29 January 2021


Nigel Watson. Captured by Aliens? A History and Analysis of American Abduction Claims. McFarland, 2020.

Nigel Watson has been a friend of, and contributor to Magonia for many years, ever since its original manifestation of the Merseyside UFO Bulletin, so if anyone thinks that this review may be less than totally objective, they may well be right.
The book is largely an expanded and updated edition of the author’s Alien Deception: an Exploration of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon, privately published, and now scarce. The foreword to this edition is Peter Rogerson’s review of the original book which appeared in Magonia in 2009. [1] 

The framework of the book is based around an in-depth analysis of the Hill abduction account, which although far from being the first reported UFO abduction is certainly the one which brought the phenomenon to extensive public notice, largely with the publication of John Fuller’s Interrupted Journey in 1966.

Even in the first chapter, which summarises the bones of the incident, we can see how going back to original sources helps give a more accurate view of what happened to the couple than most popular accounts describe. Martin Kottmeyer noted that that “Thomas E. Bullard makes the rather more modest claim that the keystone of the abduction mystery, the interrupted journey of Betty and Barney Hill, had no cultural sources from which to derive the experience they reported. They were, to quote him, “entirely unpredisposed” since they were the first.”[2] 

Kottmeyer continued: “These are forceful challenges to the proponent of the cultural origin of UFO phenomena. They have ‘Falsify me, I dare you’ plastered on them.” In this book Nigel Watson does that very effectively.

In looking at the pre-Hill history of abductions, Watson examines the early airship cases, which contained elements of the abduction mythos, and the links, - always denied by ‘Serious Ufologists’ - of the connection between the contactee phenomenon and the broader ‘entity’ and abduction cases. He points out that “ufologists … were willing to consider an alien contact story if it came from ‘respectable’ witnesses … that did not patently promote [a] cosmic philosophy.” Any such distinction is, of curse, entirely subjective.

The book outlines the long and convoluted history of anomalous events, visions and beliefs, from supernatural beings and mysterious sky visions, to fears of nuclear war and ecological disaster which have shaped the manner in which humans interpret events which seem beyond normal experience, and how those interpretations themselves sow the seeds for future anomalous experience. This is a truly Fortean book.

In another life Nigel Watson is a film critic and historian, and his chapter on ‘Alien Movies and TV’ provides a rundown on how depictions of aliens in the mass media have both been influenced by, and have influence, public perception of UFO and related events, as well as considering claims that various US state agencies have brought pressure – financial and otherwise – to bear on producers and writers to provide storylines slanted to promote a particular project.

In his penultimate chapter, ‘Reviewing the Hill Case’, he goes point by point through the claims made by Kathleen Marden (Betty’s niece) and Stanton Friedman in their book Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience, in which they tell us “Where the Debunkers Went Wrong”.

In one instance they that Betty had no previous interest in space or UFOs prior to the events of September 1961. In fact she had been interested in the works of Immanuel Velikovsky since she read Worlds in Collision in 1950, and actually write to him after her experiences, and she told Swedish researcher Clas Svahn that she and her family had witnessed a UFO crash in 1959.

Although his conclusions support the view that the abduction phenomenon, and indeed a large part of the entire UFO story, is of psycho-social origin, this is without the hard-line dogmatism that mars much of the ‘skeptical’ writing on the topic. He is careful to note that there are many instances where we have to simply admit that we do not know.

In his review used as a forward for this volume, Peter Rogerson wrote “… it might well be regarded as the book on the Magonia position on such subjects, but for some readers this will be a new and challenging interpretation”.

I can only conclude this review as Peter did his: “This is an important book and one which I recommend”. – John Rimmer

1 comment:

Nigel said...

I'm pleased to say the book is a tribute to Peter Rogerson and I hope it at least passes on some of his ideas that always added a new perspective on this subject.