Characters in Charge
September 7, 2016 • Los Angeles
Pondering the question of our bottomless ability to sustain contradictions, Alan Murdie, writing in Fortean Times 323 (August 2016), ponders how Arthur Conan Doyle could have created such a rational detective in Sherlock Holmes but still vehemently support something as irrational as Spiritualism, writing dozens of articles for the main Spiritualist journal and serving as their premier propagandist. Murdie notes that Doyle wasn’t Holmes any more than Edgar Rice Burroughs was Tarzan.
I’ve heard other writers share the experience of working for their characters: the characters feel like independent entities rather than mere creations. They push their way into the world, leading the narrative, forming it in ways the writer hadn’t expected or planned. I can honestly say this experience is transcendent, even though it doesn’t transcend the bounds of rational thinking; most likely it speaks to the boundless capacity of the human mind for creative endeavor. Ray Bradbury, describing this phenomenon in 1998, told Book Magazine that he woke up every day and listened to the voices of his characters. He would then write it all down hurriedly, “hoping to find out what will happen next. ” Perhaps there are metaphysical cultural forces that transcend individual writers; that would certainly make Spiritualism seem a lot less irrational.
Murdie was reviewing Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light and gave it a 9 out of 10; worthy reading for Doyle fans.