The Maracot Deep by Arthur Conan Doyle (1927-9)

Following in the footsteps of Jules Vernes, and of his own Professor Challenger science adventure stories, in this short, late novel Conan Doyle recounts the tale of eminent marine scientist Dr Maracot, sensible leading man Cyrus Headley, and gung-ho American engineer Bill Scanlan, as they ship out for the the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean and then descend to explore it in an ingenious diving bell (see illustration below).

But, no sooner have they arrived at the very edge of the deepest sea trench in the world and seen a few weird fish, than disaster strikes in the shape of a monster lobster which crawls all over the diving box and then – quelle horreur! – snips the hawser which connects it to the expedition boat. Down and down and down they plummet, into the bottomless abyss of the deepest trench in the seas. And what do they find there?

You’ll have to read it to find out ūüôā

Science

Interestingly, the bathysphere or diving bell which is at the centre of the yarn, was only just being deployed in real life. The world pioneering one was designed by American engineer Otis Barton, to be used by the naturalist William Beebe in 1928/9, and first used 1930-34 (see the Wikipedia article). So Conan Doyle was bang up to dat with contemporary technology in this field.

Lineage

The Maracot Deep was serialised in The Strand magazine from October 1927 to February 1928, then continued as The Lord of the Dark Face in April and May 1929, ie right at the end of Conan Doyle’s long adventurous life. Jules Verne with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea¬†and certainly HG Wells and maybe Edgar Rice Burroughs had done this sort of thing before.

But reading it wakes numerous echoes of later films or TV shows where voyagers fall into the hands of an alien and more scientifically advanced race, where they are initially made to feel welcome until…

In fact it does feel like a late work in that Conan Doyle doesn’t really develop either story or characters. The five brief chapters of the part one barely get us to the underwater city, a scrape with a deep sea monster and the discovery of their own ship, wrecked in a hurricane shortly after they were set adrift – and our heroes have returned to civilisation and safety.

Spiritualism

The last two chapters (of seven) were written and published a year after the main body and are clearly and clumsily bolted onto the original story. In them the narrator hilariously say, ‘I¬†forget if I have said before that the Professor was a world-famed specialist on Comparative Religions and ancient primitive beliefs.’ This comes in handy when the three adventurers meet none other than the Devil himself! who turns out to have had a personal hand in the destruction of Atlantis (which is what they’ve discovered).

This turn of events is ludicrous but, as always, in Doyle’s sensible lucid and clearly imagined prose, it has a strange persuasiveness. It has the same plausibility as a Hollywood movie. You know it’s rubbish but, for the hour or so that you watch it, you let yourself be impressed by the special affects, the acting, the directing.

Read The Maracot Deep

Front cover of the 1927 edition of the Strand magazine, containing the first chapter of the Maracot Deep

Front cover of the 1927 edition of the Strand magazine, containing the first chapter of the Maracot Deep

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