The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

The Uses of Art(hur)

Sir Arthur, with his vast pushbroom mustache and hair decisively parted behind a domelike forehead, looks pretty much as I have always imagined Dr. Watson looking, which probably isn't a coincidence -- probably many representations of him have, unbeknownst to me, been modeled after Conan Doyle. Which you can call him if you want, because he liked it, though "Conan" was just his second middle name, after Ignatius, and fancy official places like the Library of Congress just call him Doyle. He was knighted as plain old Doyle. Still, his second wife was known as "Jean Conan Doyle," so it's a free-for-all and I'm going to leave him under C on my bookshelf.

Sir Arthur also had a permanent squint, much as I imagine Dr. Watson does because he has been in Afghanistan, I perceive.

This comic refers of course to the infamous Cottingley Fairies photographs, which I hesitate to call a hoax because it seems pretty evident that the kids who faked them were just having a laugh and were then too embarrassed to bail out when prominent people like Sir Arthur, a committed Spiritualist, took the photographs at face value. How could they confess when he was writing ecstatic articles about the cardboard cutouts they'd propped up with hatpins? "The recognition of [fairies'] existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life." (Which just goes to show that the grass is always greener on the Other Side. Most people would find it glamorous enough to be one of the best-loved authors in the world.)

Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths finally did fess up, but not until the eighties, when Sir Arthur had been dead for over fifty years. They claimed they had seen real fairies, though, and Frances went so far as to insist that one of the five photographs was genuine. "It was a wet Saturday afternoon and we were just mooching about with our cameras and Elsie had nothing prepared. I saw these fairies building up in the grasses and just aimed the camera and took a photograph." This is a liminal area of storytelling that has always fascinated me, where truth and untruth have been smushed together for so long and with such force that they become impossible for those involved to tell apart. After all, Elsie and Frances faked the first photograph in order to "prove" to their parents that they really had seen fairies, and even as old women they still maintained that they had, though they also said they never expected the guy who invented Sherlock Holmes to believe their "proof" and were embarrassed for him because he had. So if the proof was fake, obviously fake, but the thing it was proving was real, why not cut out the middleman and say the proof was real? It comes to the same thing. Especially since the fairies in the photograph Frances claimed was real looked just like the fairies in the four photographs she acknowledged had been fabricated.

It seems to scratch some itch in the human mind, this kind of storytelling, this use of fakery to reveal the truth. I don't know why. But Jonah, for example. I don't believe the events in the book of Jonah really, literally happened: I don't believe a guy lived for three days in a whale and all of that. But at the same time the events in the book of Jonah are happening all the time: we are always struggling between death and life, giving up and persevering, hatred and compassion, and all of that. A friend of mine and I use "in a fish" as shorthand for "experiencing worse depression than usual," as in "Sorry I haven't been communicating much, there's no wifi in this fish." Neither of us has ever literally been in a fish. (At least I never have.) But it's still true that we sometimes are.

Also, the book of Jonah is a considerably better false truth than the false truth of cardboard fairies held up by hatpins, I mean I know you lost a son in World War One and had some skin in this Spiritualism game but come on, Sir Arthur. Still, my point is, I think I kind of understand.
Tags: sherlock holmes, sir arthur conan doyle, stix
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