1 July 2020

WOODLAND WEIRDNESS

Peter A. McCue. Britain's Paranormal Forests: Encounters in the Woods. The History Press, 2019.

This informative and often entertaining work mostly covers, as the title indicates, unusual and bizarre encounters in Britain's woods. In particular McCue covers strange incidents occurring in the woodlands of Kent, Cannock Chase, Rendlesham Forest and Dechmont Woods in Scotland amongst others.

The author adopts a healthy scepticism towards the unexplained, and in cases where there is only one witness, plausible alternative suggestions for incidents are offered. For example the alleged sighting of a UFO in Dechmont Wood in 1979 by a forestry worker David Taylor is thoroughly investigated, with even Taylor's medical record including a past of heavy drinking being noted, and the author concluding that the incident "isn't a very strong case", in spite of the fact that the local authorities have installed a Dechmont UFO trail.

In another case the author debunks "the Dering Woods Massacre" of twenty people, including eleven children, in 1948, pointing out that the story was based on a fake newspaper article (the price of the paper was shown as 1p at a time decades before decimalisation). In general I find I agree with most of the author's conclusions on the incidents, which are mostly based on his exhaustive reading of other authors' primary research.

I found his chapter 'Briefer Reports' particularly entertaining. In one report he writes that "people have supposedly heard strange banging noises" coming from Hermit's Wood near Ilkeston. I leave it to the reader to speculate on probable causes. More seriously, the author tends to take the line that many of the accounts in the woods, such as those of large hairy creatures jumping out in front of cars, strange lights and sounds etc, can possibly be put down to practical jokers (eg pranksters wearing an animal costume) or the witnesses' own subjective experiences.

On the other hand, the author admits that "overlap cases [...] are hard, if not impossible, to explain satisfactorily..." Such cases include the simultaneous sightings of UFOs by witnesses in different but nearby locations, eg witnesses on opposite sides of a valley seeing a UFO at the same time. The author posits the possible existence of a unitary trickster intelligence to explain such cases, and this element of tricksterism does seem to ring true to me from my reading of other accounts of paranormal investigation. McCue, however, correctly points out that, since the theory is impossible to disprove if untrue, it is of no use for a scientific investigation.

It occurs to me that this book might be a handy companion to anyone already engaged in research, as it provides short but well documented accounts of numerous incidents. At the same time for the general reader the book is balanced, readable and handily interspersed with numerous maps and photographs. -- Robin Carlile.

24 June 2020

TRICK AND TREAT

S. D. Tucker. Blithe Spirits, an Imaginative History of the Poltergeist. Amberley, 2020.

The author lays out his stall in an introductory caveat lector, ‘How True Are These Tales?’: “I take the vast majority of accounts presented throughout at face value. I have made zero attempts to interview witnesses or hunt down any polts myself”. He continues, quoting the folklorist Andrew Lang, “We do not ask so much ‘are these stories true’ as ‘Why are these stories told?”
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22 June 2020

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

Nikki Van De Car. Magical Places: an Enchanted Journey Through Mystical Sites, Haunted Houses and Fairytale Forests. Running Press, 2019.

On of the most popular features in Fortean Times is the ‘Fortean Traveller’ column, where people describe their visits to sites with a Fortean connection, perhaps a location noted for recurrent paranormal phenomena and hauntings, sites of religious significance or places that just have some strange, numinous quality about them. These can be in remote regions of the earth or just down the street. My local Fortean site is the venue for the first appearance of Springheel Jack.
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18 June 2020

DEVILS AND DEMONS

Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman. Demons, the Devil, and Fallen Angels. Visible Ink Press, 2018.

"The devil goes by many names, and his tribe is legion. Throughout human history, we have been obsessed with the dark opposites of God and angels, light and mercy. Whether it is our religious and sacred texts, folklore, and myths of old; legends, fairy tales, and novels; or the movies and television shows of today, the dark entities enthrall us, terrify us, and remind us of the the duality of good and evil."
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10 June 2020

SOMETHING AND NOTHING

Richard Grossinger. Bottoming Out The Universe; Why There is Something Rather than Nothing. Park Street Press, 2020.

The sub-title of this book is a helpful guide to its intention - why there is something rather than nothing? A question you may never have asked yourself before. But, one that, it turns out, is rather important. This is posed here in reference to the universe, and, most particularly, to the nature of consciousness interacting with it. 
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4 June 2020

IT'S RAINING UFOS

Jason Gleaves, The Ufology Umbrella: Close Encounters Are Not Enough, Flying Disk Press, 2019.

Using Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s classification system, Jason Gleaves expands it to include four further categories. These are Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, that feature abductions or out-of-the-body experiences; Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind, mental/telepathic communication with extra-terrestrials; Close Encounters of the Sixth Kind, death caused by UFO vehicles or aliens; Close Encounters of the Seventh Kind, sexual intercourse with an extraterrestrial to produce a hybrid being.
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30 May 2020

DOWN AT THE OLD COCK AND PYE

Tom Bolton. London’s Lost Rivers, A Walker’s Guide, 2 volumes. Strange Attractor, 2019.

The first volume of this set was originally published in 2011 and I reviewed it in Magonia HERE. This is an updated edition, reflecting the changes that have been made to London's cityscape in the intervening years. Some parts of the routes have been closed off by building development, and some have been opened up as regeneration work has been completed. 
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25 May 2020

TIME OF OUR LIFE

Joseph Mazur. The Clock Mirage: Our Myth of Measured Time. Yale University Press, 2020.

I have long been fascinated by the mystery of time and specifically anomalies associated with it. So it will be no surprise that I found this book particularity interesting. It is a genuinely fresh approach to the subject and I learnt many things that I never knew. Always a sign of a good book. This is particularly true when they are delivered in an easy to read form as here, so do not panic that the author is a US emeritus professor of mathematics, as his writing skills balance out any fear of being overwhelmed by theory.
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22 May 2020

MARKS OF THE BEAST

Jack Fennell. Rough Beasts: the Monstrous in Irish Fiction, 1800-2000. Liverpool University Press, 2019.

"In Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1938 novel Nausea, the protagonist Roquentin descends into an existential crisis when he starts to perceive the viscosity of the world around him – that is, its malleability and lack of consistency – which Mary Warnock explains via a comparison to treacle, a substance that is nether solid nor liquid, lacking a defined shape and boundaries."
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18 May 2020

HELL FIRE AND DAMNATION

Geoffrey Ashe. The Secret History of Hell-Fire Clubs from Rabelais and John Dee to Anton LaVey and Timothy Leary. Bear & Company. 4th ed. 2019.

Geoffrey Ashe is not a name you would associate with Hell-Fire Clubs. He is a venerable British historian known for his expert research on the subject of King Arthur. At the time of writing this review, in May 2020, I found that he is still thriving at the age of 97 and living in Glastonbury, where he is an Honorary Freeman 'in recognition of his eminent services to the place as an author and cultural historian'.
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