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50 • of Spiritualism as far more important than merely telling a good story. We all make mistakes. “Twilight Tales” • In The Lost World, Malone’s editor McArdle tells him, “The big blank spaces in the map are all being filled in, and there’s no room for romance anywhere .” But what boy, or girl, reads for anything but mystery, excitement, and romance? Hence my own youthful passion for Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo and Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, not to mention my perfect willingness to forgo all homework to finish Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, or The Mysterious Island. From such undisputed classics of adventure I naturally advanced to the high spots of goldenage science fiction, fantasy, and horror. By the time I graduated from high school I was regularly seeking out collections of eerie tales—and in many of them I discovered stories by A. Conan Doyle. All too often posterity remembers some authors , no matter how multifaceted their genius, for only one or two books. Who, aside from scholars of Victorian fiction, now reads anything “Twilight Tales” • 51 by Thackeray other than Vanity Fair? Jane Eyre has largely driven out Charlotte Bronte’s great depiction of loneliness, Villette. From early on the worldwide popularity of Sherlock Holmes annoyed his creator, and with some cause: The detective’s adventures, wonderful as they are, tended to overshadow everything else Conan Doyle ever wrote, with the partial exception of The Lost World. Yet the gothic elements that recur throughout the Holmes canon—in “The Speckled Band,” The Hound of the Baskervilles, “The Creeping Man,” and elsewhere—at least remind us that Arthur Conan Doyle is also a major figure in the history of the weird tale. Today much of Conan Doyle’s substantial oeuvre—hisbibliographyrunstoover700pages— suffers readerly neglect because of the widespread misconception that he only rose above the conventions of his time when he wrote about the dynamic duo of Baker Street. His other works are consequently dismissed as period pieces, of interest mainly to professional Doyleans. For instance, it’s commonly assumed that historical novels like Micah Clarke or Sir Nigel must be, at best, fustian, pseudo-antiquarian homages to Walter Scott— and nobody bothers with Scott any more, let alone his imitators. Tales of prizefighting like “The 52 • Croxley Master” or stories of late Victorian medical life such as those gathered in Round the Red Lamp merely sound dated or unappealing. Wrong on both counts. Besides, even when a work is dated, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Baker Street’s gaslight and hansom cab atmosphere reminds us again and again. Some of Conan Doyle’s “twilight tales,” as he once planned to title an early collection of eerie stories, can stand up to the best work of such masters of the uncanny as Sheridan Le Fanu and M. R. James. To my taste, “The Captain of the PoleStar ” (1883) ranks second only to Vernon Lee’s seductive and unsettling “Amour Dure” as the most poetic of Victorian ghost stories. In this, Conan Doyle’s very first masterpiece, a ship sailing into the ice floes of the north is haunted by something elusive that roams the deck at night, softly moaning , but never quite glimpsed by anyone except the ship’s commander. As the Sherlockian and ghost-story scholar Barbara Roden points out, there are echoes throughout this poignant tale—a ghost story that is also a love story—of Wuthering Heights as well as of Frankenstein. Rather than reveal any more of the plot, let me just recommend that you read it or even, to paraphrase the lingo of the poker player, “Read it and weep.” “Twilight Tales” • 53 Like “The Captain of the Pole-Star,” many of Conan Doyle’s weird tales espouse an almost documentary verismo, often through the use of diaries and letters. Alternately, they adopt the style of the after-dinner reminiscence, like those so-called “club tales” in which some elderly duffer takes a sip at his whiskey and murmurs, “Did you say ancient idols? That reminds me of rather a rum thing that happened when I was young. Out East, don’t you know. . . .” Today an attentive Conan Doyle reader might occasionally guess a story’s plot twist, usually because its narrative tricks and switchbacks have been adopted by others. In “The Great Keinplatz Experiment,” for instance, one recognizes what is now...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400839490
Related ISBN
9780691151359
MARC Record
OCLC
757394554
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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