So we all know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes and, in doing so, single-handedly reimagined the detective genre and provided a platform for many an actor (‘thank you, Arthur’, love Benedict). For that reason alone the great Scot could easily be granted legendary status.
But if one were to apply Sherlockian style sleuthery to proceedings, a unique life and a rich character emerges that rivals even the best of his fiction.
Below are some of the most interesting facts.
1. Doyle the Adventurer
In his early life he trained as a surgeon (as you do, ain’t no biggie). His first jobs were the medic on-board a whaling ship to the Artic Circle and as a medical officer aboard a steamship to Africa. He was barely 21 at the time, but it unlocked a sense of adventure that stayed with him throughout his entire life.
2. He was a professional cricketer
Not content with being an incredibly gifted intellectual, Doyle was also an unfairly talented sportsman. Although his cricket career never directly brought him fame, the author is said to have named Sherlock after a cricketer who played for Northampton. This Sherlock is also said to have had a brother named Mycroft.
3. And he played soccer in goal for Portsmouth FC
Not only that, he also popularized skiing during a short spell in Switzerland, because, you know, what else would he do?
4. Without Doyle there would be no Jurassic Park
It’s weird to think of dinosaurs as a fairly recent discovery, but that’s exactly what they are. At the time Doyle wrote The Lost World, the term dinosaur hadn’t even been around for two centuries. The book was hugely influential, cementing the idea of dinosaurs in fiction and inspiring a whole host of novels and films, including Jurassic Park and King Kong.
5. A copy of his first book was lost in the post… so he wrote it AGAIN
Before The Lost World, there was the lost book. Doyle wrote his first novel at 23 and sent it, along with high hopes of establishing himself as a writer, in the post to a publisher. It didn’t make it and its destination remains a mystery to this day, but Doyle’s hopes remained in tact and he set out to redo the whole book from memory. He ploughed through a massively impressive 150 pages before he eventually abandoned the project and moved on to A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes’ first outing.
6. He had an Unlikely Friendship with Houdini.
Imagine it, you’re sitting in a little Victorian café minding your business when in walks two of the most famous men in the entire world, the stout, bigger than life Scot and the quaint Hungarian-American illusionist. Mind blown.
7. He had an even Bigger Rivalry with Houdini
Strange as it may seem, the creator of one of fiction’s greatest empirical rationalists was also one of history’s leading spiritualists. Houdini, however, believed it to be nothing more than ‘an illusion’ and sought to expose spiritualism to both the world and Doyle.
It reached boiling point when Doyle’s wife performed a séance on Houdini and summoned up Houdini’s dead mother, who is said to have taken control of the medium’s hand to write a letter to Houdini from beyond the grave. After the event, however, Houdini pointed out that the writing was in English and his mother only spoke Yiddish. The two men felt bitterly betrayed by one another and began feuding through various newspapers, before they eventually stopped speaking entirely.
8. He was an Amateur Detective
Much like his fictional counterpart, Doyle took on a number of mysterious cases himself, including the infamous hunt in Whitechapel for Jack the Ripper.
Employing Sherlockian deduction, Doyle surmised that the serial killer was actually a female posing as a midwife, able to easily gain the trust of women and comfortably wear bloody clothes without arousing suspicion. Jane the Ripper, anyone?
9. He Popularized the Mystery of the Marie Celeste
We all know the story of the ghost ship that was peculiarly found unmanned but intact. What we don’t know is the version often told is Doyle’s fictionalised account of events, which he originally published anonymously as a short story. In reality the ship was not in perfect condition when it was discovered, a lifeboat was missing that could easily explain how the crewmembers made their exit and he changed the name from the Mary Celeste to the Marie Celeste. Numerous newspapers of the day accidently helped fuel the misconception by printing Doyle’s fictional account of events as fact.
10. He *cough* believed in fairies
When a photograph surfaced purportedly showing a young girl surrounded by fairies, Doyle enthusiastically hailed its authenticity and believed it was clear evidence of psychic phenomena. He even wrote a book called The Coming of the Fairies and spent north of a million dollars promoting their validity. It wasn’t until long after Doyle’s death that the girl pictured eventually admitted it was a hoax.
11. His Last Words
On July 7, 1930, Doyle died in his garden, holding on to a flower and uttering the words, ‘You are wonderful’ to his beloved wife. Aww.
So there you have it, Arthur Conan Doyle- writer, sportsman, spiritualist, adventurer, doctor, detective, mythmaker, Spielberg-inspirer and old romantic.