14 Weird Facts About Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

You probably know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the famous author who created the beloved character Sherlock Holmes. But really, who was Arthur Conan Doyle? Yes, he created one of the most widely recognizable characters in the world (and may have even been responsible for the first ever fandom), but his talents and interests didn't just lie in writing.

The Guy Who Created Sherlock Holmes

At different points in his life he was a doctor, an aspiring politician, and a big fan of Tinker Bell. Even though he created one of the most rational fictional characters of all time, later in life the author became interested in the occult, regularly holding séances with family and friends. There are so many interesting facts about Arthur Conan Doyle that it's easy to see how he's every bit as legendary as the famous consulting detective.

This Arthur Conan Doyle trivia will leave you sure that the author was as badass as the character he created. Now, venture forth – the game is afoot!

He Spoke With Spirits

Doyle was a big believer of Spiritualism (the belief that the living can communicate with the dead), so much so that he wrote several books and articles on the topic and even went on a tour to promote his beliefs.

He also claimed to have spoken with the spirits of well-known men, such as Joseph Conrad, Cecil Rhodes, and Earl Haig. Spiritualism was so important to him that he even wished to be remembered for his work communing with spirits rather than his literary accomplishments. Basically, he was a late-19th century version of Alan Moore.

He Popularized Skiing

While living in Switzerland, Doyle took up skiing (still a pretty obscure sport in the 19th century). He brought attention to the sport after publishing a feature article about it in Strand Magazine, the publication in which the Sherlock Holmes stories appeared.

He wrote, “You have to shuffle along the level, to zigzag, or move crab fashion, up the hills, to slide down without losing your balance, and above all to turn with facility.” With that ringing endorsement, people in England went crazy for the snow sport.

He Went Out Like A Classy Boss

Doyle’s death was so dramatic, it might as well have been written in a Sherlock Holmes story. He had been struggling with heart problems for a while, and he died from a heart attack at the age of 71.

He was in his garden and reportedly collapsed while holding a flower in one hand and clutching his heart with the other. His wife was with him at the time, and his last words were directed to her. Flower still in hand, he told her, “You are wonderful.” If that doesn't make you choke up a little, you should seek medical attention.

He Was Frenemies With Harry Houdini

The two men met in 1920 and became fast friends. Later, the two had a falling out when Doyle and his family hosted a séance to contact Houdini’s mother. After his mother’s passing, Houdini attempted to contact his mother through mediums, but quickly realized that the people conducting these séances were frauds. Like a good friend, Houdini partook in in one more séance with Doyle, even though he had his doubts.

The session was led by Doyle’s daughter, who was supposedly a gifted medium. She contacted Houdini’s mother and produced fifteen pages of notes from the illusionist’s mother. Unfortunately, the fifteen pages were written in English, a language Houdini’s mother did not know.

Also, his mother made no mention of the fact that the séance took pace on her birthday. Houdini shared shared his doubts with Doyle, but the author held fast to his belief that they had contacted the women. Their friendship never recovered.

He And Author George Bernard Shaw Had A Public Fight About The Titanic

Shaw, the author of Pygmalion, the play which was adapted into the film My Fair Lady, had a very heated disagreement with Doyle about the Titanic. About a month after the sinking of the ship, Shaw published an article titled “Some Unmentioned Morals,” in which he criticized the press for “an explosion of outrageous romantic lying” regarding the heroics of those on the ship.

For example, many witnesses said that the captain of the ship was seen going down with the vessel, ever the sign of a good captain. Shaw argued, however, that not enough coverage of the incident examined facts, such as why the captain was speeding through an area he knew to be populated by icebergs. It was sort of their version of 9/11 Truthers.

In response to the article, Doyle said, “it is a pitiful sight to see a man of undoubted genius using his gifts in order to misrepresent and decry his own people.”

He Believed In Fairies

Like thousands of others, Doyle came to believe in the existence of fairies after seeing the “Cottingley Fairies” pictures – a series of photographs which provided “proof” that fairies existed.

He spent millions of pounds (not fairy dollars) circulating this “proof” that fairies existed and even wrote a book on the subject called The Coming of the Fairies. It was later revealed that the pictures were manipulated – the young girls who took the pictures admitted that the fairies in the so-called evidence were actually paper cutouts. So much for his deductive abilities.

You Can Thank Him For The Jurassic Park Sequel

While Doyle is best known for penning the Sherlock Holmes stories, he’s also written works in other genres. Mostly, it's a lot of historical fiction, but he also (amazingly) wrote a book about dinosaurs titled The Lost World.

