A case for embracing the strange
Stranger Than Fiction by Arthur Conan Doyle
Excerpted from an essay originally published in Collier’s on 27 November 1915.
When one casts one’s thoughts back upon one’s own life in search of things which seem particularly strange, it is not the material events that one most clearly perceives. I have had the good fortune to have had a fairly adventurous life and to have visited strange parts of the world under interesting conditions. I have seen something of two wars. I have practised the most dramatic profession in the world, I have travelled from North Greenland and Spitsbergen to West Africa, and my thoughts can conjure up many a recollection of storm and danger, of whales and bears and sharks and snakes, and all that used to interest me as a schoolboy. And yet whatever I could say upon such subjects someone else has said already with more authority and experience. It is rather when you look closely into the intimate workings of your own mind and spirit, the queer intuitions, the strange happenings, the inexplicable things which come suddenly to the surface and are glimpsed rather than seen, the incredible coincidences, the stories which should end one way but either end the other or else have no definite finish at all, tailing off into oblivion with ragged fringes of mystery behind them instead of the neat little knot of the tidy- minded romancer — it is these, I say, which seem to be really stranger than any fiction.
The most remarkable experiences in a man’s life are those in which he feels most, and they are precisely those of which he is least disposed to talk. All the really very serious things in my life, the things which have been stamped deep into me and left their impress for ever, are things of which I could never bring myself to speak. And yet it is within the compass of just these intimate and vital things that one perceives strange forces to be moving and is conscious of vague and wonderful compulsions and directions which are, I think, the innermost facts of life. Personally, I am always conscious of the latent powers of the human spirit, and of the direct intervention into human life of outside forces which mould and modify our actions. They are usually too subtle for direct definition, but occasionally they become so crude that one cannot overlook. The unknown and the marvelous press upon us from all sides. They loom above us and around us in undefined and fluctuating shapes, some dark, some shimmering but all warning us of the limitations of what we call matter, and of the need for spirituality if we are to keep in touch with the true inner facts of life.
Published: January 14th, 2014