New Year, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Fairies, and… Accreditation!

When I was thinking about the topic I should choose for this pre-holiday post, I remembered one of the podcasts written and recorded by Dmitry Bykov, Russian writer, poet, and journalist.  It was dedicated to the memory of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the genius detective Sherlock Holmes. Just as his fiction character, Sir Arthur was a materialist, rationalist, Darwinist, empiricist, and a follower of the deductive method. He never believed in mysticism and dark legends and was absolutely sure that there was a certain villain behind any crime.  Most of his life Conan Doyle thought that a very simple explanation could be found for any mysterious event. This explanation was supposed to become obvious if one followed a common sense approach and a simple logic. The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard reads, "Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters". No doubt, his professional and sports interests influenced his straight life attitude: he was a historian and a military surgeon interested in cricket, bicycles, and cars.

Конан Дойл

However, he could not or, better, did not want to ignore one event that took place in 1917. This event could not be explained from the point of pure materialism and common sense. I am talking about the sensation made by a series of photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two cousins of age ten and sixteen years, who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. The pictures showed the girls with several alleged fairies, dancing on the grass.

феи из Коттингли

These photos were published in a London magazine and all England started talking about the phenomenon. It was a snowball effect: children and even grownups wrote letters to British newspapers and magazines to describe their experience of meeting fairies. Unfortunately, they did not have any proofs because there were no proper technologies at the time to pictorialize the events. Of course, there were people who seriously doubted that the photos from Cottingley were genuine. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was among those people. The pictures were sent to Harold Snelling, a photography expert. Snelling's opinion was that "the two negatives are entirely genuine, unfaked photographs." After that, there were two more examinations and Sir Conan Doyle interpreted the results of the three expert evaluations as two in favor of the photographs' authenticity and one against. He associated the event with spiritualism and wrote two serious books: The Coming of the Fairies and The History of Spiritualism. As for the fairies, Sir Conan Doyle studied the object of his investigation very well. For example, he noticed a very peculiar characteristic about the creatures: they had tiny webbings between their fingers. In conclusion, he acknowledged the existence of fairies as a true fact.

Еще феи из Коттингли

To get ahead of the story, I want to say that two girls from Cottingley became 80-year-old ladies and admitted that their fairies were made of paper. They cut them out of a children’s book and supported them on the grass with hatpins. The webbings could be explained in a very simple way: it was difficult for the girls to cut out tiny paper fingers. Elsie and Frances could not imagine the impact their photos would have and the sensation they would make. Probably, they were short of attention from their parents and came up with this funny joke. Most people understood the initial goals the girls had, however, Doyle preferred to be misled furthermore, taking a risk of being mocked. Why? Maybe, this was the case when the famous Pushkin’s words could be applied: “Ah, it is easy to deceive me!... I long to be deceived myself!” (translation by Katharena Eiermann). But the thing was, Arthur Conan Doyle tried to avoid cases when people find themselves in controversial situations and want to believe in something, knowing that this something is impossible. 

книга К.Дойля

Dmitry Bykov claims that Arthur Conan Doyle, with all his absolute belief in morality, straightness, and conscious, would not actualize himself without this naïve, almost childish belief in a little miracle. Without this belief, he would turn into a self-centered positivist or a negativist. In other words, if a person prefers seeing the world in a scientific way, there must be space in his mind for a little miracle to believe in. This belief makes a person a HUMAN and eliminates risks of turning into a super-technocrat who destroys everything “non-scientific”. I totally agree with this understanding of Doyle’s and many other acknowledged people’s paradoxical attitude.

Now I am close to the reason why I remembered the story with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his belief in fairies. The reason is the New Year holidays with all the miracles associated with them. As we all know, the older people get, the fewer miracles they believe in. When I became an adult, I realized that I lost the feelings of excitement and anticipation that are shared by many people for some time before the New Year holiday, which still remains, in fact, the only traditional holiday the Russians have. I started thinking of it as of something infantile and silly. But today I understand the deep meaning of this holiday.  Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian philosopher and semiotician, explained the main principle of the national festive culture as an eternal change of life and death.

When else can the people who work at TSU reboot themselves? They are tired and exhausted with all the preparations for the accreditation and need to take a breath. The only time they have is the New Year holidays.  But New Year holidays are good not only to rest, but also to believe in little and big miracles. Without them, our life would turn into a long and boring positivistic experiment.  

Dear Friends, Happy New Year and Merry Christmas! I wish you to stay cheerful and optimistic and have a good rest! I hope each one of you will have a miracle and a dream come true!

 С Новым годом!