Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle

Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle

By Daniel Stashower
New York: Henry Holt, 1999. Hardback, xv+472pages.

Most people know that Conan Doyle was not Sherlock Holmes, but the two names arc so intertwined that they arc almost interchangeable. Stashower's book helps separate the two and gives us a lot more of Doyle than of Holmes. We are told that Sherlock Holmes is based on Doyle's old medical school lecturer, Dr. Joseph Bell. Also we find that Doyle wan red to be known and recognized as a historical novelist rather than as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Alas, this was not to be, and he had to bring Holmes back from his supposed death not only to satisfy his fans, but to financially support his other, and not so successful, literary projects.

Most Theosophists will read this book to understand Doyle's crusading zeal for Spiritualism, and his involvement in the Cottingley fairies. Unfortunately, I can give only a lukewarm recommendation for the book in this area. In his preface, Stashower declares himself to be a cordial disbeliever in the psychic realm. There is nothing wrong with this, but his lack of depth seems to get in the way. A telling example is his definition of the Theosophical movement as "a Western reconstruction of Tibetan Buddhism made famous by Helena Blavatsky and Annie Besant" (351). In view of this superficial definition, I can see that Stashower also lacks the background to do justice to Spiritualism.

For someone who loves to read Sherlock Holmes and wants to know more about the man who created him, this is a great book. For a Theosophist who wants to gain some insight into Spiritualism and Doyle's relationship with Theosophy it may not be very satisfying.


May/June 2001