Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark co-authored my second book of May, Cryptozoology A to Z, a minor encyclopedia of cryptids and the people who pursue them. How did I end up reading this book? How did I end up buying this book? I have no clue.
First, yes, I enjoyed this book. I went in with a skeptic’s mind, and I found the book to be pretty even-handed in terms of the things that were hoaxes, the things that might be hoaxes, and the things that remain unexplained. Still, sometimes I was annoyed to find a few spots where the lack of evidence against the existence of a particular monster was almost the same thing as confirmation. Whatever, man.
Second, I actually have a lot more to say about this book, but the thoughts are so knotted together. I don’t know if I can coherently separate them out. I was kind of big into this stuff when I was in elementary and middle school, but that was also a time when people really thought satanic cults were a thing. So, like, what the fuck, people?
Here’s something I can say. As the cover of the book likes to tell us, cryptozoology is the study of “hidden animals”: from the greek: kryptos (hidden) + zoon (animal) + logia (study). And this book full of hidden animals like lake monsters, sea serpents, and relic hominids. But it’s also a weird mishmash of various famous people and contributors in the field, a mind-boggling story about how Jimmy Stewart helped smuggle what he thought were neanderthal remains out of Nepal, and a list of storied monsters that turned out to be real animals (the okapi, the coelacanth, and the saola, just to name some of the more obvious examples). These creatures (“living relics”) are held up as cryptozoologists’ “I told you so” middle fingers to the rest of science. “You just gotta believe, yo!”
But this idea of a “field of science” dedicated to proving the existence of Bigfoot and Yeti and Nessie/Bessie/Cassie/Ogopogo/Igopogo monsters–of proving the existence of these hidden animals–just strikes me as so…Victorian. Cryptozoologists collect information about sightings, interviews with witnesses, molds of footprints. They pour over scratching videos and blurring photos. They’re competitively calling out each other for propagating hoaxes. It’s all so much wannabe adventurer tales from cub scout magazine articles. Also, they’re almost all rank amateurs in terms of scientific discipline. This is how science was done back in the 18th and early 19th Century. But not anymore. It’s professional now—Big Science. (Is that what struck me the most about how Victorian this is?)
I don’t know. I can’t come up with the nail I need to securely attach one two-by-four of conjecture to its accompanying two-by-four of analysis. Maybe the fact that this field seems to have finally puttered out with the proliferation of video cameras and camera phones proves how 18th/19th Century the idea of cryptids is (you know, maps with Sea Serpents and “There Be Dragons” captions). Or maybe the new cryptid sensation is information, and that instead of pursuing the truth behind the Patterson Film, wacky people are trying to pursue any sort of fucked up conspiracy theory they think helps people sleep at night.
In conclusion, let me just say one more time that I enjoyed this book. I mean, hell, learning about the Pangboche Hand (the Jimmy Stewart thing) alone was worth the price of the book.
P.S. The end date on this book is 26 May 2017.