31 August 2010


Chad Arment. Varmints: Mystery Carnivores of North America. Coachwhip Publications, 2010.

This book by cryptozoologist Chad Arment, follows the pattern of his earlier books The Historical Bigfoot and Boss Snakes, in presenting full transcriptions of original newspaper accounts up to 1963, and thereafter presenting summaries for copyright reasons.
He is careful to point out that this material in and of itself cannot provide the sort of evidence that the scientific community could accept to establish new species, and is very alert to the role of misperception, misidentification and the like. He also notes the role of releases of exotic pets, laws in the United States being somewhat laxer there than here in Britain.

What is need to establish the reality of one of these crypto creatures is not, Arment argues, some new special level of 'extraordinary evidence' but just the same sort of old fashioned scientific evidence need to describe a new species of field mouse, i.e. a body. (For the tender hearted one might suggest that a specimen captured, photographed from several angles, measured, weighed, microchipped, tissue sampled and then released might just do.)

The stories here are clearly best thought of as folklore, and the real dividing line being between 'believed-in' folklore, and 'droll lore', such as the wampus, one set of whose legs was shorter than the other so it could more easily move on steep hill slopes. Of course newspapers may superimpose droll lore over believed-in folklore, especially when they set out to patronise the poor or the black.

A number of these accounts come in waves, like many other Fortean phenomena, and it is an open question whether this is due to the presence of a novel real animal, to newspaper publicity or to some other cause of social panic. As to whether any of these reports are generated by some undescribed species, the jury has to be out. Personally I would argue that if these accounts were confined to the vast continental land mass of North America, with its many varied habitats and ecozones then there might be a reasonable chance, but when one encounters substantially identical reports in equal, if not greater profusion from Great Britain, then the chances are very slim indeed. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps "patronize the gullible" might be a more sensitive choice of phrasing than "patronise the poor or the Black".

Magonia said...

I think the point the reviewer was making, Anonymous, is not that the people being patronised are actually gullible, but that when the people who share the folklore are poor or Black, the newspapers (and other writers) feel free to regard them as gullible.

Anonymous said...

Were the phrase within quotation marks, the fact that those sentiments are the contention of newspapers and other writers as opposed to that of the reviewer chosen by this site would be easily discernable to your average reader.
The use of the term "the Black" (note capitalisation) has not been considered politcally correct in quite some time.

Magonia said...

On checking Peter Rogerson's original script I see that the capitalization must have crept in during my editing it for the website. I have amended that. I know that 'African-American' is now the correct term in the USA, but 'black' is still generally used without a negative connotation in the UK.