|The "Hope" (from The Strand Magazine)|
3. The Captain of the Pole-star
The Captain of the Pole-star is a gothic tale, penned by Conan Doyle in 1883 and frequently reprinted throughout his life. It is the claustrophobic story of an arctic voyage and the fate of its titular Captain. If you want to avoid spoilers, we recommend you read the story here (https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_Captain_of_the_%22Pole-Star%22).
The episode can be heard here, http://doingsofdoyle.podbean.com/.
The Pole-star is a whaling ship, operating late into the Arctic season. Its crew is restive, its captain certain there are whales still to be found. But time is running short, and the ice is closing in.
The story is narrated via the journal of the ship’s young doctor, John McAllister Ray, who charts the vagaries of the weather and the surrounding environment, the moods of the crew, and the erratic mental state of Captain Nicholas Craigie, an experienced whaler who appears to be on the brink of incipient breakdown.
The encroaching ice and unpredictable commander are not the crew’s only concerns: the Pole-star also appears to be haunted. Since leaving Shetland, it has been followed by eerie cries and an occasionally glimpsed presence, a presence which seems closely linked to Captain Craigie.
Trapped in a beautiful but deadly environment, with an unstable captain in the grip of mysterious forces, the doctor and crew can do little but watch, wait and react to events as they unfold.
Writing and publication history
- Written by Conan Doyle in the latter half of 1882, around the time he relocated to Southsea.
- ACD received ten guineas from Temple Bar for the story towards the end of 1882 and it was printed in Temple Bar in January 1883.
- Reprinted in two unofficial collections Dreamland and Ghostland (George Redway, 1887) and Mysteries and Adventures (James Hogg, 1890) before appearing in The Captain of the Polestar and other tales, an official ACD collection, published by Longman’s in 1890.
- Reprinted frequently throughout ACD’s life.
- The story draws heavily on ACD’s time as ship’s surgeon on board the steam-whaler the Hope in 1880.
- ACD kept a journal of the expedition which is reproduced in Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure (ed. Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower, British Library, 2012), https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dangerous-Work-Diary-Arctic-Adventure/dp/022600905X.
- By time of writing Pole-star, ACD had also served on board the steamer S.S. Mayumba to West Africa (October 1881 – January 1882).
- ACD also recounted his time on the Hope in his Chapter 4 of his autobiography, Memories and Adventures (1924), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/Memories_and_Adventures#IV._WHALING_IN_THE_ARCTIC_OCEAN.
- Associated non-fiction works drawing on the Hope experience include: ‘The Arctic Seas,’ a lecture to the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society (4 December 1883 – only newspaper reports survive); ‘The Glamour of the Arctic’ (The Idler, July 1892) https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_Glamour_of_the_Arctic; and ‘Life on a Greenland Whaler’ (The Strand Magazine, January 1897), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/Life_on_a_Greenland_Whaler.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1797-98).
- Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838).
- Jules Verne’s sequel to Pym, An Antarctic Mystery (1897) plus The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (1864), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1871).
- Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1951).
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818).
- R. M. Ballantyne, The World of Ice (1859).
- The Franklin expedition (1845) – Doomed polar exploration by two ships, the Terror and the Erebus, that became trapped in pack ice in Canadian Arctic waters, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin%27s_lost_expedition.
- The Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russo-Turkish_War_(1877%E2%80%931878).
- Conan Doyle, The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe (unpublished, written c. 1877), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_Haunted_Grange_of_Goresthorpe, and Selecting a Ghost: The Ghosts of Goresthorpe Grange (1883), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/Selecting_a_Ghost.
- Algernon Blackwood, The Willows (1907) and The Wendigo (1910).
- Arthur Macken, The Novel of the Black Seal (1895).
- H. P. Lovecraft, ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (1927).
- Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898).
- Rudyard Kipling, The Phantom Rickshaw (1888).
- Bulwer Lytton, The Haunted and the Haunters (1845).
- Metempsychosis in the Edgar Allan Poe’s Metzengerstein (1832), Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (1995-2000) and H. P. Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep (1933).
- Henry Slade – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Slade
- Conan Doyle’s A History of Spiritualism (1926) – Slade features in Chapter 13, https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_History_of_Spiritualism.
- The Adventure of Black Peter (1904), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_Adventure_of_Black_Peter.
- The Battle of Maiwand, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Maiwand.
- The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot (1910), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_Adventure_of_the_Devil%27s_Foot.
- Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure, ed. Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower (British Library, 2012) is well worth picking up, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dangerous-Work-Diary-Arctic-Adventure/dp/022600905X.
- Alexis Barquin curates The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia which has an immense wealth of information plus the original text and various illustrations, https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/
- For anyone wishing to research Doyle's life and work, Brian W. Pugh's A Chronology of the Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is nothing short of essential, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chronology-Life-Arthur-Conan-Doyle/dp/1787053466/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=brian+pugh+chronology+conan+doyle&qid=1578475643&sr=8-1.
Next time on the Doings of Doyle…
- Danger! Being the Log of Captain Sirius (1914), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/Danger!.
Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support the encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.
Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/