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The Edge of the Unknown   The Edge of the Unknown
Arthur Conan Doyle


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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) is one of Britain’s most acclaimed authors. His creation of Sherlock Holmes and the subsequent novels featuring the Victorian sleuth made him, and Holmes, household names across the globe. Of less renown, however, are his later works in which he considered and discussed what he eventually saw as his life’s true mission; to spread the message of Spiritualism.

His interest in Spiritualism was not something he came to in later life. He was already attending séances and researching life after death as far back as the early 1880’s and by 1887 he had publicly announced his belief in Spiritualism when he wrote two letters to Spiritualist publication ‘The Light’.

He continued his research on the subject and expanded on his beliefs and as the years went by he wrote extensively on the topic. His earliest published book on the subject was ‘The New Revelation’ which appeared in 1916 which was quickly followed by ‘The Vital Message’ in 1918.

In 1920 Sir Arthur went on a tour of Australia and New Zealand spreading his vital message and would continue to tour the world for the remainder of his life at his own expense proselytising for the cause. In 1924 He translated a French book, ‘The Mystery of Joan of Arc’ by Leo Denis that postulated the theory that Joan of Arc was a medium; this was two years before penning his magnum opus on the subject, ‘The History of Spiritualism’, in 1926.

‘The Edge of the Unknown’ was Conan Doyle’s last published work and in it he discussed many things, most interesting of which was his thoughts on his one-time friend and eventual nemesis Harry Houdini.  Houdini and Conan Doyle had a volatile relationship with Houdini’s constant debunking of Spiritualism in public, enraging Sir Arthur, who believed that Houdini himself was a medium.

In the book Sir Arthur also discusses ghosts and haunting which was something he had been looking into for many years. In 1893 he joined the British Society of Psychical Research, an organisation that contained many of the time’s great scientific, philosophical and political minds amongst its number.  The Society was set up so as to get a more concrete understanding of the many paranormal incidents that were reportedly occurring in the UK at the time and in 1894 Sir Arthur was sent out with two other psychical researchers to investigate a haunting.  The panel were not immediately satisfied by their investigation but a later twist in the tale resulted in a positive verdict and the case served to strengthen Conan Doyle’s belief in life after death and he continued to investigate cases of haunting for the rest of his life.

The book also concentrates on the phenomenon of ‘automatic writing’. Automatic writing is the term given to the act when a medium receives words from another entity which are written down on paper with the medium’s hand not under their own control. Using this process many famous people have allegedly ‘come through’ and in ‘The Edge of the Unknown’ Sir Arthur delves into the afterlife writings attributed to Charles Dickens, Jack London and Oscar Wilde, amongst others.

Although the book was his last and written shortly before he died, Conan Doyle wasn’t aware of any illness so it shouldn’t be seen as the final words of a dying man although it does contain his most detailed descriptions of some of the key elements of his research and is one of the crucial works in his Spiritualist canon.


About the author

Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the great advocators of Spiritualism. He spent much of his life investigating life after death and wrote, edited, and translated many important books on the subject. He will always be remembered as one of the most vociferous figures to champion that belief that humans are more than physical beings.


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