Search This Blog

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Conan Doyle and the fairies

Back in 1917, when the world was perhaps a more credulous place, two young girls spread the story that they had been frolicking with fairies.

It happened in the romantically named Cottingley Glen, in England. Elsie Wright and her cousin, Frances Griffiths, who had been playing in the countryside, made up the fairies to account for the fact that they had come home soaking wet. Instead of falling in while skylarking (as really happened, no doubt), they solemnly assured their family they had been pushed by tiny mischievous beings. To back up their yarn, they presented a series of photographs taken with a borrowed camera, of themselves with fairies, pixies, and gnomes.

Their family did not believe them for an instant -- and their family was right, because the pix were ingenious fakes. The fairies etc. were paper cutouts taken from a popular children's book, Princess Mary's Gift Book, and stuck to twigs and so forth before the pictures were taken.
However, the story got around, and when he heard it, the famous creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, fell for it like a ton of bricks. It did not occur to him -- or any of the photographic experts consulted -- that it was strange that while the waterfall was blurred, the fairies were perfectly rigid, though supposed to be hovering in the air. Instead, he assured the world that the fairies were real, bringing huge publicity to the guilty duo -- who confessed many years later that they would have liked to admit it was a playful hoax, but were scared of upsetting anyone so famous.
Conan Doyle even wrote a book about it, called The Coming of the Fairies. It was published in 1922, and is still in print.

No comments: