny, as be follows closely in the footsteps of Owen Dudley Edwards, Geoffrey Stavert, and Charles Higham.
It is certainly true that a macabre strain runs through much of Conan Doylea€™s early work, but possibly this owes more to Conan Doylea€™s admiration for Poe than to his unresolved sexual issues. In others, he may have believed that the medium bad simply added a few dubious flourishes to a genuine psychic display. The phenomenon becomes less impressive when it is realized that Conan Doyle often referred to them as such in print a€” especially in the psychic press.
Conan Doyle put his views forward in a two-part article in The Strand Magazine, which later found its way into his posthumous collection The Edge of the Unknown. Conan Doyle, for his part, mentioned only William Rutherford, a professor from his Edinburgh University days.) Jones also traces several episodes from the novel to Conan Doylea€™s own experiences in the seance room. Mina Crandon, William Hope, and Ada Besinnet will continue to rally their supporters as long as such matters are debated. His lecturing commitments prevented him from traveling to Cottingley, but he sent a representative, Edward Gardner of the Theosophical Society.
He also provides a great deal of new information, based on interviews and correspondence with the adult Frances and Elsie. Indeed, Cooper himself believed in the authenticity of the photos for five years, and saw himself as a gallant defender of the honor of two elderly ladies.
Not a word is said about Conan Doylea€™s Celtic background, his fathera€™s and his Uncle Richarda€™s interest in fairies and their frequent depiction of them in their artwork, or his courtly inclination to take the word of two seemingly guileless girls. In recent years wea€™ve seen any number of books that touch upon various aspects of Conan Doylea€™s psychic endeavors, and ita€™s commonplace to see him depicted in film and on television as an earnest, if perhaps overly credulous psychic investigator.
A camera and developing equipment were fixtures of his life as a young doctor, and he contributed many essays to the British Journal of Photography.
He insisted that I could not have read any of the Spiritualist books, such as The Vital Message or The New Revelation, listed in my bibliography. These letters, currently housed at Cambridge, offer useful glimpses of a less guarded Conan Doyle, expressing his enthusiasm over a new medium, orA  his distress over an anti-Spiritualist attack. Even his staunchest admirers have been troubled by his apparent credulity, and it has become a familiar refrain to wonder how the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the a€?perfect reasoning and observing machine,a€? could have given himself so wholly to a cause that appears to defy logic.
More importantly, both are careful to show that Conan Doyle was not alone in his views, and was not, as so many have supposed, a credulous old dupe.
Because the spiritual activity of Conan Doylea€™s early years is comparatively sparse, Jones scours the early fiction for signs of psychic influence.
That he continued to profess his astonishment at each recurrence is perhaps more an indication of his trusting nature a€” and his need to believe a€” than of the genuine character of the phenomenon.
Houdini, while convinced of Lady Conan Doylea€™s sincerity, had grave misgivings about the seance. He has little to say, however, about the booka€™s success or failure as a piece of psychic propaganda, or its possible impact on Conan Doylea€™s reputation. Encouraged by Gardnera€™s favorable impression of the girls, and by the reports of photographic experts, Conan Doyle used his name and influence to bring the photographs to the attention of the public. And yet, despite the first-hand confession of Frances, Cooper is a man who cheerfully admits that he does, in fact, believe in fairies. The first section of the book recounts the events from 1917, when the first photographs were taken, through the early 1920s, when Conan Doylea€™s involvement brought worldwide notoriety.
When Elsie made her confession, Cooper writes, a€?My world shifted a little and I had no words.a€? For most investigators, this would be the end of the matter.
Conan Doyle could easily have seen through the Cottingley photographs, had he been of a mind to do so. Ia€™ve read many books about paranormal phenomena, including Chariots of the Gods, Uri Geller: My Story, and any number of turgid ramblings from Aleister Crowley. As John Dickson Carr wrote, echoing the popular attitude toward Conan Doylea€™s beliefs, a€?For a quarter of a century he had loomed thick-shouldered as the sturdy Briton, with no damned nonsense about him. He offers compelling examples of how the young doctora€™s interest in telepathy and mesmerism found its way into early stories such as a€?John Barrington Cowlesa€? and a€?The Great Keinplatz Experiment,a€? and the novels The Mystery of Cloomber and The Parasite.
He noted that Lady Conan Doyle had scribbled a sign of the cross, though his mother was the wife of an Orthodox rabbi. Jones dutifully reports that Pecoraro could produce no phenomena when tied up by Harry Houdini, but the story did not end there.
He reproduced the images in The Strand Magazine, and brought out a book called The Coming of the Fairies. Like Kelvin Jones, Cooper performs a great service in emphasizing Conan Doylea€™s cautious approach to the matter.
Cooper, however, believes that Elsiea€™s admission of fraud was simply a red herring a€” a€?the device of a tired and ailing old lady not wanting to be bothered by reporters any more.a€? Not all readers will be willing to follow him down this particular garden path, but Cooper makes an elegant case. At times, however, when the psychic content is less apparent, Jones shifts to a less persuasive form of psychosexual analysis.
A year after Conan Doylea€™s death, the medium made an admission of fraud to the New York Herald Tribune under the headline a€?Nino Pecoraro, Who Helped Conan Doylea€™s faith in Mystic World, Admits Deceit.a€? Obviously Conan Doyle could not have known that this would happen.
Cooper quotes many instances in which Conan Doyle shared his doubts with Oliver Lodge and others, dispelling the notion that he rushed headlong into an endorsement of the photographs. He establishes that both girls regarded the appearance of the fairies as a normal and not especially interesting occurrence, and that they often referred to the fairies in private conversation and correspondence, in circumstances which did nothing to advance any public deception. Greenhough Smith, the editor of The Strand Magazine, as a€?Houghton,a€? one begins lo suspect that biographical details are not his greatest concern. As for Powell, Houdini said, he had been thinking of his friend Frederick Eugene Powell, who was in poor health. Jones, with the benefit of hindsight, might have done a better job of weeding out the acknowledged fakes a€” a€?The rotten twigs must come off,a€? as Conan Doyle himself once said. Ia€™m not the type.a€? But Cooper believes that Elsie and Frances saw something at the foot of the garden, though the photographs themselves were fakes. Weissa€™s birthday, a date of considerable importance to Houdini, but the spirit presence made no reference to it.) Not surprisingly, as Jones reports, Conan Doyle brushed aside Houdinia€™s objections. The Christian cross and the English message were products of the a€?translating effecta€? which occurred in the minds of many mediums.
And Ellis Powell, Conan Doyle insisted, was a€?the one man who might be expected to communicatea€? under the circumstances.

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