The Ring of Thoth cover image

While Doyle is best known for his tales of Sherlock Holmes, he wrote a variety of other kinds of fiction, much of which is vigorous and entertaining. In interesting contrast to the Holmes stories, with their insistence upon rational explanation and natural order, are his stories of the supernatural. At the end of “Lot No. 249,” one of his best supernatural tales, the narrator says, “But the wisdom of men is small, and the ways of Nature are strange, and who shall put a bound to the dark things which may be found by those who seek for them?” Doyle’s tales of the supernatural also help to illustrate the wit and humor that, in fact, show up in many of his stories, for in these tales he often maintains an ironic narrative tone.

In “The Ring of Thoth,” irony is directed at the central character, Mr. John Vansittart Smith, a fellow of the Royal Society. Though Smith is a highly talented scientist, he is also represented as a fickle fellow. The narrator opens the story with an extended metaphor of courtship. Smith “flirts” with zoology, chemistry, and Oriental studies, almost “marrying” each, but finally is “caught” by Egyptology. Then the metaphor turns real: “So struck was Mr. Smith that he straightway married an Egyptological young lady who had written upon the sixth dynasty, and having thus secured a sound base of operations he set himself to collect materials for a work which should unite the research of Lepsius and the ingenuity of Champollion.” The humor continues as Smith journeys to Paris to study materials at the Louvre, where the narrator describes him as looking like a comic bird while he studies. When a pair of English tourists make disparaging...

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