Honestly, I’m actually using the word gobbledygook incorrectly. The true definition of gobbledygook is, “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms; nonsense.” As I see it though, I’m not using this word entirely wrong. Gobbledygook could be characterized by language that sounds like you know what you’re talking about, but it’s all empty words. You don’t actually know what you’re talking about. It reminds me of some of the English translations I would see on objects in Japan. Some of them made no sense whatsoever. There were just a bunch of English words strung together.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has a thing for secretive societies. He mentions Mormons, Freemasons, the Red Circle, the KKK, the Mafia, and also Mycroft’s strange Diogenes Club. Only two of those are fake, The Red Circle and the Diogenes club. The Red Circle happens to be based on a real thing known as the Carbonari, which are like Italian Freemasons.
That’s great and all. We can use secretive societies to further our plot lines as authors. Why not? Why not have it be a conspiracy? Dan Brown makes a lot of money off of secretive societies, so why not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Here’s the thing…Dan Brown does his research, Arthur did not. If I were to read a Dan Brown book, I could then Google the societies he mentioned and their traditions. Dan Brown would be fairly accurate in his representations of those groups. Arthur was not accurate.
Honestly, if all these societies mentioned by Arthur were fake this wouldn’t have been a big deal. It’s a thing he made up; he can have its members do whatever in the heck he wants them to do. These societies aren’t fake though.
Let’s look at something like the Mormon church, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This church plays a huge role in the book A Study in Scarlet. There is very little of what Arthur says about the church that is true. He makes up stuff, none of it has any place in Mormon Theology. I know lots of Mormons, I’m not just saying this stuff. Arthur said this about his book to a descendent of Brigham Young, “… a scurrilous book about the Mormons.” He did later admit he was wrong.
Arthur embellished the truth. The thing about the Mormon church was that they were being prosecuted during the time in which Arthur was writing. They had been prosecuted for years. They had to leave the United States, what was the United States at the time, and start their own country in Utah because they were going to be murdered. It was going to be a Holocaust on American soil. People felt that strongly about the Mormon Church. They made up downright slanderous and terrible things about the members of its church. This is what Arthur relied on to back his description of the Mormon church. He didn’t actually take the time to talk to an actual member of the church or even a missionary to get the real scoop on how members of the church acted and what they believed in. Arthur’s book has actually been banned from libraries for being so derogatory towards Mormons.
When it came time for the show Sherlock to depict this story on television, you will notice there is no mention of Mormons whatsoever. The original text was that derogatory. The entire piece of the story set in the United States was scrapped.
Now, you would think Arthur learned his lesson about not researching secretive societies. He didn’t.
Arthur seems to have lightly researched other societies. He keeps mentioning them over and over again. The Freemasons have the most mentions in the Sherlock Holmes tales, but there are also mentions of the KKK and the Carbonari. I don’t know a ton about Freemasonry, I honestly should probably know more. The good thing about Arthur’s mentions of the Freemasons is that none of it seems to be bad. He doesn’t accuse the Freemasons of murder or kidnapping, as he did with the Mormons.
The Freemasons aren’t angels when it comes to the whole murder thing. They’ve been known to murder people for spreading “secrets.” Maybe Arthur knew some actual Freemasons or maybe he was one and decided spreading any of their “secrets” was a bad idea. His talk of Freemasons is mostly benign.
The KKK is not a good group, well, at least I think so, but they have their constitutional rights. Arthur makes up a whole bunch of stuff about them sending orange pips and oak branches to each other as warning signs for breaking with the group. Let me tell you something–I grew up in the South. I took a political science class with the granddaughter of the Grand Dragon of the KKK, the group is still alive and well and I’ve never heard of this orange pip business.
Granted the KKK was probably so secretive at the time of Arthur’s writing that he couldn’t get a lot of information on them, I still think he should have tried a little harder. Look, the group is more likely, well, let’s think of the 1940s/1950s version of the KKK, the group is more likely to beat the crap out of you and burn a cross in your yard than they are to send you a letter with orange pips in it. I already explained that oranges just weren’t floating around everywhere at the time either. Oranges were only beginning to be a normal thing in the time period.
Arthur was speaking of a very tough group when he spoke of the KKK. These days people are embarrassed to admit that family members belong to this group even though it’s merely supposed to be a non-violent opinion type of group; it hasn’t always been that way; history will tell you that. Is it a good idea to get information wrong about a group like this? Maybe it was a strategic move on Arthur’s part. Maybe he didn’t want a member of the KKK showing up at his house and beating the crap out of him for saying someone from the KKK burned a cross in one of his character’s yards. I don’t think that’s the case though. I think Arthur just didn’t bother to do his research and just went with popular opinion and rumor of the day, just as he did with the Mormons.
The Mafia and Carbonari are also mentioned in Arthur’s tales. Concerning the Mafia, they’re alive and well. I don’t think they care if you say bad things about them, because everybody knows it, but I could be wrong. The Carbonari on the other hand, were originally a masonic type of group concerned with uniting Italy. They weren’t necessarily murderers and members of a crime ring, as Arthur depicts the Red Circle to be. It was a place where guys hung out and had their little rituals. It wasn’t a group where people forced you into a life of crime. The Red Circle isn’t a real thing, so maybe that’s how Arthur got away so lightly on that one.
I mean if I was a member of a Masonic type group and some guy said I went around murdering people, I might be a little upset.
Arthur makes up a lot of crap about these groups. Why not actually do a little research and find out that Mormons don’t kidnap people and force girls into marriage, that the KKK doesn’t send orange pips to people, and that the Carbonari wasn’t a crime ring?
There’s something called libel, Arthur. You’re not supposed to make up derogatory things about real groups, even if that group is the KKK. That real group can sue you for libeling them. It hurts their reputations. The Mormon church was already having its fair share of trouble when Arthur wrote A Study in Scarlet and it didn’t need Arthur muddying up the waters anymore than they already were. With libel laws, the church could have sued for defamation of character, fortunately for Arthur, the Mormon church isn’t in the business of suing people for saying bad things about it.
Arthur presented his stories as if he knew what these societies were about. He wrote in an educated manner and presented story bits that seemed to be realistic. It sounded real, but it was just goggledygook.
carbonari, Deduction: Secret Societies and Gobbledygook, freemasons, kkk, mafia, mormon church, Mormons, secret societies, secretive societies, sherlock holmes, sherlock holmes mormons, sir arthur conan doyle
Essays, Sherlock Holmes