THE CAPTAIN OF THE 'POLE-STAR': Weird and Imaginative Fiction

THE CAPTAIN OF THE 'POLE-STAR': Weird and Imaginative Fiction - Arthus Conan Doyle As this is a book of short stories, and as my memory is shorter still, I shall review as I go.The Captain of the Pole-Star: I like a setting in the frozen polar regions - and shades of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley haunt these environs. The story is told in the form of a journal by a young ship's doctor, concerned for the sanity of the titular captain. The foreshadowing of doom in Captain Craigie's falsely optimistic statement that "We'll all be in the arms of our own true loves before long, lad, won't we?" is very well done. So, too, is the final footnote, written as by the narrator's father, which really adds to the mystery and leaves more questions than answers: What happened to the doctor that it is left to his father to add the footnote? What are the "circumstances of peculiar horror" in which the Captain's betrothed died?. An auspicious start to the collection. 4/5J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement: This is Doyle's fictional account of the mysterious abandonment of the brigantine Mary Celeste. He changed the ship's name to Marie Celeste for his story, which in some quarters was taken as factual and so elements of Doyle's tale, including the vessel's altered name, passed into the public consciousness.Given that we know how the story ends, the tension is in how Doyle takes us there, and that is via a gradually escalating series of accidents, disappearances and deaths. Doyle is a good enough writer that even when the source of the tragedy seems obvious, the motivation comes as a surprise (at least to me - maybe I'm slow). As good as The Captain of the Pole-Star is, this is better. 4.5/5The Great Keinplatz Experiment: Doyle's Spiritualist leanings are revealed in this story about an eminent professor of anatomy and psychology who seeks to scientifically prove that there is a soul which is capable of existence outside of the body. That he is successful comes as no surprise, though the results are not what he expects. Having freed his own soul and that of a student from their bodies, the re-incorporations are switched, with the professor's soul in the body of the student, and vice versa. The results are familiar from any number of other stories and films, such as Vice Versa, Freaky Friday; Big; Change Up, etc..Doyle doesn't shove the Spiritualist stuff too far down your throat, so that's not a distraction. He also plays it for laughs about half-way through to the end of the story, at which he is moderately successful. An interesting one, but not quite as good as the previous two. 3/5The Man from Archangel: Gothic, mysterious and tragic, I loved this story. Doyle's descriptions of the windswept beauty of the Caithness coast form a perfect backdrop for the stormy passions that engulf his characters. 5/5That Little Square Box: A comedy-thriller in which the "hero" is so socially awkward that not even the threat of a major terrorist attack, with the certainty of massive loss of life, can overcome his imagined shame and embarrassment should he have misunderstood the situation. Doyle seems to be poking fun at the middle-class anxieties engendered by the rise of international anarchism, political assassinations and propaganda bombings that were troubling the bourgeoisie of the 1880s.The ending wasn't altogether a surprise and the comic effect not exactly side-splitting, but it wasn't that bad either. A solid 3/5.John Huxford's Hiatus: Depending on your outlook, you could find this story either the epitome of mawkish Victorian sentimentalism or a heart-warming tale of faithfulness, constancy and love. Being a bit of a softy, I strongly inclined to the latter.Doyle builds up the mystery of Huxford's disappearance in masterly fashion, only to ratchet up the emotional level even further during the "reveal" and the final climax. It was as much as I could do to stifle a manly tear. 5/5Cyprian Overbeck Wells: A Literary Mosaic: An unusual story, being that of an aspiring but unsuccessful writer, Smith, who, having hit a writer's block, has a dream in which he is attended by the literary greats of past and present. Between them, they decide to help Smith and so they weave together a tale to inspire him. What we are then offered is a series of Doyle's pastiches of the writings of such luminaries as Tobias Smollet, Daniel Defoe, Sir Walter Scott, Edward Bulwer Lytton, and others.The framing story is well done, and the interactions between the phantom writers are good, too, with each criticising the efforts of the last, causing offence and bruised egos. The story they patch together would not, I think, greatly assist poor Smith's literary ambitions and that is the story's downfall. A kind of "covers album" which is never quite as good as the originals. 3/5.John Barrington Cowles: Doyle is back on cracking form with this one! It starts off as a Victorian melodrama: beautiful femme fatale who has been the ruin of many a poor boy, of whom, God knows, Barrington Coles is set to be one. Being told this by the narrator at the outset gives the story an atmosphere of over-shadowing doom - we know it's not going to end well!The second half of the story, having set up the tragedy, moves into a supernatural mode, of which I will say nothing but that I feel Doyle's restraint is more effective than a graphic account would have been. 4/5.The Parson of Jackman's Gulch: This one has the feel of a Western, although it's set in Australia's goldrush, rather than California's. There's a certain inevitability about the dénouement: it's not a surprise, but it is very well done: humour leavened with tragedy and a rough frontier anti-justice. 4/5The Ring of Thoth: Classic Victorian horror: a clear inspiration for Universal Studio's The Mummy starring Boris Karloff. A creepy night at the museum, a mysterious janitor, a beautiful dead woman and an ancient Egyptian curse. Jinkies, Scoob!! 4.5/5