In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revisits Conan Doyle’s best tales of terror
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had the rare and peculiar ability to make fiction seem real. When he killed off his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, in 1893, many of his devoted readers donned black armbands as a sign of mourning. He got letters from real people asking if he could pass their requests on to the great sleuth, in the hope that he might take up their real-life case. Many people have heard the mysterious story of the Marie Celeste, the ship which was found abandoned with everything perfectly preserved. In truth, there was no Marie Celeste: the actual ship was the Mary Celeste, which was found abandoned but was severely waterlogged. Its one boat was also missing, providing a clue as to how the ship’s crew had not-so-mysteriously disappeared. But it was the fictional version of events – with the story of the pristine ship – that took hold of the public imagination. And this version was the product of one man: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Doyle created this modern myth, taking