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The Wingchair Critic
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Back in print after over half a century due to the efforts of the University of Nebraska Press, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's curious 'The Coming of the Fairies' (2006, originally 1922) examines the key events surrounding the Cottingley fairy photograph phenomenon that swept England in the early 1920s. Despite the unfortunate inclusion of one frivolous chapter, 'Observations Of A Clairvoyant,' which was written by "an anonymous seer," the book is an interesting, if not always credible, exploration of its highly unusual subject.
Today, the photographs--which were recently exhibited in New York City--typically elicit one of two polarized responses: bemused academics, scientists, and the rational 'average man' dismiss them out of hand as clear and obvious fakes, while some New Age adherents, who are perhaps also sentimentalists, tend to find at least some of the photographs convincingly authentic.
The text on this edition's back cover--and its perfunctory introduction by Arizona State University Professor John M. Lynch--make it abundantly clear where the University of Nebraska Press stands on the issue: fairies, are, of course, an impossibility, scientific or otherwise.
But Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of master rationalist detective Sherlock Homes, was hardly so certain of their lack of reality himself. Though he qualifies his initial opinions at every turn, and stresses the objective evaluation the photographs received by a number of expert sources, including Kodak, even his early paragraphs fairly burst with unbridled enthusiasm and barely suppressed belief.
At the time that the photographs initially came to light, Conan Doyle was mourning the loss of a son who died in the Great War, which in turn led the author to an active investigation of Spiritualism. Proof of the existence of fairies was ultimately of secondary interest to him; what he desperately sought was proof of an afterlife, and hence, the continued existence of his son on another plane ("...and once fairies are admitted other psychic phenomena will find a more ready acceptance."). If Spiritualism offered largely intangible 'evidence' of the transmigration of the soul if it offered any at all, tangible evidence of fairies generally bolstered Conan Doyle's rapidly evolving belief in an unseen world.
To complicate matters, like the confusion surrounding the infamous debunking of the 'Surgeon's Photo' that purported to reveal the Loch Ness Monster (and the subsequent revelation that the 'truth' might have itself have been a hoax), at the end of their lives, the two photographers in question, cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, openly admitted to an eager media that the photographs had been faked. But then Frances, who died first, waffled--by 'revealing' that only some of the photographs were faked, and nevertheless insisted, right up until her death in 1986, that she and her cousin had encountered, interacted with, and photographed fairies "at the beck" and near "the bottom of the garden" in 1917.
While most of the fairies in the photographs do unmistakably resemble two-dimensional paper cut-outs like those the girls would have found in their copy of 'Princess Mary's Gift Book' (1914), the photograph usually known as 'Elsie and the Gnome' is remarkable due to the fairly complex position in which the 'gnome' is standing (no such figure was featured in Princess Mary's Gift Book, and thus not obtainable from that source), as well as due to Elsie's weirdly elongated, almost deformed, right hand and fingers, which one party in the text explains by stating that the young lady merely had physically unusual hands (another oft-repeated theory is that Elsie was holding her left hand partially behind the right, which, thus positioned, appear as one long appendage).
The hazy 'fairy bower' photograph, which features multiple figures, including a very tiny 'elf' resembling Prince Valiant emerging from the bracken (and whose head is reflected in its own wing, proving that the figures could not be made of simple paper) also seems beyond the artistic and technical skills of two young girls almost completely unfamiliar with the rudimentary camera equipment of the era.
Certainly the photographs are open to interpretation: in observing the gnome figure, one party discusses its 'beard,' another its partially hidden 'pipes,' and yet another the hat pin which the party believes was utilized to support the cut-out. Readers may see all of these things or none of them; no mention is made of the gnome's pronounced Pinocchio-like nose, or its brimmed and conical cap, which resembles a traditional witch's hat.
The basis for two excellent films, 'Fairy Tale: A True Story' and the darker 'Photographing Fairies' (both 1997), 'The Coming of the Fairies' ultimately raises more questions than it answers about skill, chance, credulity, psychology, fading cultural romanticism, the sociology of logic, and the nature and motivation of belief.
