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Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan…
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Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle (1999)

by Daniel Stashower

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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An interesting book about a fascinating and enigmatic man. Enigmatic because it is difficult to understand how a mind that could create Sherlock Holmes, the ultra-clinical, ultra-sceptical detective, could also believe in fairies, table-tapping, "voices from beyond," and pretty much any other mystical twaddle that came his way. This book, however, goes some way to reconciling these polar opposites, explaining how Scottish good sense prevented Doyle from using Holmes as a mouthpiece for his Spiritualist agenda, while placing that agenda in the context of Doyle's personal grief at losing his son in the Great War.

As it was the author's intention to emphasise the period in which Doyle's Spiritualist beliefs came to dominate his life, this biography may not be for those looking for a personification of the Great Detective. For balance, The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman is a cracking read, telling the story of how the escapologist and Doyle became first close friends, and then bitter enemies as Houdini carried out his crusade to expose fake (aren't they all?) Spiritualist mediums.

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  Michael.Rimmer | Mar 30, 2013 |
Reviewed by Roger Johnson, [District Messenger 198, 2000] The author is himself a novelist and knows how to tell a good story. And, let's face it, Conan Doyle's life is a good story. This is perhaps the most readable biography of him since John Dickson Carr's, and of course it pays proper attention to his literary career, neither downplaying nor over-emphasising his major achievement, Sherlock Holmes. In addition, the book acknowledges the central place of Spiritualism in Conan Doyle's later life, rather than trying to ignore it, as some have done.
Alas, like all his predecessors since Pierre Nordon, Mr Stashower has been denied access to the Conan Doyle papers; until they are made available the definitive biography cannot be written. The best studies of Arthur Conan Doyle are the two that deal with specific periods of his earlier life: Owen Dudley Edwards' The Quest for Sherlock Holmes and Geoffrey Stavert's A Study in Southsea. These, of course, are necessarily incomplete.
Meanwhile, Teller of Tales is an admirable account, very attractively presented, of a man who achieved remarkable things - the most remarkable being something he considered trivial.
  mmckay | Apr 11, 2006 |
The author is himself a novelist and knows how to tell a good story. And, let's face it, Conan Doyle's life is a good story. This is perhaps the most readable biography of him since John Dickson Carr's, and of course it pays proper attention to his literary career, neither downplaying nor over-emphasising his major achievement, Sherlock Holmes. In addition, the book acknowledges the central place of Spiritualism in Conan Doyle's later life, rather than trying to ignore it, as some have done.
Alas, like all his predecessors since Pierre Nordon, Mr Stashower has been denied access to the Conan Doyle papers; until they are made available the definitive biography cannot be written. The best studies of Arthur Conan Doyle are the two that deal with specific periods of his earlier life: Owen Dudley Edwards' The Quest for Sherlock Holmes and Geoffrey Stavert's A Study in Southsea. These, of course, are necessarily incomplete.
Meanwhile, Teller of Tales is an admirable account, very attractively presented, of a man who achieved remarkable things - the most remarkable being something he considered trivial.
Reviewed by: Roger Johnson, [District Messenger 198, 2000]
  mmckay | Apr 11, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Daniel Stashowerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Matthews, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Perhaps the greatest of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries is this: that when we talk of him we invariably fall into the fancy of his existence. Collins, after all, is more real to his readers than Cuff; Poe is more real than Dupin; but Sir A. Conan Doyle, the eminent spiritualist of whom we read in Sunday papers, the author of a number of exciting stories which we read years ago and have forgotten, what has he to do with Holmes? --T.S. Eliot
Dedication
For Miss Corbett--one last Conan Doyle ancedote
First words
Not long ago, in the London showroom of a dealer in rare books, I asked to have a look at a first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Quotations
"I have known no literary man who was more ruthless to other people's feelings," Conan Doyle once remarked of [George Bernard] Shaw. "And yet to know him is to like him."

Conan Doyle was by no means the first to remark on Shaw's ill temper, but he may have been the first to attribute this ornery nature to a meat-free diet. "It was strange," Conan Doyle declared, "that all the mild vegetables which formed his diet made him more pugnacious and I must add, more uncharitable than the carniverous man." (Chapter 20, "The Ruthless Vegetarian")
For Conan Doyle, there could be no excuse for such an unwarranted display of spite. "One mentions these things as characteristic of one side of the man, and as a proof, I fear, that the sdoption by the world of a vegetarian diet will not bring unkind thoughts or actions to an end." (of George Bernard Shaw, Chapter 20, "The Ruthless Vegetarian")
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805066845, Paperback)

Despite (or because of) the tremendous success of his Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle always tended to play down their value and importance in his life. Just before his death in 1930, he drew a memorable sketch of his life's work. Conan Doyle portrayed events from his life as a series of packing cases being loaded onto a wagon and pulled by a flea-bitten workhorse. Perhaps the heaviest case of all, notes Daniel Stashower in his fascinating biography Teller of Tales, is the one that reads "Sherlock Holmes."

Stashower's intent is to show that Conan Doyle was not Sherlock Holmes, and that his life consisted of much more than the now ridiculed spiritualism to which he devoted much of his later years. He succeeds to a surprising degree, convincing us that The White Company and Sir Nigel (forgotten novels that Conan Doyle thought were his best) are indeed worth reading. As for the spiritualism, Stashower meticulously places his subject's long fascination with it into a compassionate and fully researched social context. We come away certain that Conan Doyle (along with many other worthy citizens of the period) really believed in it. --Dick Adler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:09 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, the 19th century physician, portraying him as more than the creator of Sherlock Holmes. He wrote historical novels, he ran for parliament, he served as a medical officer in the Boer War and he crusaded for spiritualism.… (more)

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