Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Mothman Prophecies

John A. Keel The Mothman Prophecies (1975)
Here's another slight detour from the sort of thing I usually read, or at least the sort of thing that I usually read these days given how my shelves once sagged with pulpy looking paperbacks asking questions along the lines of is our world being visited by strange creatures from outer space? The most generous answer I was ever able to give on that score fell somewhere between probably not and nobody knows, and I came to the realisation that much UFO literature is irredeemably cranky, and even surprisingly dull given the subject; so all those books eventually found their way back to the charity shops from which they first came, much like that whole deal with salmon and the Sargasso sea.

John Keel on the other hand lodged in my mind as having written something of some sort of merit, even if I couldn't quite recall what that was. I retained an impression of both him and Brad Steiger as authors of books which were at least entertainingly weird in comparison to all those droning accounts of lonely farmers staring at a funny light which may or may not have been Venus seen through a cloud of marsh gas. Happily it turns out that my memory neither cheats nor suffers from interference brought on by interstellar gynaecologists introducing foreign objects to my bottom.

The Mothman Prophecies was of course made into a vaguely watchable film with Richard Gere, although so far as I recall, said film utilises only a fraction of the material found herein, specifically that which lent itself to a coherent narrative about mysterious creatures and the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Despite the title, there's a lot more here than either the Mothman or his prophecies. In fact there's so much and of such genuinely peculiar constitution that it really makes one wonder about all those other titles purporting to detail accounts of meetings with beings from outer space; specifically it makes one wonder if your average author of UFO reportage has, generally speaking, tended to leave out the more ludicrous details for fear of their damaging the credibility of the story, the story being that those lights in the sky represent something logical seen from an unfamiliar angle. By way of hypothetical contrast, Keel relates as much as has been claimed, regardless of consistency, and so includes the peripheral details which wouldn't have worked quite so well in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He describes the mysterious lights, the strange creatures with glowing red eyes and a terrible smell, and the mysterious visitors who call in the night to politely ask that witnesses keep their mouths shut; and then we meet those mysterious visitors in diners where they order steak and don't seem to know how to use a knife and fork, or make more obvious screw ups of the kind suggesting that someone hasn't done their homework. Oddly, that which Keel describes seems at times unlikely to be part of any deliberate hoax simply because persons perpetrating such a hoax would logically have done a more convincing job of it.

The broad picture Keel paints is both fascinating and frustrating because it works by the surreal yet somewhat familiar logic of the human subconscious, and seems to involve hypnotism of some description, and yet appears heavily reliant on many key details existing independent of human imagination. So far as I can make out, the story told here in meandering fashion would only work as something founded entirely in delusion, hallucination, and common or garden fibs if you allow for the existence of a collective and telepathic human unconscious by which imagined experiences might be simultaneously shared amongst individuals who have never met and have neither means nor motive for transmitting information to one another; although that isn't the same as saying that all of this happened.

The story of the Mothman, Mr. Cold, and all the others appears to be something rooted firmly in human psychology, but perhaps sticking a little way out by some unknown mechanism. John Keel makes no claim to know the answer, and mercifully spares us rhetorical drivel asking can it really be that since ancient times mankind has blah blah blah... All that can be said for sure is that those interviewed herein clearly believe themselves to have had some pretty weird experiences, and the reader is invited to scrabble around for his or her own potential explanation, and therein lies the fun. Even if it's all bollocks, there's a vigorous mental workout to be had from attempts to justify why it should be so.

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