Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Flying Saucers and the Three Men

Albert K. Bender Flying Saucers and the Three Men (1962)
This account looms large in terms of UFOlogical history, and John Keel described Bender's work as the single biggest influence on saucer lore, ever. Bender founded the International Flying Saucer Bureau in 1952, an independent organisation dedicated to the investigation of the phenomenon run entirely by amateurs and enthusiasts, and the very first such organisation of its kind. Momentarily setting aside any urge towards smirking we may feel, Bender's work - collating reports of the unexplained from across the globe in the form of a quarterly magazine called Space Review - brought him, with a certain peculiar inevitability, into direct contact with entities claiming to be from outer space.

Whether this really happened or not is another thing entirely, but from his testimony I'm very strongly inclined to believe that it seemed absolutely real to Albert K. Bender, because if he were consciously making it up, he probably would have come up with something more plausible, more consistent, and less obviously surreal. There are a few significant clues as to the objective reality of what Bender claims to have experienced, notably:

When I regained my senses I was standing alone in the center of my den. The headache remained, and my eyes burned and felt swollen. I sat down on the bed, rubbed my eyes and head. Again I wondered if I were going out of my mind. Had I suffered some kind of fit? Had I dreamed this and the other realistic experiences? I began to think it might be logical and wise to see a doctor.

The mysterious headaches sound a lot like pollen allergies to me, but as with claims made in much UFO literature, it can often be difficult to pass judgement with absolute certainty. It could all be made up, but if so wouldn't you make a better job of it? It could all be an illusory interference pattern resulting from schizophrenic disassociation of different areas of the brain, but why do people we have never met seem to be having identical experiences? It could all be real by some definition, but if it were, wouldn't we know for sure by now?

For what it may be worth, Bender's experience involved contact with apparently alien beings who took him to some sort of flying saucer base and then explained in detail what they were doing on Earth, followed by the warning that he should tell no-one anything of what he has learned; and implausible though the account certainly is, it can't be avoided that a great many aspects of what Bender was supposedly told seem to square unusually well with other parts of the broader mythology. The same is true of his subsequent, often clearly terrifying encounters - notably involving the coming and going of mysterious and less than amicable visitors heralded by the overpowering smell of sulphur - just like those mediaeval demons - and the manifestation of something which had been named the Flatwoods Monster based on earlier sightings around the West Virginia town of that name.

Curiously enough, just as I was conducting a google search for the Flatwoods Monster - never having heard of the thing - and just as a series of bizarre artist's impressions came up, I heard the heavy footsteps of something much larger than a man walking across the roof of my house. Knowing the deep and repetitive thumps were almost certainly originated with somebody firing a ceremonial cannon at the nearby military base wasn't quite enough to quell the shiver of genuine terror I felt for just a moment - recalling how those who look for saucers have, like Bender, tended to find them. Assuming for the sake of argument that the kind of encounters Bender describes are a Jungian phenomenon, their perceived reality in the eye of the beholder renders them no less worthy of serious investigation.

In his introduction, Gray Barker describes his editing of Bender's original manuscript, apologising that the author made no claim to be a professional writer; so I was expecting outsider art. However, I doubt the manuscript can have been edited to any significant extent given that the prose shares the same easy rhythm as Bender's writing in issues of Space Review; and the apology is unnecessary. The account occasionally suggests one of Hank Hill's extended essays on the joys of propane and as such lacks the pacing of a thriller, but it really doesn't need it. Bender writes honestly, retaining a healthy scepticism regarding even his own testimony which, regardless of how much it may help his case or otherwise, makes for a fascinating piece of autobiography with none of the embittered or overly-defensive qualities which spoil most UFO literature. True or not, this is one hell of a weird story.

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