Auditory Hallucinations: “...blurring the boundaries between the supernatural and natural.”

by Margie Deck & Nancy Holder

In our page 4 discussion we chatted on a bit about Dr. Hardcastle’s poor choice of candles for his investigation of the Blue John Gap and his growing inability to dismiss the evidence before him of a monster. Here, on page 5, we find ourselves doubling back as Arthur Conan Doyle is rewriting and repeating dates and events previously recorded.

Hardcastle is again in the cavern with his weak bicycle lantern. He is also doubting the sound he reported hearing. Hardcastle has not heard any other sounds and “could almost believe that I had been the victim of some hallucination, suggested, perhaps, by Armitage’s conversations.” He mentions this odd possible cause of a hallucination without seemingly considering it could be a symptom of his own poor health. He then discounts his own thinking with “Of course, the whole idea is absurd.” But is it? Can a conversation lead to a participant later experiencing an auditory hallucination?

Modern medicine would most likely tell us “maybe.” In Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2015, Jan Dirk Blom writes:

Auditory hallucinations constitute a phenomenologically rich group of endogenously mediated percepts which are associated with psychiatric, neurologic, otologic, and other medical conditions, but which are also experienced by 10-15% of all healthy individuals in the general population. The group of phenomena is probably best known for its verbal auditory subtype, but it also includes musical hallucinations, echo of reading, exploding-head syndrome, and many other types.

The Cleveland Clinic further explains:

Auditory verbal hallucinations most commonly affect people with schizophrenia and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but they can happen to people who don’t have any health conditions. Auditory hallucinations can take the form of hearing sounds or noises, such as music, animal calls, nature sounds or background noises. They may seem like they’re coming from anywhere in the space around you or in your mind.

Dr. Hardcastle and Conan Doyle were far from 21st century medicine, and perhaps it was reasonable in 1910 for the character of an educated man born into Victorian England to believe a conversation could lead him to hallucinate the vocalization of a possibly supernatural being, especially if such a man read from among the immensely popular stories of the supernatural available at the time.

In English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 (Vol. 57, Issue 4), author Sharla Hutchison notes in her review of Oliver Tearle’s Bewilderments of Vision: Hallucination and Literature 1880-1914:

The widespread popularity of the ghost story between 1880 and 1914 can be explained by a variety of mitigating factors: long-standing national traditions such as Christmas ghost stories, the rise in spiritualism, growing interest in psychic research, and newfound interest in occultism. In his study, Tearle offers an in-depth look at how hallucination developed into a meaningful trope for a variety of writers--canonical and noncanonical--to respond to similar cultural influences... [T]he idea of hallucination, once taken up by psychic researchers, created various theories to explain apparitions as a product of disease and fever, a telepathic experience, a “subliminal self,” or a function of memory. Ultimately, the published findings of the Society for Psychical Research enabled writers of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century to make indeterminacy a formal feature of the ghost narrative, blurring the boundaries between the supernatural and natural.

Conan Doyle certainly wrote of the supernatural in his fiction. However it does not appear that he chose to use hallucinations as a common trope. The indispensable Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia database includes 253 Conan Doyle fiction pieces, more than 190,000 sentences, in which the word hallucination appears only five times, three of which are in “The Terror of Blue John Gap.” And, as we will see in the coming pages, Dr. Hardcastle was not hallucinating because of ill health, odd conversations, or any other reason, including the alarmingly-named exploding-head syndrome. In fact, he was not hallucinating at all.

Copyright 2023 Margie Deck & Nancy Holder


Dr Doyle’s Doubles

by Rafe McGregor

The Victorians were obsessed with doubles, whether the literal evil twin brother of the doppelgänger popularised by E.TA. Hoffman, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oscar Wilde, or the figural pairing of the civilised and the savage in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Edward Prendick and Dr Moreau, and Charles Marlow and Mr Kurtz. Conan Doyle was no exception to the rule. Doubles appear in two of his Sherlock Holmes stories, ‘The Final Problem’ (1893) and ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man’ (1923), in the pairing of Holmes and Professor Moriarty and Professor Presbury and Presbury-on-serum respectively, and the fact that Dr Watson never sees Moriarty raises the intriguing possibility that he is actually a doppelgänger. Doyle also deployed doubling in his horror fiction, most notably in ‘A Pastoral Horror’ (1890) — Father Verhagen and diseased-Verhagen — and ‘The Terror of Blue John Gap’ (1910).

continued . . .

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Dabbling in the Weird

by S.T. Joshi

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) gained early celebrity for his Sherlock Holmes detective stories and also a modicum of critical acclaim for his meticulously researched historical novels; but amidst his bountiful output of novels, tales, poetry, and other work we find a recurring tendency to probe the weird, the supernatural, the fantastic, and what can only be called proto-science fiction. These writings — scattered through his numerous short story collections and also including some standalone novellas — proclaim Doyle as a perhaps unwitting pioneer in weird fiction. Because he consistently rejected overt supernaturalism and presented scenarios that suggested a scientific justification for seemingly bizarre phenomena, he effected a fusion of weird fiction and science fiction in ways that anticipated the work of H. P. Lovecraft and other writers who followed him.

continued . . .


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

text: 1234 • 5 • 6 • 7 • 8 • 9 • 10 • 11 • 12 • 13
14 • 15 • 16 • 17 • 18 • 19 • 20


page 5 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.


Ap 20th In the last three days I have made several expeditions to

the Blue [deleted: Gap] John Gap, and have even penetrated some short

distance, but my bicycle lantern is so small that I dare not trust

myself very far. I shall get candles & do the thing more

systematically. I have heard no sound at all & could almost

believe that I have been the victim of some hallucination,

suggested perhaps by Armitage's conversation. Of course the whole

idea is absurd, and yet I must confess that those bushes at the

entrance of the cave do present an appearance as if some heavy

creature had forced its way through them. I begin to be keenly

interested. I have said nothing to the Miss Allertons, for they

are quite superstitious enough already, but I have bought some

candles, and mean to investigate for myself.

I observed this morning that among the numerous

tufts of sheeps wool which lay among the bushes near the Cavern

there was one which was smeared with blood. Of course my

reason tells me that if sheep wander into such rocky places

they are likely to injure themselves, and yet somehow that

smear of crimson gave me a sudden shock and for a moment

I found myself shrinking back in horror from the old Roman arch.

A fetid breath seemed to ooze from the black depths into which I peered.

Could it indeed be possible thay some nameless thing, some dreadful presence

was lurking down [deleted: there] yonder. I should have been incapable of such

feelings in the days of my strength but one grows more nervous & fanciful

when one's health is shaken. For the moment I weakened in my resolution

and was ready to leave the secret of the old mine, if one exists, forever

unsolved. But tonight my interest has returned and my nerves grown

more steady. Tomorrow I trust that I will have gone more deeply

into this matter.

Ap. 22. Let me try and set down [inserted: as accurately as I can] my extraordinary experience of yesterday.

I started in the afternoon and made my way to the Blue John Gap.

I confess that my misgivings [deleted: of yesterday] returned as I gazed into

its depths, and I wished that I had brought a companion to share any

exploration. Finally with a return of resolution I lit my candle,

pushed my way through the briars & descended into the rocky shaft.

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