3 July 2011


Joe Nickell. Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies and More. Prometheus, 2011

Bart M. Nunnelly. The Inhumanoids: Real Encounters With Beings That Can't Exist. CFZ Press, 2011

Human beings have always been fascinated by stories about those beings which seem to exist in the liminal zone between human and animal. These two books cover a wide range of such creatures from very different perspectives.
Joe Nickell is the investigator for the Committee for Scientific Enquiry, which used to be known as CSICOP, and as a former fairground barker has a determinedly down to earth approach to such matters. However unlike many sceptics Nickell does not just draw armchair conclusions, but goes out into the field to investigate. Needless to say he does not encounter any of the strange events, so much of his research ends in anticlimax.

He has no hesitation in labelling the famous Patterson sasquatch film as a hoax, giving good reason for doing so. He also has explanations for three well-known entity stories: the Flatwoods Monster, the Hopkinsville goblins, and Mothman. He suggests that all were basically misperceptions of owls. In the case of Flatwoods that was also the conclusion of author Buzz Brandt in an article in Magonia 80 

Though in general I tend to agree with Nickell's conclusions, there are some problems with this book. One is that it tries to cover too much in too short a space, ranging from the Cardiff Giant, through hairy hominids, vampires, feral children, dwarfs, extraterrestrials, etc, that many are covered in little more than a couple of pages. Perhaps that is also the reason for a number of factual errors, and the general impression that this is a collection of articles and fillers rather thrown together. A not unfair appraisal might be "sensible but superficial".

Bart Nunnerley comes from a very different place, and his book is packed with tales and memorates of the most extraordinary creatures, few if any of which stand much chance of being flesh and blood animals. Not only do they seem to exist in the liminal zone between human and animal, but also between real and unreal, matter and spirit. It certainly makes the point that the sorts of experiences discussed by ufologists, cryptozoologists and psychical researchers are just the tip of the iceberg. It must be said that there is a rather promiscuous use of sources, with personally researched material side by side with stuff from authors like John Keel and Brad Steiger, perhaps not best known for their critical faculties.

Nunnerley is a fundamentalist Christian and concludes that all these creatures are really nasty old demons in disguise, aiming to trap us into believing in things like extraterrestrial life and human evolution, of both of which he disapproves. In this he disagrees with other Christian fundamentalist cryptozoologists who go looking for dinosaurs because God wouldn't let them go extinct. In contrast to Nickell’s, this book can perhaps be evaluated as "detailed but daft". -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson.

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