Mothman and Other Curious Encounters
by Loren Coleman
The popularity of such shows as The X-Files and Roswell and movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind prove that our culture has a thirst for the unseen and unexplainable. The latest big screen walk on the weird side is The Mothman Prophecies starring Richard Gere, based on John Keel’s classic work of Fortean research. The book (and to some extent, the movie, although the movie stretches “adaptation” nearly to the breaking point, when compared with Keel’s book) focuses on the sightings of a large, red-eyed creature, with a magnificent wingspan, part man, part bird, near the area of Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the mid to late 1960s. While the movie creates most of its story out of standard Hollywood “boy meets girl, boy gets plagued by high weirdness” templates, the actual story is strange and compelling enough.
While John Keel’s book will most likely always remain the definitive work on the subject, cryptozoologist Loren Coleman’s Mothman adds new information to the story as well explaining possible scenarios for the maddening “what and how” questions that incidents such as Mothman sightings provoke. By explaining cryptozoology — the study of unknown animals — he shows how what is considered a flight of fancy or delusion (such as huge dinosaur fish sightings of years past) can become the definition of a new species (Indonesia’s coelacanths, a large fish that seems to have swum out of a ’50s sci-fi novel). Coleman, the author of 14 previous works including Mysterious America, has gathered accounts from around the world that share similar traits, and paints a picture of elements of reality that hover outside the perception of most people, but might just exist nevertheless. While it is possible that 50% (or even 90%, who knows) of what Coleman describes can be easily explained by conventional means, or is just complete hogwash to begin with, the fact that any of it might possibly be true is both compelling and unsettling.
The grandfather of this sort of study is Charles Fort, the author of many works of fantastic (both in presentation as well as content) study that gave rise to the term “Fortean,” which means, loosely stated, the study of things unusual- UFOs, Bigfoot, Mothman, etc. When Fort released his works, based on decades of study of academic journals, newspapers, and other accounts, he drew a vivid image of unreal — but believable — events in history, and the generally successful attempts by the scientific community to discount things it cannot immediately explain. At the time Fort wrote The Book of the Damned (1919), the concept of meteorites hadn’t been fully embraced by the intellectual community — the notion of falling stones from the heavens was just too out of the realm of comfort for scientists to buy into. So eyewitness accounts were discounted, and when presented with fragments of strange stone from space, the evidence was dismissed with a quick “it was on the ground to begin with.” Much the same is occurring today, from UFO sightings to PSI and even large, red-eyed birdmen such as the Mothman. Perhaps one day, we will learn enough about such things that we can explain them away, neatly and simply, and relegate them to the back pages of musty textbooks. But until then, the search for the truth continues, and works such as Loren Coleman’s Mothman assist us greatly.
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