What a wonderful thing it must be to be able to create a fictional
It used to seem a bit odd to me that his creator, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, was observant enough to create such mysteries and such a character, but was then – as I thought! – deceived by the photographs of the Cottingley fairies. Recently, having learned more of Conan-Doyle, that seems far less odd.
Arthur Conan-Doyle was an amazingly ‘good’ and deeply spiritual man and one who, like his creation, Holmes, spent his life on a quest for the truth. He began training as a Catholic priest at Stonyhurst in England and such was his spirituality that even when he made it known that he no longer was able to accept many of the tenets of Catholicism, he was allowed to continue with his studies and his participation in religious rites because his tutors knew him to be so genuine. Later, when he had trained as a doctor, a very unpleasant situation occurred in which he was – unjustly! – suspected of murder. He looked after a particular patient in his own home and, when that young man died, Conan Doyle signed the death certificate. Soon afterwards, he married the patient’s sister (perhaps out of pity) and it was subsequently discovered that there was a life insurance policy on the young man and so Conan-Doyle gained money from his death. His motives for caring for the young man, though, had clearly been entirely altruistic. Perhaps it was this slur on his character that led him to write so many books about people who are wrongly accused of crimes.
To return to the fairies! In later life, following the death of his wife
and his son, Conan-Doyle, who had always been a deeply spiritual man, became involved in spiritualism, which was quite fashionable in Victorian England, and not quite so spooky as the many charlatans led it to appear. From that understanding, he came to believe that, to quote Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy....” and he recognised the mystical aspects of creation and the presence of the Divine in all things. When presented with the photographs of the Cottingley fairies, I don’t think it was simply that he was gullible and believed in doctored pictures, but rather that he sensed the beauty of the little girls’ vision and insight into the wonders and many aspects of Nature that so often go beyond human understanding.
Conan-Doyle, apart from being the creator of a character who has survived for over a century, was a truly fascinating man and one who deserves to be remembered not only for Sherlock Holmes, but also for his willingness to ‘put his neck out’ for what he believed, whether or not it led to ridicule or condemnation.
(And, for my part, when I walk in the woods or watch the creatures that hover over lakes in summer, fairies don’t seem such a bizarre idea after all!)