The Leather Funnel

Category: Blog

Listening to NPR on my car radio last night, the commentator interviewed an editor who had put together an anthology of the best horror short stories. The program was of course timed to Halloween, which is looming and will be upon us shortly.

The story that was chosen as the standout was “The Leather Funnel,” by Arthur Conan Doyle, who was by the time he wrote this pretty sick and tired of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, or at a minimum needed a palate cleanser before chewing on his next case.

The program’s narrator read the story with the right tone of doom and disaster without sounding cheesy or overly theatrical. I reached my destination before I could hear what happened, so when I got home I googled the story and settled in. My house was dark and quiet, but for the air-conditioning kicking on and off and the cat licking herself as she curled up on the sofa in my study.


The story was about a house guest – always a good set up – of an Englishman collector. The room where he was to spend the night was the library filled with musty-smelling books, and a fireplace with embers burning to a darkly glow.

The Englishman asked his guest to participate in an experiment after explaining that he subscribed to the notion that dreams can be very revealing and should not be overlooked. He then presented his guest with a medieval, leather funnel, and the two men speculated about its use and provenance, examining closely the tip of the funnel which appeared to have been cut into.

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The host directed his guest to put the funnel next to his bedside to see whether it conjured up any strange dreams that might tell him something about the object’s history.

Once the guest fell asleep he was visited by a vivid dream, transported to a medieval chamber of horrors, in which a woman was about to be tortured for having murdered her father and two brothers. It was clear that the funnel would be used to drown the woman, because the dreamer saw several flasks of water at the ready.

The guest woke up screaming, and the host appeared in the shadows. The guest believed that this apparition might be an extension of his dream come to life, but when his host asked him how far into his dream he had gotten, he recognized his mistake – that the voice belonged to his host.


The guest described his dream in gruesome detail, and was then shown a book with the actual case history of the woman in question, and the manner in which she was put to death, chained to a wooden rocking horse while water was forced down her throat through the leather funnel.

And so I thought about the premise of this horror story: that putting an object by your bedside might elicit a dream in which the object either plays a key role, or reveals its meaning to the dreamer.

I’ve heard that writers should keep a notepad by their bedside so they can record any unusual dreams, but the concept that Arthur Conan Doyle posits is much more fascinating.

Now I just have to find an object that is worth dreaming about.