I like to think that the Pajiba Storytellers articles may have had a slight influence upon Hollywood, and therefore I fully credit those articles for this good news.*
J. Michael Straczynski has stepped aside from the science fiction realm to draw upon one of the fascinating but little known stories from history: the long and strange friendship between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle. Other than its setting in time, it’s a story that heavily hits on some of the bedrock themes of science fiction, and so it isn’t too surprising that a scion of sci-fi like Straczynski picked up the story.
Houdini, remembered of course for his prodigious capacity for escape, was a consummate showman, but did not ground his performance in pretension of magic. He was a scientist, and every performance was a demonstration of the fallacy of a god-of-the-gaps. The fact that an audience could not figure out his tricks was no more evidence of magic than a failure to understand orbital mechanics implies that the hand of god moves the planets. He spent much of his life as an active skeptic, debunking in particular the claims of spiritualists.
Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a long time friend of Doyle, but also a major proponent of the spiritualist movement. The last years of Houdini’s life, he and Doyle were estranged, and Doyle clung to the belief not only in spiritualism but that Houdini himself was a conduit for paranormal forces.
It’s a terrific story, filled with the little nuances and ironies of real people. The greatest magician in history was a scientist who denied the paranormal, the author who created the paragon of rational reasoning had an unshakable faith in the paranormal that cost him his friend. In the wrong hands, it’s the sort of story that would end up terribly contrived, but there are few pens better than Straczynski’s.
Dreamworks has bought the script, which THR describes as creating “a fictional account of the two teaming up with a psychic to solve a set of murders in 1920′s New York.”
*Note: this assertion is not in any way based on reality.