Saturday, February 11, 2012
Conan Doyle's Spiritual Side
Everybody knows that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Although he did not invent crime fiction, certainly he defined it for many 20th century writers who followed his example. Many people know that he was knighted (in 1902) for his service as a medical doctor during the Boer War. Perhaps you also knew that he developed the science adventure genre (different than regular science fiction) with his Professor Challenger series. Want an example? Fair enough.
You might be surprised to know that Conan Doyle was an early member of the British Society for Psychical Research and spent decades investigating psychic mediums to determine if any were genuine. After many years of skeptical, but open-minded, scientific investigation, he was compelled by overwhelming evidence to declare that there were authentic cases of spirit communication. Ultimately, he became a dedicated spiritualist.
This usually surprises Sherlock Holmes fans, who know nothing about spiritualism and are therefore quick to deprecate it or attempt to distance their favorite mystery writer from its supposed taint. But Conan Doyle was relentlessly honest and personally courageous in expressing truth as he had found it. There is no bypassing that the author considered spiritualism the new revelation--a vital truth to be disseminated throughout the globe. We know this because he entitled two of his books on the subject The New Revelation (1918) and The Vital Message (1919). Our book trailer provides a glimpse at these two non-fiction works.
For a writer primarily known for his fictional detective, adventure, and horror stories (yes, Conan Doyle wrote classic horror, too), his non-fictional writing was equally readable, entertaining, and stimulating. He championed many causes in which injustices had prevailed, solved several real-life crimes, and was a proud British nationalist. Conan Doyle wrote about all these subjects, too, to high acclaim. His spiritualist writings, however, are usually dismissed as soft-headed, while, in every other regard, he was considered a highly intelligent, scientifically-trained professional worthy of careful consideration. Such are the biases against what some characterize as zealous religious opinions.
Make no mistake: Conan Doyle was a scientific investigator, as shrewd as Sherlock Holmes in sifting clues and assessing evidence. Truth was always his measure of fact, and he was unforgiving of fraudulent impersonators, exposing false mediums as charlatans, but also championing genuine mediums as worthy of careful study and investigation.
You may not agree with Conan Doyle's arguments in The New Revelation and The Vital Message, but you should give them a fair and open-minded hearing. Sherlock Holmes would have demanded as much.
Where can you find these two books? There are free digital copies available online at the Project Gutenberg eBook website. Click here and here. A digital version (PDF format) of The Vital Message is available at my Library (see our Evergreen Indiana online catalog). The New Revelation is available in the E.I. online catalog, but it is probably a non-circulating copy (from the Indiana State Library). If you have an E.I. library card, you may try placing an online hold on the copy to see what happens.
It's Elementary, My Dear Watson,
Cauli Le Chat
MPL Roving Reporter
Readers' Advisory News Beat
P.S. Sting (Gordon Sumner) of the Police wrote "Spirits in the Material World," which appeared on the album Ghost in the Machine (1981). This is a political song, but the refrain has a certain spiritualistic quality.