Hang on, you might be thinking. Isn’t that the title of another, wildly popular book about dinosaurs? Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, has said that the title of his novel is an homage to Doyle’s book of the same name. Also, like Doyle’s book, Crichton's novel focuses on an expedition to an isolated island populated with dinosaurs. He was ahead of his time, that Doyle.

He Was A Trained Medical Doctor

Despite being a gifted writer and creating one of the most recognizable and beloved characters of all time, Doyle didn’t actually study writing – at least not in a traditional sense. Doyle enrolled in medical school at the University of Edinburgh.

During his third year at university, he took a post as a surgeon on a whaling ship. After receiving his degree, he opened his own practice in London, but business was slow-going, as the author notes in his autobiography, “Every morning I walked from the lodgings at Montague Place, reached my consulting-room at ten and sat there until three or four, with never a ring to disturb my serenity.” Good thing he took up fiction instead of, like, opium or something.

He Ran For Parliament Twice

Doyle ran for Parliament representing the Unionist Party on two occasions, once in 1900 and again in 1906. Despite getting a respectable number of votes, he lost both times. A mere 569 votes kept him from getting a coveted seat in the United Kingdom’s governing body, where he presumably would have had people shouting, "Elementary!" at him all day.


He Solved Mysteries For Real

In 1906, Doyle helped prove the innocence of a man who had been accused of animal mutilation. The man in question was George Edalji, who was found guilty and sentenced to 7 years in prison. He completed 3 years of his sentence until he was suddenly released with no explanation. It was then that Edalji wrote to Doyle asking the famous author to help him clear his name and obtain compensation for his suffering.

Doyle applied his Holmesian methods to the case and determined that the mud found on Edalji’s clothes didn't match the mud at the crime scene and that the razor which was supposedly used to mutilate one of animals didn’t have a trace of blood on it.

Also, during his time with Edalji, Doyle observed that the man had to hold the newspaper extremely close to his eyes in order to read the printed words. He argued that no man with that poor eyesight could commit the crime in question in the dark (the crime was committed at night).

Doyle’s deductions helped clear the man’s name, but he was not given compensation. Still, Doyle’s investigation brought a lot of publicity to the case and helped spur the creation of the Court of Appeals.

He Was Knighted For Writing War Propaganda

Many people believe that Doyle became "Sir" Arthur Conan Doyle for creating Sherlock Holmes, but the author was actually knighted for his involvement in the Boer War. Even though he wasn’t able to enlist because of his age – he was 41 years old at the time – he still contributed to the war effort by writing British propaganda regarding the war.

His pamphlet, which put forth the plight of the British, swayed conscientious objectors to support the war. In 1902, King Edward VII knighted him for it.

He Inherited His Storytelling Talent From His Mother

Doyle’s mother, Mary, was a passionate reader and would regularly tell her children tales of chivalry and of brave knights. Mary’s husband, Charles Doyle, suffered from depression and alcoholism, which made life difficult for the rest of the family. Some sources say that she would share these stories with her children in order to give them courage.

Doyle cited his mother’s stories as fueling his passion for writing: “I am sure, looking back, that it was in attempting to emulate these stories of my childhood that I began weaving dreams myself.” So, we should really be thanking Mary Doyle for the rise of Benedict Cumberbatch.

He Inspired The World's Smartest Cab Driver

Shortly after arriving in Boston for a lecture, a cab driver approached Doyle and referred to him by his name. Surprised, Doyle asked the man how he knew who he was. The exchange went as follows:

“‘If you’ll excuse my saying so, the lapels of your coat look as if they had been grabbed by New York reporters, your hair looks as if it had been cut in Philadelphia, your hat looks as if you had to stand your ground in Chicago, and your right shoe has evident Buffalo mud under the instep, and – and -’ ‘And what?’ queried Sir Arthur. ‘Well.’ replied the cabman, ‘I saw Conan Doyle’ in big white letters on your trunk.’"

He Hated Sherlock Holmes

Doyle came to detest his most beloved creation. He tried to make a name for himself in other areas, such as Spiritualism, in an effort to move on from the detective. The author even went so far as to kill off Sherlock Holmes in the story “The Final Problem,” much to his fans dismay.

He wrote the following about his feelings for the character: "I think of slaying Holmes in the sixth & winding him up for good & all,” and “I am in the middle of the last Holmes story, after which the gentleman vanishes, never to return. I am weary of his name.”

It’s said that after the story was published, fans of the character wore black armbands to symbolize their mourning and one woman was so upset that she reportedly attacked Doyle with an umbrella.

Over 20,000 people canceled their subscription to The Strand and many sent in angry letters. Doyle finally gave in to his angry fans and brought Holmes back in the story “The Empty Hearse.” Victorian-era fandom at its finest, ladies and gentlemen.


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