Doyle on Fairies

March 15th, 2007

Three photographs of the The Cottingley Fairies, as described in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s The Coming of Fairies (1922), recently reissued by Bison Books. These photographs were taken by two girls (10 and 16 years old) in 1917, and subsequently defended by several as proof of fairies—including Doyle, who was evidently influenced by his interest in the Spiritualism and Theosophy movements.

“The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth-century out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and a mystery to life” (p58).

Elsie and the gnome

“To the objections of photographers that the fairy figures show quite different shadows to those of the human our answer is that ectoplasm, as the etheric protoplasm has been named, has a faint luminosity of its own, which would largely modify shadows” (p53).

Frances and the fairies

Doyle quotes C. W. Leadbeater: elemental fairies (being one type of fairy) “are the thought-forms of the Great Beings, our angels, who are in charge of the evolution of the vegetable kingdom. When one of these Great Ones has a new idea connected with one of the kinds of plants or flowers which are under his charge, he often creates a thought-form for the special purpose of carrying out that idea. It usually takes the form either of an etheric model of the flower itself or of a little creature which hangs round the plant or the flower all through the time that the buds are forming, and gradually builds them into the shape and colour of which the angel has thought. But as soon as the plant has fully grown, or the flower has opened, its work is over and its power is exhausted, and, as I have said, it just simply dissolves, because the will to do that piece of work was the only soul that it had” (p187/8).

Fairy offering posy of hare-bells to Elsie

Finally, in a 1981 interview (some 60 years later), the girls (then women) admitted they fabricated the fairies by tracing pictures from Princess Mary’s Gift Book (1914).