Sunday, August 4, 2013

So You Believe In Fairies


Arthur Conan Doyle [1859-1930]: This photo of Doyle, with a spirit hovering above him, was taken in 1922, the same year in which Conan Doyle’s The Coming of the Fairies was published.
Photo Credit: Ada Deane; 1922 
Source: Wikipedia:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of one of the most famous detectives in the English literary canon, Sherlock Holmes, a man dedicated to reason over emotion, was himself not above irrational beliefs. An article, by Mary Losure, in the Public Domain Review says that Conan Doyle had a firm belief in fairies.

Losure writes that the famous writer made a number of mistakes in his investigation:
Mistake Number One: Misinterpreting the Evidence
To his credit, Conan Doyle made what was (to him) a thorough, scientific, step- by- step investigation of the “fairy” photographs. For his first step, he consulted experts at the London offices of the George Eastman Kodak Company. They examined prints of the first two “fairy” photos and told Conan Doyle they could find no evidence of photo-doctoring; still, they insisted someone who knew enough about photography could have faked them. In Conan Doyle’s mind, that ruled out the two Yorkshire village girls who had taken the photographs, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. “I argued that we had certainly traced the pictures to two children of the artisan [working] class, and that such tricks would be entirely beyond them,” he wrote. Working class girls, surely, would not be able pull off such a hoax….
Mistake Number Two: Our Man Not on the Spot
Conan Doyle’s next step was an on-the-scene investigation – but Conan Doyle himself did not go. Instead, he enlisted a far-from-impartial surrogate — an ardent believer in fairies named Edward Gardner — to carry out the mission. Gardner had already talked to several people who had assured him the girls had played with fairies and elves since babyhood. He had already written to Elsie Wright’s mother begging her to get her “little girl” to take more photos. “I know quite well that fairies exist,” Gardner wrote in one of several letters to Elsie’s mother, “and that they are very shy of showing themselves or approaching adults, and it is only when one can obtain the help of their ‘friends’ that one can hope to obtain photographs and hence lead to a better understanding of Nature’s ways than is possible otherwise.” Gardner explained to Elsie’s mother that he had long been anxious to obtain photos of “fairies, pixies, and elves, and if possible of brownies and goblins.”
This shows that belief can overcome rational thought and facts, even in the best of men and women. Conan Doyle’s spiritualism directed him to other-world thinking. He was hardly the cold rationalist of his literary fiction, the article says:
“There is nothing scientifically impossible, so far as I can see, in some people seeing things that are invisible to others,” Conan Doyle wrote. He did concede that it would take some time before “the ordinary busy man” realized that “this new order of life is really established and has to be taken into serious account, just as the pigmies of Central Africa.” “Victorian science would have left the world hard and clean and bare, like a landscape in the moon,” Conan Doyle wrote, but now — with the coming of the fairies — everything had changed. “One or two consequences are obvious,” he wrote. “The experiences of children will be taken more seriously. Cameras will be forthcoming. Other well- authenticated cases will come along. These little folk who appear to be our neighbors, with only some small difference of vibration to separate us, will become familiar.” 
Decades later, in the 1980s, the Cottingley Fairy Photographs, as they became to be known, were found to be an elaborate hoax. Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths admitted in a 1983 interview for an article published in the magazine, The Unexplained, that the photos were indeed a fake.

You can read the rest of the article at [Public Domain Review]

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