The Maracot Deep by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Readers who know of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle through his Sherlock Holmes stories, his tales of Sir Nigel in the 14th century, the Napoleonic adventures of Brigadier Gerard or the sci-fi escapades of Professor Challenger might still be unfamiliar with The Maracot Deep. Published in 1929, only a year before the author’s death, this short novel amply demonstrates that Doyle still retained all his great abilities as a spinner of riveting yarns, even in his twilight years. At a mere 140 pages, the novel(la) is a compact but densely written fantasy of the discovery of the remnants of Atlantis.
It seems that Professor Maracot (a kind of early 20th century cross between Jacques Cousteau and Robert Ballard), along with an American naturalist and an American engineer, had suffered a terrible accident while in his bathysphere off the Canary Islands. A giant crayfish had separated the hawser connecting them to their mother ship, and down they went, 26,000 feet, into the abyss of the eponymous Maracot Deep. Miraculously, disaster is averted as Maracot & Co. are rescued by the survivors of the lost Atlantean civilization, which society has been living under the ocean floor for the last 8,000 years. Our heroes are given a tour of the Atlantean realm and witness many monstrous varieties of undersea life, including a giant electric sea-worm, poisonous purple slugs, and the sea serpent of legend. They witness some of the Atlantean relics of superscience, explore the ruins of the capital city, and have a run-in with the “Lord of the Dark Face.”
This is a wonderful fantasy, and keeps the reader thoroughly entertained throughout. It is largely epistolary in nature, taking the form of various letters/”messages in a bottle” that our heroes manage to get back to the world. Doyle solves the problem of there being no light at the ocean bottom by having Maracot & Co. discover that the ocean floor’s globigerina ooze is phosphorescent, due to the decomposing marine life. As for the unbearable pressure, our boys discover some mysterious compensating factor that nullifies that problem. So they are able to walk around with their vitrine helmets and oxygen tanks and explore the ocean depths very comfortably, thank you. Doyle, an ardent spiritualist in his twilight years, had his Professor Challenger character (his favorite) convert from being a hardened materialist to a believer in the unseen forces that surround us, in his 1926 novel The Land of Mist. And in his last novel, he does likewise for Professor Maracot, whose “theories of a lifetime have crumbled about [his] ears” after his battle with the mystical Lord of the Dark Face.
This really is a remarkable story. If only Doyle hadn’t made one tremendous boo-boo. At one point in the tale, Headley, our narrator, falls in love with an Atlantean named Mona, the daughter of Scarpa, a community leader. Fifty pages later, she is the daughter of Manda, the chief of Atlantis! This is a terrible oversight on Doyle’s part, and on the part of his editors, and undermines what up until then had been a meticulously put-together tale. This major slip aside, The Maracot Deep is guaranteed to give all sci-fi/fantasy fans a few nights of great pleasure indeed. It would make for excellent reading after one finishes C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne‘s classic novel of ancient Atlantis, The Lost Continent (1900), which details Atlantis as it was back when. Doyle tells us what’s going on there now.
I had never heard of this one before today.
It definitely is one of his more obscure titles, Marion!