Those seeking books of greater substance on the same topic may also want to read Robert Kirk's 'The Secret Commonwealth: Of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies' (New York Review Books Classics), William Butler Yeats' classic 'The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore' (1893), Lady Gregory's outstanding 'Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland' (1920), and Carole G. Silver's 'Strange & Secret Peoples: Fairies & Victorian Consciousness' (2000).
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Mystical Minds Bookstore
- Publié sur Amazon.com
I would not recommend that anyone purchase this particular edition of The Coming of The Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not because of the text, but because of the Introduction by John M. Lynch. Although I have no knowledge of the two other editions carried by Amazon.com of The Coming of The Fairies I would recommend that anyone interested in this book consider purchasing one of them instead.
After years of running across references to this work by Sherlock Holmes' creator, I decided it was time to acquire a copy so I could see what Conan Doyle had to say about the Cottingley Photographs for myself. The description on Amazon.com indicated an introduction by a Mr. Lynch, but did not indicate that the "introduction" was in fact a 22-page harangue attacking the girls who took the photographs, Spiritualism, Theosophy, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, amongst others. I will certainly not purchase any other works that John M. Lynch is associated with, or any published by the University of Nebraska Press. While they certainly have the right to publish any opinion they want on this or any other subject, to promote the book as a simply a reproduction of a text by someone of the stature of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and then to use his work as a platform to attack the original work, is at best false advertising, and may even qualify as a form of plagiarism.
Wasting no time in going on the attack, the opening paragraph of Mr. Lynch's introduction impugns the state of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's mental health at the time that he wrote this piece. Without having the courage to accept personal responsibility for this charge, , he attributes it to others by wording it as: "Some have seen this announcement in The Strand magazine and Doyle's subsequent book The Coming of the Fairies as the writings of a sixty-one-year-old who was losing his ability to think rationally".
As someone who passed the sixty-one-year-old point in his life several years ago, and who has spent much of the last forty years studying the history of this period, I find that Mr. Lynch's statements follow the typical modern skeptic's tactics of attacking without providing any material to support their accusations or conclusions.
For example, in numerous places in the introduction he attacks the character of the girls who took the photographs, baldly stating that the photographs were faked, referring to them as "A Hoax Revealed", without supplying any supporting data to back up his accusations, just stating that "Eighty years later we know that the photos were faked..." asking us to accept this conclusion simply on the merit that if he said it, then it must be true. He goes on to make the charge that the girls, some eighty after the events described in the text, had admitted using pictures from Princess Mary's Gift Book, published in 1914 as a model for constructing figures they then used to fake the photographs. Either Mr. Lynch has not seen this book, or he has assumed that no one reading his introduction would take the trouble to gain access to it, or both, or I doubt that he would have made this charge.
Princess Mary's Gift Book can be accessed and downloaded from the Library of the University of California, Los Angeles. A review of this collection of short stories and poems reveals only two illustrations in the book's 178 pages that relate to Fairies, and neither of them correlates to any image, or even the style of image of those found in the photographs done by the girls.
I found it also interesting that beginning on page 23, of Princess Mary's Gift Book is an story by the title of: "Bimbashi Joyce", by one A. Conan Doyle, Author of "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", with Painting and Drawings by R. Talbot Kelly, R.I.
By repeating the charge, not made for the first time until in the early 1980's, that the girls had used the images in this book to fake the photographs, Mr. Lynch would have us believe that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had reached such a point of diminished mental capacity by the time that he was inspecting the Cottingley Photographs, that he would have failed to recognize any similarities between the fairies appearing in the photographs, and artwork appearing in a publication in which his own writings had appeared just six years previously. Additionally, the Cottingley Photographs caused such a stir in England at the time they were made public, that I am sure that if a case could have been made to connect the photographs to illustrations to be found in a book published by the King and Queen of England's daughter for charity, that any number of the people doing their best to prove the photos to be faked would have (1) been aware of the book Princess Mary's Gift Book, and (2) would not have hesitated to bring any similarities between the photographs and the book to the public's attention, at that time.