Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Skyler Hobbs and the Cottingley Fairies

As you probably know, the fabulous old-fashioned print edition of the all-new BEAT to a PULP: Round Two (available HERE) was published last month, and the new-fangled eBook edition (available HERE) made the scene just day before yesterday.

My humble contribution to this primo collection is a tale called "Skyler Hobbs and the Cottingley Fairies," which sort of begs the question, "Who the heck are the Cottingley Fairies?"

Well, here's the scoop, in the form of a Forgotten Books review I posted some time back. Arthur Conan Doyle, as you'll see, believed that these fairies (and these photos) were the real thing. Was he right? Check out BEAT to a PULP: Round Two and find out for yourself!

THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In case you’re not familiar with this particular bit of weird history . . .

Back in 1917 two girls in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley took two photographs that rocked Arthur Conan Doyle’s world. Doyle was deep into spiritualism at the time, and had had been gathering information for an article to support his belief in the existence of fairies. 

Imagine his delight, then, to receive what he considered concrete evidence that he was right. The photos (shown below so that you too may be astounded), depicted one of the girls posing with a group of dancing fairies, and the other shaking hands with a gnome.

Doyle began a lengthy correspondence with the man who had sent him the pictures, a Theosophist named E. L. Gardner. Gardner did most of the on-site investigating of the girls, their family, the photos and the site where they were taken. Strangely, there is no indication Doyle ever attempted to meet the girls or visit the site himself.

In any case, Doyle presented the first two photos to the world with an article in The Strand magazine. Not long after, the girls were given a new camera and asked to take more pictures. They did, producing three more. 

Along with the Strand article, the five photos formed the basis of The Coming of the Fairies.  Doyle then added correspondence, arguments for and against the authenticity of the photos, other accounts of close encounters with nymphs, brownies, goblins, elves, gnomes and fairies, plus a good deal of pseudo-scientific nonsense speculating on the how and why of their existence. First published in 1922, the book was largely forgotten and remained out of print until rediscovered in 1997.

That Doyle truly believed such stuff is pretty clear. He’s convinced the photos and other evidence demonstrate that… “this new order of life is really established and has to be taken into serious account, just as the pygmies of Central Africa.”

One of the best lines in the book actually belongs to a skeptic. He's quoted as saying . . . “knowing children, and knowing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has legs, I decide that the [girls] have pulled one of them.”

What is not included in the book is what happened long after. In the 1980s, the girls finally claimed they had faked the first four pictures, using cardboard cutouts traced from childrens books. One girl, however, still insisted the fifth photo, supposedly depicting a fairy bower, was genuine. Were they lying when they were kids, or lying when they were grown-ups? You be the judge. Or better yet, leave it up to Skyler Hobbs.

Here are the photos in the order they were taken. Captions are those used in the book.







Charles Gramlich said...

I've always thought that was a fascinating bit of history, and certainly a heads up for folks who fall for certain ideas today.

David Cranmer said...

It was an honor to have your top characters in our collection, Dave.