The Coming of the Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

the coming of the fairies“If you believe in fairies, clap your hands…”

🙂 🙂 🙂

In this short book, Conan Doyle tells the story of the famous ‘Cottingley Fairies’ – 5 photographs taken over a three-year period purporting to show fairies and gnomes sporting in a valley in Yorkshire. The photos were taken by two young girls, but it was only when Conan Doyle got his hands on them that they became a cause célèbre.

By the time the first photos surfaced in 1917, Conan Doyle had already become a firm supporter of spiritualism and, while he makes it clear that he doesn’t consider the existence of fairies to be directly related to people communicating from beyond the grave, he expresses his hope that this ‘proof’ of one thing thought to be a myth might open people’s minds to considering the truth of the other. In short, he was motivated to accept the photos as genuine and to dismiss any other explanation. And sadly, that’s exactly what he does.

cot fairies 1

‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’

Unlike the revered Mr Holmes, Conan Doyle decided to believe the improbable by assuming that it was impossible for the girls to fake the photos. Fortunately, by the time the girls admitted that the fairies were copied from a magazine, cut out from cardboard and held in place by hatpins, Conan Doyle had long since died – though of course one of his medium friends may have passed on the shock news.

cot fairies 4

“We received [psychic] communications from a fairy named Bebel several times, one of them lasting nearly an hour. The communication was as decided and swift as from the most powerful spirit. He told us that he was a Leprechaun (male), but that in a ruined fort near us dwelt the Pixies. Our demesne had been the habitation of Leprechauns always, and they with their Queen Picel, mounted on her gorgeous dragon-fly, found all they required in our grounds.”

Extract of a letter from one of Conan Doyle’s ‘witnesses’.

cot fairies 2

The book itself is less interesting than I hoped. Conan Doyle includes his own magazine article and copies of the correspondence between himself and Edward Gardner, the man who carried out the investigation. But he also includes copies of lots of correspondence he received from other people also claiming to have seen fairies and his acceptance of even the tallest of these tales becomes somewhat uncomfortable after a time. There’s also a long chapter in the form of a report from a clairvoyant who sees so many fairies, goblins and gnomes cavorting in the valley that it’s hard to understand how a man of Conan Doyle’s undoubted intelligence couldn’t see it for the sham it so clearly was. Unless, of course, you believe in fairies…

cot fairies 3

(It’s OK, Lady Fancifull – I’ve finished. You can stop clapping now… 😉 )

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50 thoughts on “The Coming of the Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  1. Vile woman! Though even I, perhaps a child of a slightly more cynical time than the redoubtable Mr Doyle, would not be taken in MERELY by the fact that the tale tellers happened to be ‘innocent’ your girls, feeding into various chocolate box (so hard for me to avoid bringing chocs in everywhere i go) idealised thinking about childhood, and the innocence of young girls in particular. Maybe its because I was a young girl myself once that I know the perfidy and mischief which beats in a young girl’s heart….I suspect Mr Doyle would have distrusted a young boy, and probably a matron too!

    Clap, Clap, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfmpykW-IfY hope you are okay with a link!

    • Sadly I think Conan Doyle was so far gone he’d even have believed a cat. (Mind you if my cat started telling me about fairies, my cynicism might be shaken too…)

      I think my real problem with it (apart from the fact that ACD was clearly nuts) is that the photos look so fake. Look at the girl’s hand in the second from the top – ACD dismisses it with something like ‘she did have unusually long fingers’. Long fingers? It’s the hand of a long-dead werewolf!

      Loved the clip – haven’t heard that in years! 😀

  2. To quote the Samurai Rat – yucketh! Don’t think I’ll be adding this one to the TBR list (thank Goodness!), but it is interesting that at the same time as he was wallowing in this nonsense, he was also campaigning, on entirely rational grounds, to overturn various miscarriages of justice. Strange and wonderful is the mind of Man!

  3. FictionFan – I honestly find it so fascinating that this is the same person who was so rational, so pragmatic and so on in other ways. Well, just goes to show you how complex we humans are I suppose. Much as I respect Conan Doyle’s memory (and I do!), I think I’ll give this one a miss. I suppose I’m just too cynical…

    • I was hoping the book might help me understand how he could be so gullible about this when he was clearly so intelligent, but I didn’t really feel I got much insight from it. I guess if a person wants to believe something, then it’s easy to just ignore anything that suggests it’s not true…

  4. This was VERY interesting reading! The power of belief is really something unto itself. I can’t believe he thought they were real. Sorry the book didn’t provide any insight but I enjoyed reading this post, FictionFan. You did make me laugh there re the shock of the news being passed on through his medium.

    • Thanks, Keishon! It really is incredible that someone so intelligent and logical in other ways should have fallen so easily for this, but I guess he was just willing to ignore anything that didn’t fit with what he wanted to be true.

  5. I do love the idea of someone passing on the news of the fakery to Conan Doyle through his medium. This story has always fascinated me as I he was an intelligent man who was taken in by a couple of young girls!

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