The Horror of the Heights

"The Horror of the Heights" is a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in Strand Magazine in 1913.[1][2]

"The Horror of the Heights"
AuthorArthur Conan Doyle
CountryUnited Kingdom
Published inStrand Magazine vol. 46 #275[1][2]
Publication dateNovember 1913[1][2]


The story is told through a blood-stained notebook discovered on the edge of a farm in Withyham. The notebook is written by a Mr. Joyce-Armstrong, and the first two and last pages are missing; the notebook is thus dubbed the "Joyce-Armstrong Fragment".

Joyce-Armstrong, a brave aviator, had been curious over the deaths of certain pilots who tried to break the current height record of 30,000 feet. Recent casualties involve some strange deaths – one, Hay Connor, died after landing while he was still in his plane, while another, Myrtle, was discovered with his head missing. Joyce-Armstrong speculates that the answer to these deaths may be the result of what he calls "air-jungles":

There are jungles of the upper air […] One of them lies over the Pau-Biarritz district of France. Another is just over my head as I write here in my house in Wiltshire. I rather think there is a third in the Homburg-Wiesbaden district.

Joyce-Armstrong takes his monoplane to a height of 40,000 feet and is nearly hit by three meteors. It is then that he learns that his speculations are right: entire ecosystems (air-jungles) exist high in the atmosphere, and are inhabited by huge, gelatinous, semi-solid creatures. After going through a flock of animals superficially resembling jellyfish and snakes, Joyce-Armstrong is attacked by a more solid-looking but amorphous creature with a beak and tentacles, from which he narrowly escapes. He then returns to the ground.

The aviator writes he will be going up again to the air-jungle to bring back proof of his discoveries, but here the fragment ends, save for one last sentence which reads:

"Forty-three thousand feet. I shall never see earth again. They are beneath me, three of them. God help me; it is a dreadful death to die!"

The narrative outside the notebook then explains that Joyce-Armstrong has been missing and that his monoplane was discovered in a wreck on the border of Kent and Sussex.


The story has appeared in a number of collections, the earliest being Danger! and Other Stories (1918), as well as in more general collections like Volume 5 of The Road to Science Fiction.


The story formed a part of Forgotten Futures III.

See also


  1. "The Horror of the Heights". WorldCat.
  2. "The Strand magazine 1891-1930". Studium magazine. Retrieved January 30, 2012.


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