The unlikely friendship of Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle and Houdini

There are no strangers in this world,

Only friends you haven’t yet met.

Friendship is more than just a bond, it’s an emotion encompassing varied notions- of love and belonginess, of comfort and warmth, of fun and whims, of fancies and realities. Uplifting your soul and spirit aren’t quite the same without your pals with whom you feel completely at home. And unbuoyed by all the chasm and unalikeness that may permeate your other relationships, friends are perhaps the best gift of life.

And yet, friendship does not manifest itself only in physical togetherness. It sounds all very dreamy and stuff, but friendship, at least for me, is more mystical than real.

Mystical, not in that what the fantastical encompasses. But in the endowings that feel more of a blessing than a responsibility.

Adventures of friendship have forever been explored, precedents of alliances always been held in high stead and the beauty of the bond forever been celebrated. So this Friendship Day, why don’t we go a little off board and delve into a friendship that is not as commonplace as you might think?

Source: Free Press Journal

Historically, friendships have been about affection and support, sacrifices and accomplishments. Not always. There’s this particularly unusual story about how magic and fantasy strove to drive two ‘friends’ forward, while being bound by the common link of, er, spiritualism!


If there’s anything that runs high in this friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, then it’s improbability! Creator of Sherlock Holmes, one of the most famous detectives in literary history, Sir Arthur and the bond that he shared with perhaps the greatest escape artist of all times, Houdini remains till this date one of the most famous examples of friendship in recent history.

Source: Electric Literature
Source: Spillwords

As an escape artist, Houdini was essentially a ‘trickster’. But he was also a man who was believed to have been bestowed with other worldly powers. So even when he was faced with the prospect of communicating with his beloved mother who was by then, dead, he knew the tricks and twists of his trade far too much to believe that any form of communication beyond the world we know can actually be possible.

And Houdini consciously stepped forward to overrule any such notion that had been prevalent in the times. This indeed seems contradictory, given that Doyle was an ardent believer in the realm of spiritualism and the notion of the after life. And to think that these two personalities would have been set for a lifetime of friendship seems contrived.


But friendship does not require mere similarities, sometimes differences work just fine in sparking the bond that might hold on longer than any other kinda framed stuff.

It was conflicting even, while Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was one of the most relentless logical figures around, Houdini’s whole life revolved around a resort to the world of magic and the unexplained.

The two men met in the 1920s but their rendezvous started long back. Both of them made their foray into the world of spiritualism, courtesy the death of someone close.

Source: The University of Texas at Austin

Houdini had sent Doyle a copy of his book “The Unmasking of Robert Houdin“, which sought to deride several of the author’s most favorite mediums. Doyle, however, was highly accepting of Houdini’s skepticism, considering the escape artist as someone who genuinely tried to debunk all those and all that which wasn’t supposedly real.

This started of a communication that hinged on the borderline of friendship and understanding, even while dealing with disagreements.


But the precedent was not maintained for long. In 1922, while on a vacation with family, Houdini faced disappointment when Doyle’s wife Jean set the magician up for a ‘reunion’ with his dead mother. The conversation did happen, but in ways that confounded Houdini’s ideas and further strengthened his disbelief in the world of the after life.

And when Houdini went on to pen an article debunking that he had ever made any communication with a world other than his own, it obviously offended Sir Arthur. The author went on to chastise Houdini as a mere sorcerer who was greedy enough to hoard all the magic into his bag, by ‘exploiting’ other practitioners of the craft.

A ruptured appendix claimed Houdini’s life soon after in 1926 and both these ‘friends’ had no chance of reviving the understanding and mutual respect that they shared at some point of time. But even then, the fact remains that as terrific manipulators who sought to explore the world of illusion, one through his creations and the other through himself, both Sir Doyle and Harry Houdini inspired a healthy talk on the realm of spiritualism and the like.

Source: Adrienne Arsht Center


Poignantly, in continuation with the quote that had set the tone for this story at the outset, Houdini and Doyle were indeed the strangers who exemplified the idea of being friends even before they had actually met. Ironically, their camaraderie was soured by a very meeting that was supposed to be a celebration of their bond.

But what has perhaps been missed by these men in their respective belief in and pursuit of spirituality is that all the time it was sheer magic that their relationship had been set up. Undoubtedly, the beginning and end of it all, but also the time through which they traversed was nothing more than the pure magic of their unique bond.

In all that this friendship of these two improbable greats encompass, it perhaps remains one of the most decadent treats of all time- the friends in your life and the magic it generates- sustained for eternity and celebrated forever!