Karl P. N. Shuker. A Manifestation of Monsters: Examining the Unusual Suspects. Anomalist Books, 2015.
This is a collection of essays, adapted from Shuker’s articles in various publications ranging from our old friend Fortean Times through Practical Reptile Keeping and Wild About Animals all the way to Small Furry Pets. A mixed assortment if there ever was one. They deal with less known aspects of cryptozoology and its relationship with folklore. The 'monsters' are however rather noted by their absence.
The first chapter suggests that one need not go out on a quest to some jungle swamp in order to find new and remarkable animals, perhaps they can come to us; in menageries, zoos, museums, or in memories of their visits in old documents. Did Georgian and Victorian menageries really include the fabled Nandi bear or a late survival of the ground sloth? Another paper looks at whether Cambodian sailors may have brought back a Moa from New Zealand?
A number of the papers in this volume deal with fictitious animals, not the animals of story but the beasts manufactured by craftspeople, bringing the things of imagination to a semblance of life, manufactured chimeras. These creatures clearly inhabit the liminal zone between art and fraud.
Other creatures of the imagination are those of folklore, such as the Scandinavian glosso, an enormous black female pig, surrounded by a white glow; which has the rather less than pleasant features of a row of razor sharp spines along its back, a pair of huge tusks, blazing red eyes and above all the ability to breath fire. This creature lives in churchyards, where it eats corpses and scratches itself on gravestones.
There is a local ritual in which, if you visit four different churches in four different parishes on either the night of Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, run around each anticlockwise and blow through the church door keyhole you will have a vision of the notable events of the following year. The downside of this is that the glosso will appear and try and set your backside on fire or get you where it hurts with its nasty spines. The only way you can avoid this is to turn and face it, and hope that it will eat a loaf of bread out of your hand. May we hope that one day the AFU will display a suitably stuffed and mounted specimen in their HQ? The lover of all things porcine might prefer to search for the giant blue pig of Nicaragua instead. One may be grateful that the many tusked Elephant Pig does not exist.
Nor, Shuker argues does the chupacabra, at least not the blood sucking variety and he comes up with much more conventional explanations for allegedly exsanguinated carcasses.
After that gory discussion of rat kings and the vegetable lamb of Tartary comes as something of a relief! But before you relax entirely there is the giant frog and the devil’s corkscrews. They make the spider in my bath look almost cuddly. In all, a fascinating collection of articles which will be of interest to all cryptozoologists, and to anyone else with an interest in the weird world of nature. -- Peter Rogerson.