Brian D. Parsons. Handbook for the Amateur Cryptozoologist. Lulu, 2015. (Second edition)

Michael Newton. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide. McFarland, 2015. (Reprint.)

Brian Parsons in an accomplished investigator who has been involved with a range of anomalous phenomena for twenty years. In Handbook for the Amateur Cryptozoologist he explains the techniques of investigation and warns how to avoid the pitfalls involved in such work. Although the book specifically concerns cryptozoology much of the advice given applies equally to subjects such as ufology or ghost investigation.

He begins by considering one VERY basic question: is cryptozoology actually a science? He explain that cryptozoology certainly involves using the scientific method, and hunting for unknown species can produce scientific discoveries, but concludes that currently cryptozoology cannot yet be considered a true science. This however does not preclude it from being conducted in a scientific manner.

Although cryptozoology is an international pursuit this book is largely written from the perspective of an American researcher and there is an emphasis on Bigfoot and out-of-place big cat sightings, but this does not prevent it from being of value to investigators in Britain as well. In fact his discussion of the North American scene introduces the important distinction between out-of-place animals and the truly anomalous.

A particularly valuable chapter is his discussion of the techniques for interviewing witnesses, giving them the space to fully describe their experiences without either using leading questions, or to limit their responses to a series of yes/no answers. His advice to researchers to ask questions involving events beyond the immediate experience resembles John Keel’s advice that ufologists should find out what witnesses had for breakfast, although Parsons explains the reason for this rather more clearly than Keel ever did!

His analysis of the difference between science and pseudoscience is good advice for fortean researchers generally, and he makes it clear that witnesses' reports can be critically analysed with having to call into question their honesty.

There is a section on the sort of equipment that a cryptozoologist might wish to take with them on investigations, which in some cases is more appropriate for the North American researcher - Britain gives little scope for trekking through deep forest in search of an out-of-place big cat - not in Surrey, anyway! However, the important point which he stresses is that simply using scientific equipment does not make you a scientist.

The book concludes with some examples of investigatory notes and interview questions, but these are not intended as a tick-box exercise, and the methodology behind them is fully explained.

In all an excellent little introduction to cryptozoological research, which would repay reading by those involved in other areas of anomaly research.

A massive paperback of nearly 600 pages and weighing in at over 3lb (1.3 kg) the Encylopedia of Cryptozoology is a contrast to the Handbook’s slim 175 pages. With over 2700 entries the book cannot be described as anything but comprehensive, but many of the entries are just a few lines of uncorroborated and uninvestigated sighting reports, and in some ways they are comparable to the shorter entries in Magonia’s INTCAT listings of ‘entity’ cases. The sources given do not trace back to the earliest available account as with INTCAT, and are usually just a reference to a generally available published source. In many cases it is unclear just how close the version shown here is to the original account.

Nevertheless, for anyone seeking a reference to the broadest possible range of reported cryptids this is an extremely useful guide, with a substantial bibliography for further literary exploration.

As always when confronted with encyclopaedic listings of out-of-place, mysterious and dubious creatures I look first for a reference to the controversial Brentford Griffin. It is indeed here, but the compiler seems too eager to accept the stories put around by some interested parties that it was a crude hoax. If indeed it was a hoax, it was anything but crude!

Both these books will be of great interest to students and potential students of cryptozoology, but I think Parson’s Handbook will be of more immediate value for those seriously interested in direct involvement with the topic. -- John Rimmer.

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