Magazine Sneak Peek!: The Strange Case of Arthur Conan Doyle

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As a 3rd grader, I was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. I walked around the neighborhood trying to solve cases. I took all of the mystery books out of my elementary school library. I even dressed up as the legendary detective for Halloween 2 years in a row. So, I was thrilled when Ransom Riggs suggested doing a spread on author Arthur Conan Doyle in the magazine. What I didn't realize was what sort of amazing stories Ransom would come up with. Here are two of my favorites, plucked from our latest issue: one on Conan Doyle's love for adventure and the other on his inspiration for Holmes.

A Need for Speed

conandoyle.jpgConan Doyle harbored such a compulsive need for adventure that it almost killed him on several occasions. He loved hot-air ballooning and racing fast cars (though, luckily, never at the same time), and as a young man, he made a habit of embarking on absurdly dangerous voyages. In 1880, while traveling on an Arctic whaling ship, he fell overboard into the icy waters so often that the captain nicknamed him "The Northern Diver." Conan Doyle was also an ardent patriot who wrote impassioned defenses of Britain's involvement in unpopular wars. In fact, after World War I broke out in 1914, Conan Doyle tried to enlist in the British Army. Of course, at age 55, he was considered too old to serve.

The Truth about Sherlock

In creating his most famous character, Arthur Conan Doyle found inspiration in a lecturer he had as a young medical student—a Scotsman named Dr. Joseph Bell. In fact, inspiration is too mild a term; personality theft is more like it. The doctor was a legend among his students for performing astounding feats of deduction as a kind of parlor trick. For instance, after a moment's conversation with a country woman during class, Bell turned to his students and said:

You see, gentlemen, when she said good morning to me I noted her Fife accent, and, as you know, the nearest town in Fife is Burntisland. You notice the red clay on the edges of the soles of her shoes, and the only such clay within 20 miles of Edinburgh is the Botanic Gardens. Inverleith Row borders the gardens and is her nearest way here from Leith. You observed that the coat she carried over her arm is too big for the child who is with her, and therefore she set out from home with two children. Finally she has dermatitis on the fingers of the right hand, which is peculiar to workers in the linoleum factory at Burntisland.

The speech reads like it was plucked straight from a Conan Doyle story, but in truth, the author lifted his style from Bell.

But that just scratches the surface! Curious what else is in the magazine? Then pick up the new issue of mental_floss magazine here. Or take advantage of our latest offer and pick up a t-shirt with your subscription for just a couple of dollars more.

June 16, 2009 - 6:51am
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