Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels. The Dawn of Magic (The Morning of the Magicians) McGibbon and Kee, 1963.
You could call this book “The book that launched a dozen pseudo-sciences”, with its hints of mysterious secret societies holding even more mysterious secrets handed down from lost civilisations, of the occult roots of Nazism, of mutants with vast powers and hints of extraterrestrial visitors. All heady stuff for a twelve year old and I have to say that I found its imaginative leaps totally fascinating. This was adventurous stuff, and certainly more appetising to a pre-pubescent science geek, than the trivialities of English literature. I think this was the book that turned me off fiction, or at least any kind of fiction but sci-fi and horror.
There is no doubt that, compared with its many imitators, it is at a stylist level in a whole different league; these guys could actually write and actually had ideas even if rather wild ones. Of course, the style and verve really helped to paper over the vast number of factual errors and wild speculations.
After fifty years, while something of the verve remains, the errors and nonsense are much more apparent. Some of the stuff on Nazi Germany was really what people wanted to hear at the time, its theme was that the Nazi regime was wholly and absolutely Other, an incomprehensible alien civilisation that owned nothing to the mainstream of European culture. As such it acted as an alibi for a civilisation and no doubt for France in particular. What is now obvious to us, that the Nazis exterminatory apocalyptisism had its roots in western culture, in the Christian demonization of Jews as Christ-killers, fatally merged with extreme forms of social Darwinism and notions of 'racial hygiene' and eugenics which were common across the western world in the first third of the 20th century, was all conveniently forgotten in an act of exorcism.
For Pauwels however, the horrified fascination with this 'alien civilisation' was to lead into a journey into darkness and association with the Neo-Pagan nationalism of GRECE (Research and Study Group for European Civilization), a group whose ideology is not too dissimilar to that of the Greek Golden Dawn. I am not sure what Bergier, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust made of that. But of course, that is probably not the main influence of this book. Rather it was the opening of fantastic possibilities, and to me, an introduction to Charles Fort.
Frank Edwards. Stranger Than Science Pan Books, 1963
Here was another book on unsolved mysteries, bought, I seem to remember in Manchester. Edwards produced all sorts of truly mysterious tales; starting with the disappearance in full view of his family of the farmer David Lang, going on through the Yeti, the Flatwoods monster, the devil’s footprints, a missing Canadian village, the guy who really was swallowed by a whale and all sorts of psychic and Fortean wonders, 75 chapters of them in all in just over 200 pages. All very exciting for a twelve year old, and scary at times, especially the story of the Filipino woman who was bitten by an invisible monster; that definitely kept me awake at night.
Of course all this would be amazing stuff it any of it was true, but as subsequent research has shown virtually all the tales told by Frank Edwards were either inventions of someone or gross exaggerations. For example, the tale of David Lang was made up by Ray Palmer under one of his aliases, and the idea was taken from short stories by Ambrose Bierce. Today we hold up Edwards as an example of all that is wrong in popular Forteanism.