"Arthur Conan Doyle was touched with genius. It is not a word that is commonly applied to him; the literary hierarchy takes a patronizing view of him as a “popular” rather than “serious” writer, as though the terms were mutually exclusive. His admirers can rest their case on the claim that the man who invented, in Sherlock Holmes, the most famous character in all fiction, has no need of highbrow approval. (...) Sir Nigel and The White Company rank second only to the historical novels of Scott and Dumas..." -- George MacDonald Fraser
"Doyle’s short stories are models of adventure fiction..." -- David Drake
"Like Samkin Aylward, I warm to a man with the bitter drop in him." -- Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft, August 1932
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have turned one hundred and sixty today. If your average sword and sorcery fan were to be asked, "What British Victorian author had a major and lasting influence on S&S?", chances are you'd get a blank stare or, maybe, "H. Rider Haggard." "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" would not likely be at the top of the list. And yet, Doyle profoundly affected the origins of S&S and continues to influence writers within the genre right up to 2019.
It should go without saying that there is much, much more to Arthur Conan Doyle than Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, the stature of Sherlock Holmes has eclipsed the other creations of his creator, just as has been the case with Burroughs and Tarzan, Howard and Conan. However, back in the day, when the birth pangs of sword and sorcery were first being felt in the 1920s, Doyle's various creations could be found everywhere in pop culture and omnibuses of his fiction were easily come by. One of Doyle's millions of fans during that period was a Texan teenager by the name of Bob Howard.
Gaze in wide wonder upon Robert E. Howard's ACD bookshelf here. Over fifty short stories and around ten novels. Before cheap and easy e-books, how many readers could say the same for their personal collections of their favorite author? Doyle wasn't REH's favorite author. That would be Jack London or H.P. Lovecraft, depending on how one figures such things, but Bob obviously liked ACD's fiction a lot. He maintained his love for Doyle's work all through his life, telling HPL in 1932 that Arthur was one of his "favorite writers."
I could write an entire post regarding Doyle's influence on Howard, but I'll just throw out a few highlights and speculations. I think it's quite possible that ACD's "The Case of Wisteria Lodge" was a partial inspiration for "Rogues in the House." I also believe that "The Captain of 'The Pole Star'" might have influenced "The Frost-Giant's Daughter." Charles R. Rutledge pointed out long ago that Doyle's "The Ring of Thoth" probably had something to do with a certain ring in "The Phoenix on the Sword." I would also add--Doyle being to reanimated mummies what Stoker is to vampires--that "The God in the Bowl," "Black Colossus," and The Hour of the Dragon all owe a little to Doyle.
Patrice Louinet rightly pointed out that Doyle's classic novel, The White Company, which was on REH's bookshelf, had an influence on "The Scarlet Citadel." I would go further and say that the novel influenced Howard's entire conception of Aquilonia. Also, when Bob wrote of mercenary bands of "Free Companies," he likely had something akin to Arthur Conan Doyle's White Company in mind. Not to mention the fact that REH told Lovecraft in the quote above that he felt a connection to Samkin Aylward, the bad-ass, hard-drinking, womanizing soldier-of-fortune who dominates much of the novel. Aylward would be on the short list of possible inspirations for Conan the Cimmerian. Conan? Where did that name come from?
Arthur Conan Doyle wasn't just admired by Robert E. Howard. Like H. Rider Haggard--the two men were friends, by the way--Doyle was an influence on many of his fellow Forefathers. Sax Rohmer and Edgar Rice Burroughs were both influenced by ACD. Lovecraft was a youthful enthusiast of Sherlock Holmes. He later praised such Doylean weird tales as "Lot No. 249" and "The Captain of the 'Pole Star'." I have not seen a mention of A. Merritt being an ACD fan, but I think it likely. The same goes for Robert W. Chambers. Arthur Machen was also an admirer of Doyle…and Doyle returned the favor.
Other than REH, there isn't much to indicate that the other S&S scribes of the First Dynasty held Doyle in high regard. Clark Ashton Smith was a casual fan, at best. As usual, there is little data for Kuttner and Moore, though I wouldn't be particularly surprised if one or both were fans. In the case of Leiber, I can find nothing. However, I will say that I detect certain similarities in tone and whatnot between the tales of Doyle's Brigadier Gerard and Leiber's stories of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, though that could all be coincidental. George MacDonald Fraser, a man who certainly knew a thing or two about writing swashbuckling adventure, was a profound admirer of the Gerard stories.
After the First Dynasty, as in the case of Harold Lamb, it becomes much easier to find admirers of Arthur Conan Doyle in the ranks of sword and sorcery authors. Manly Wade Wellman was a big fan; a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, in fact. Poul Anderson wrote a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and strewed Holmesian allusions throughout his oeuvre. Hell, his wife, Karen, was a huge Holmes fan as well. Michael Moorcock not only wrote a Holmes pastiche, he also created his own analog of Holmes in the character of Seaton Begg. In addition, Moorcock rated Doyle’s ground-breaking novel, The Lost World, as one of the hundred best fantasy novels of all time. Lin Carter, in Beyond the Gates of Dream, ranked the works of Doyle right alongside Dunsany and Eddison as the “Good Stuff.” As the quote at the start of this essay demonstrates, David Drake holds ACD's adventure fiction in high regard. John C. Hocking is on record as being a huge aficionado of Doyle's adventure and horror fiction. I think some Holmes influence can be seen in Hocking's "Archivist" series as well. Charles R. Rutledge, the creator of Kharrn the Barbarian, is also a Doyle fan. As he recently said, “ACD is one of my favorite authors and remains a big influence on my writing.” After reading a couple of Gardner Fox's medieval swashbucklers, I would speculate he was probably a fan of Doyle's The White Company and Sir Nigel. *
For those wishing to look further into the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, I would suggest that reading any of the tales on REH's Bookshelf would be a good place to start, especially The White Company and The Lost World. In addition, Doyle wrote some excellent short stories set during Roman times which can be found here. Over at OldStyle Tales, M. Grant Kellermeyer does a great job of reviewing ACD's horror fiction. As usual, virtually everything Arthur wrote can be found at Roy Glashan's Library, free of charge.
Previous installments in the "Forefathers" series:
*Many thanks to Mark K. Brown for tracking down Lin Carter’s Doyle reference.