Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was trained to be a doctor by Dr. Joseph Bell, who would serve as the inspiration for Doyle’s most popular creation, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was fascinated by the spiritualist movement, even participating in numerous paranormal investigations. He famously clashed with escape artist and renown skeptic, Harry Houdini over the veracity of psychic phenomena. Doyle was knighted in 1902. He died of a heart attack on July 7, 1930. What follows is a look at some of his speculative fiction tales.
1. “The Lord of Chateau Noir” (1894) – After German soldiers take over an area of France, they find they are being killed off one by one at night. Seeking answers as to who’s behind the killings, eventually leads them to a nearby nobleman, The Lord of Chateau Noir. A group is sent to take care of this noble, but when they arrive they find only his servant. The servant tells them his master has gone for the night. The group makes themselves comfortable in his home to await his return.
2. “The Brazilian Cat” (1898) – The young man at the heart of this story has fallen on hard times after his father’s death because he was never prepared to make a living for himself. His father believed the boy’s wealthy uncle would take care of him, which did not happen. At an opportune time, the destitute young man receives an invitation to visit a cousin he never met. This cousin is well off so he goes to meet with him. While there the uncle is very friendly, but his Brazilian wife is rude to him and keeps insinuating he should leave. The uncle also has an impressive Brazilian cat he keeps in a cage. It’s a large and dangerous creature that would tear anyone except the uncle apart. As the story continues the young man finds his life in jeopardy by accepting the invitation.
3. “The Japanned Box” (1899) – A man who tutors in the house of a well-to-do gentleman learns the mystery of a strange japanned box he keeps locked in his study, and of the disembodied female voice that comes from the room.
4. “Playing with Fire” (1900) – A group of novice spiritualists gather together to perform séances. One evening they are joined by a Frenchmen, who’s an expert in the occult. With his help they come into contact with a spirit guide who warns them of the dangers of what they are doing. They push further to force a materialization. The thing that comes through is more than they can handle.This story is thick with atmosphere and anticipation during the séance.
5. “The Terror of Blue John Gap” (1910) – An ill man enjoys walking along the limestone hills of the farmland where he’s recovering. The hills are honeycombed with caverns. One section contains a manmade opening once used for mining, referred to the Blue John Gap. Local legend tells of a hideous creature that lives inside it. Lately something has been stealing sheep, and the man believes the thing from the gap is the cause. As he regains his strength, he attempts to find it. What follows is an unsettling tale of his exploration of the gap and what lies within.
6. “The Horror of the Heights” (1913) – A notebook missing some pages is found in a field. It became known as The Joyce-Armstrong Fragment after the pilot who wrote it. It details his belief that strange creatures exist in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, which he calls an air jungle. He pushes the limits of his plane to attain the necessary heights to locate the things. He believes the recently discovered headless body of an airman, along with a few other deaths, was brought about by encounters in these unexplored regions. The recovered journal is a detailed account of he found.
7. “The Bully of Brocas Court” (1921) – The long search for a boxer capable of putting up a good fight against a powerful combatant named Slugger Burton comes to fruition with an able bodied young fighter named Alf Stevens. On his way to the match, they pass through a heavily wooded area where the ruin of old Brocas Hall lies. Legend says an evil pugilist from long ago known as The Bully of Brocas Court often appears there to challenge passers-by to a fight. They say he’s left many fighters in a bloody heap afterward. Alf Stevens and his driver find themselves confronted by the hideous Bully and soon come to realize they are facing a supernatural opponent.