Monday, April 11, 2016


CONAN DOYLE AND THE MYSTERIOUS WORLD OF LIGHT by Matt Wingett (Life is Amazing, 2016)

Reviewed by Ewa Sherman

From early in his medical career, Arthur Conan Doyle was fascinated by the paranormal. As a young doctor in Southsea, he investigated séances, telepathy and hypnosis and in 1887, the year of his first Sherlock Holmes novel, he became convinced of spirit communication.

Even as Holmes’s fame grew, Conan Doyle investigated poltergeists, automatic writing and spirit photography. Then, in 1916, as the Great War’s death toll mounted, he announced to an astonished world his belief in Spiritualism, all the while, continuing to  produce stories starring his ultra-rational consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes.

You cannot live on hard evidence and logical thinking alone, even if you are the famous author of the world renowned detective Sherlock Holmes. You need a touch of spiritual, unknown or even unfathomable. You need to test ideas, have faith and keep the creative thinking process flowing. Yet the issue of ‘faith’ can take different guises…

Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light was published on 11th March 2016, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle announcing his belief in Spiritualism in a letter on the pages of Light, and presents a fascinating commentary on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spiritual journey from hard-biting science into the spectre of spiritualism over a substantial period of time. However, how did he come to believe in ghosts and even fairies? What prompted him to follow the initial interest in psychic phenomena and become one of the strongest supporters and missionaries of spiritualism?

The author Matt Wingett stands back and observes, while meticulously digging through rich archives of articles and letters that Conan Doyle wrote for Light, the obscure specialist magazine dedicated to occult, spiritualism and psychical research. In 1887, the creator of Sherlock Holmes published A Study in Scarlet, and for the first time he wrote publicly about his conversion to the Spiritualist cause, though at the time his announcement failed to attract much attention.

However, after that Doyle became a regular contributor and a generous benefactor until 1920, which spans an interesting period in terms of religion, European, and world history and the human spirit that was thrown into this mix. Before fame came knocking on his solid door Arthur Conan Doyle, a doctor working in Southsea, attended séances, performed experiments in thought transference and investigated hypnosis, while creating horror stories, romances and detective fiction.

Wingett’s impressive research into the various texts brings them to light and life; and it doesn’t just provide all reasons for Conan Doyle’s faith but also gives examples of criticism and doubts to create a balanced view of this captivating celebrated man of science. Even if the ideas and thoughts might seem incomprehensible to some people there is no denying that the process is extremely valuable, and the rationale behind faith in the face of the Great War’s casualties provided some hope and consolation, not only for him. Conan Doyle found his way of dealing with the question of Death and his relationship with religion, while not entirely rejecting the pragmatic logical exploration.

It seems that fascination with all these matters never stops, whether it’s the new writing or in television dramas hitting our screens fairly often hence Matt Wingett’s book could not appear at a better time. So here’s the last comment taken from this official ‘coming out’ hundred-years-old letter that could apply to any belief or idea: "A hundred who have examined and tested and seen must always be more convincing than a million who disagree without investigation".

Ewa Sherman lives in Bristol, where she translates poetry from Polish. She loves Nordic/Scandinavian countries, and reviews Nordic Noir for Crime Review and EuroCrime. You can follow her on Twitter: @sh_ewa

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