Review of “The Leather Funnel” (1902)


Arthur Conan Doyle (writer).

Read in 2017.

Although dull, this is a snapshot of the genre where H. P. Lovecraft would start out. In “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927) he called it the “romantic, semi-Gothic, quasi-moral tradition”. The protagonist is a nervous scholarly British gentleman, his friend is a civilized occultist of the sort Lovecraft would have called a ghoul, the centrepiece of the narrative is an unsettling dream sequence, there is no graphic description of the torture in that sequence but only of the protagonist’s extreme revulsion, and enough references are made to 17th-century continental European aristocracy to suit Lovecraft’s retrophilia.

Also notable is Doyle’s false description of the history of science:

The charlatan is always the pioneer. From the astrologer came the astronomer, from the alchemist the chemist, from the mesmerist the experimental psychologist. The quack of yesterday is the professor of tomorrow. Even such subtle and elusive things as dreams will in time be reduced to system and order. When that time comes the researches of our friends on the bookshelf yonder will no longer be the amusement of the mystic, but the foundations of a science.

text fiction