Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review--The Mothman Prophecies


THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES
by John Keel

It's West Virginia in 1966.  The town of Point Pleasant is plagued for over a year by strange lights in the sky, livestock mutilations, Men In Black, and appearances of a half humanoid, half bird creature that will come to be known as "Mothman."  Journalist and researcher John Keel travels to Point Pleasant in search of answers...and finds himself enmeshed in more weirdness than anyone should be allowed to experience.

This book is an "everything and the kitchen sink" of the paranormal.  There are cryptids, UFOs, alien beings, ghosts, psychic phenomena, and generally just whacko weirdness.  Oh where to start?
First of all, the book is really nothing like the movie of the same name with Richard Gere (which should have been titled Pretty Mothman for all its dissimilarity.)  Second of all, it is not a straightforward narrative.  Keel weaves back and forth between the events in Point Pleasant, his personal experiences there and elsewhere, and with paranormal incidents unrelated to Mothman but help to underscore and bear out the points that he is making.   As a matter of fact, the titular entity appears relatively little in comparison to the size of the book.  This method of writing is tedious to follow at times, but I find that to be a mere peccadillo.  Others not used to reading, say, postmodern literature might find it more distracting.
Third of all, this book is not your standard UFO, cryptozoology text.  A great deal of the theories that Keel puts forth in the book are not popular with many who research these types of phenomena.  While he does not discount the extraterrestrial hypothesis entirely, Keel is not content to hang his hat on the pat answer of "UFOs are spacecraft driven by aliens.  Period."
Again, that kind of iconoclasm ok with me.  The more I consider Keel's postulations, the more I come to like them.  Like Vallee, Keel notes how the manifestations of UFOs and cryptids always tend to mirror the cultural norms of the time.  More succinctly, the apparitions conform to what people at that time consider to be "fantastic."  They are bizarre and puzzling, but not excessively past our means of understanding.  An alien spaceship is something fantastic, but not beyond our means of comprehension.  Ditto for angels and the like in the Middle Ages.  Keel puts forth that we may very well be generating these sightings within our own minds and projecting them into form.
One of the stories he cites in the book has become a favorite of mine for retelling.  Keel talks of a building in New York City where people were sighting an apparition. The form was of a man in a black cape with a black hat pulled low over the face.  Speculation ran that it was the ghost of a spy from the Revolutionary War.  Research, however, yielded no evidence that any such individual should be haunting that particular building.  What was found was the name of a former tenant in the building: Walter Gibson.  Gibson wrote The Shadow.  He would sit in his apartment in that building and crank out a new Shadow pulp every month.  That meant he spent quite a bit of his time thinking about The Shadow.  Did he somehow bring the character into a physical manifestation via all the mental energy he expended upon it?  One wonders.
I really think that Keel was on to something.  When someone says "it's all in your head," they may be correct...from a certain point of view.  There is also the possibility that a lifeform that we don't yet understand appears to us in forms that mimic our current level of understanding, whatever that may be.  Or it could all be even weirder than that.  One day, we may very well be wishing for simplistic answers such as "UFO=alien." 

For anyone interested in Fortean matters, this is an essential read.  Even if you just enjoy good suspense, when Keel talks of his own experiences with Men In Black, stolen evidence, and intimidation via eerie phone calls and visitations, you'll want to keep reading.

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