Book Review: The Coming Of The Fairies

The Coming Of The Fairies, by Arthur Conan Doyle

I read this book, like many others I have read, thanks to an independent publisher who releases free ebooks of forgotten and out of print volumes [1].  In retrospect, this book is likely one that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle likely long regretted writing, as it puts him in a rather poor light.  It is largely forgotten now, but in the early 20th century there was a hoax where two Yorkshire lasses faked a set of photos showing supposed stationary faires, and passed them off as actual phenomena.  The whole event, which Doyle writes about from the point of view of someone who believes in the credibility of the girls’ account, became a controversy within the English speaking world, where there were are arguments about the potential to fake photographs as well as the existence of fey beings from the spirit world that, according to Doyle, had evolved along a separate track from human beings.  The book was written before the supposed photographs were shown to be fraudulent, and so this book is largely important as a case study in how someone who fancies themselves to be clever can be fooled by something which confirms what they want to believe (see Piltdown Man for evolutionist credulity of the same kind and at almost the same time) as well as an example of the way in which followers of occult belief systems [2] like Theosophy sought to maintain a middle ground between the scientific approach of materialist thinkers and the religious approach of a believer in ethical monotheism like Christianity or Judaism.

The contents of this book take about 150 pages or so to deal with, and they are interesting at least from a historical perspective, as Doyle discusses how the story of these Yorkshire fairies began, how he came to be involved in the whole brouhaha, the letters that went back and forth, and the ways in which the girls slowly released prints and had pictures of themselves and of believers in the hoax take pictures to show the places where the encounters with the various fey creatures apparently occurred.  In much of the rest of the book, Doyle apologies for having written an article that made the controversy explode while he was away from Britain on an international tour of Australia for several months, opines about the likelihood that fairy sightings would grow so common that a new age of spiritual awareness would result, and even had an expectation that Europe would turn away from violence in the 20th century. It would be hard for someone, particularly a person of noted intelligence, to be so completely wrong about the course of events.  There is a cryptozoological account of various types of spirit beings, a reference to ectoplasm that could have been the source of some of the lore behind Ghostbusters and related 20th century ghost franchises like Casper, and where Doyle attempts to demonstrate that Theosophy is a valid belief system because of its openness and sensitivity to the spirit world and to its denizens and to their progress and evolution towards higher forms of spirit beings.

On its own merits, this is not really a good book.  It is a bit of a tedious read, like someone attempting to write a history while the events are still ongoing, and it contains more than a little bit of the jargon of reportage as well as polemic in that the author condemns those who have a materialistic view of the world and also those whose belief system springs from the scriptures.  Doyle’s arrogance and credulity in the story of the girls makes the canny and skeptical peasants of Yorkshire with a suspicion of anything kept hidden all the wiser, and validates the criticisms made by those who were able to replicate the fraudulent photos through their own photography savvy.  The fact that Doyle does not believe that young people are good at manipulating photos shows how little Doyle actually knows about the behavior of young people, who are even now renowned for their savvy in such matters.  This book is worthwhile mainly as a historical artifact and as evidence of the complexity of wrestling with worldviews in contemporary Western civilization, as well as the willingness of people to engage in deception in order to gain attention and to support occult philosophies where demons are beings to celebrate and partner along with rather than nonexistent in the eyes of some and the archenemies of humanity to others.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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