“A most remarkable experience”: Hearing is believing

by Margie Deck & Nancy Holder

Page 4 marks a turning point in our story. Until now, our skeptical narrator has been able to explain away any and all evidence that a monster lives inside the caverns of Blue John Gap. He’s been presented with stories by “superstitious” locals, a few tufts of wool, and (presumably) sheep’s blood, which he’s assumed to be the result of sheep stealing. But on this page, he is confronted with a harrowing sound unlike anything he’s ever heard before. Still, he remains, as Sherlock Holmes would say, flat-footed upon the ground: “It was certainly a most remarkable experience, and one which for a moment [emphasis ours], I must admit, gave a new significance to Armitage's words.” Hardcastle still isn’t convinced that something wicked this way dwells … but he’s getting closer to acceptance.

The disbelieving newcomer is a convention in supernatural fiction, and part of the fun is anticipating Hardcastle’s inevitable comeuppance when he faces the truth. Not only is he an unbeliever, but he’s also smug and patronizing.

He’s also ill-prepared for his adventure. We find it most surprising that he chooses to replace his weak bicycle lamp not with an actual flashlight (or “torch”) or even a dark lantern, but with candles. The flashlight, we note, was invented in 1899. The first dry cell battery (a required component) was invented in 1896. An Englishman named David Misell placed three dry cell batteries into a tube. The resultant “electric hand torch” was also called a “flash-light” because the light it provided didn’t last very long; it resembled the on-and-off signal such as that of a lighthouse.

Hardcastle arrived in Derbyshire in 1907. Assuming there were no torches/flashlights available for purchase in the remote village, we wonder if there were also no dark lanterns to be had. An excellent video describing the development of the dark lantern can be found at Dark Lantern Tales. Our discovery of this publishing company was a remarkable experience indeed, as we learned of “Old Marvel,” a “very Sherlock-like” “scientific detective” who appeared on the scene in America in 1884, three years before A Study in Scarlet was published. Mark Williams, Dark Lantern publisher, received a kind note from Timothy Johnson, BSI, the curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota, who found Holmes’s copy on top of his violin case and added it to the Sherlock Holmes Collection.

But back to Hardcastle’s decision to equip himself with candles in order to explore this or any cave. This ill-advised choice of spelunking gear makes us wonder if Hardcastle is taking this adventure seriously — and, frankly, adds to the inevitable Schadenfreude that will occur when All is Revealed.

Copyright 2023 Margie Deck & Nancy Holder


The Beast in the Cave: A Lovecraftian Conan Doyle Tale

by Peter Cannon

The letters of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) reveal that he was an enthusiastic Sherlock Holmes fan as a boy, and in his long essay Supernatural Horror in Literature he cites two Conan Doyle tales that strike “a powerfully spectral note,” “The Captain of the ‘Pole-Star’” and “Lot No. 249.” Nothing in Lovecraft’s writings indicates he read “The Terror of Blue John Gap,” but had he done so, he surely would have been pleased given its affinities with his own weird fiction.

continued . . .

How would Sherlock Holmes approach this case?

by Matthew D. Hall

I was asked to address the question “How would Sherlock Holmes approach this case?” As I reflected on the matter at hand, I arrived at the startling conclusion that Sherlock Holmes did in fact investigate the Terror of Blue John Gap.

continued . . .


front cover & matter: a (home) • bcd    back cover: e

text: 123 • 4 • 5 • 6 • 7 • 8 • 9 • 10 • 11 • 12 • 13
14 • 15 • 16 • 17 • 18 • 19 • 20


page 4 of the manuscript of "The Terror of Blue John Gap"

The autograph manuscript of “The Terror of Blue John Gap” reproduced above is courtesy of Dartmouth College Library, Rauner Special Collections, MS-93: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


stones scattered for a considerable distance. Human agency

again in my opinion. Finally Armitage clinched all his arguments

by telling me that he had actually heard the creature — indeed that

anyone could hear it that remained long enough at the Gap. It

was a distant roaring of an immense volume. I could not but

smile at this knowing as I do the strange reverberations

which come out of an underground water system running amid

the chasms of a lime stone formation. My incredulity annoyed

Armitage [deleted: and / inserted: so that] he turned and left me with some abruptness

And now comes the queer point about the whole

business. I was still standing near the mouth of the cave turning

over in my mind the various statements of Armitage and reflecting how

readily they could be explained away, when suddenly from the depth of

the tunnel beside me, there issued a most extraordinary sound. How

shall I describe it? First of all it seemed to be a great distance

away, far down in the bowels of the earth. Secondly in spite of

this suggestion of distance it was very loud. Lastly it was not a

boom nor a crash, such as one would associate with falling

water or tumbling rock, but it was a high whine, tremulous &

vibrating, almost like the whinnying of a horse. It was certainly

a most remarkable experience, and one which for a moment, I

must admit, gave a new significance to Armitage's words. I

waited by the Blue John Gap for half an hour or more, but

there was no return of the sound, so at last I wandered back to the

farm house rather mystified by what had occurred. Decidedly I

shall explore that cavern when my strength is restored. Of course

Armitage's explanation is too absurd for discussion, and yet

that sound was certainly very strange

April 20th [deleted: In the last three days I have made several expeditions]

The full story as it was printed in The Strand is available at
The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia.