Sunday, September 06, 2009
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press (Sep 2009)
Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.7 x 3 cm
I have spent Sunday afternoon in bed and rather than surrendering to the arms of Morpheus, I have spent the time reading this smashing book. It is the sequel to a book called Cryptid Hunters and therein lies a tale.
About six years ago I started an e-mail friendship with a girl from Indiana. She is called Elizabeth Clem, and she has been the CFZ Indiana rep. ever since. When I went to Illinois in 2004 we met up, and she was just as much fun in person as she had been by e-mail, and our correspondence continues intermittently to this day.
When Corinna and I got married two and a bit years ago, Elizabeth sent us some books as wedding presents, including the afore-mentioned Cryptid Hunter. I read it in a couple of evenings whilst recovering from our near-fatal carcrash back in September 2007. I was captivated. To give you a brief resume of the contents, here is a surprisingly inadequate synopsis from the author's website:
After their parents are lost in an accident, thirteen-year old twins Grace and Marty are whisked away to live with their Uncle Wolfe - an uncle that they didn't even know they had! The intimidating Uncle Wolfe is an anthropologist who has dedicated his life to finding cryptids, mysterious creatures believed to be long extinct.
That is a bit like describing Anna Karenina as being about a couple of Russian chicks and some horse racing, but it will have to do because I want you all to go out and buy both books rather than just relying on my say-so, so there will be a dearth of spoilers in this review. I enjoyed the first book mightily, and empathised to a certain extent with the hero; a large, bearded, semi-disabled bloke who liked animals more than people. So I wrote to the author who to my embarrassment, turned out to have been one of our members all along. I am not in the habit of writing fan mail, and since the age of twenty-five I think I have only done it four times: to Wreckless Eric (who ignored me), Mr Biffo (who became a personal friend), Yoko Ono, (just after I wrote my first book 21 years back) who sent back a Christmas card, and Roland Smith, who to my delight wrote back saying:
I actually thought about you when I was developing Wolfe and Marty... There is a bit of you in both of them.
This made my day, and I sat back for the next two years or so waiting for the sequel. Well, it's arrived, and it is even better than the first.
The first book was set at Lake Tele in The Republic of the Congo (for those of you who, like me, learned their geographgy from stamp collecting, this was the one that used to be the French Congo, rather than the other one that was originally Belgian, and then Zaire) and you cryptotypes who read this blog will not be at all surprised to learn that it was about Mokele Mbembe. It had a satisfyingly villainous villain, (Dr Noah Blackwood) but one who turned out to be a blood relation of one of the protagonists, which introduces a level of moral ambiguity that makes the story interesting on a level above the well crafted derring-do of the plot.
The second is set in the oceans off New Zealand and concerns an attempt (succesful as it turns out) to capture a giant squid. But "You rotter!" I hear you all shout. You promised that there would be no spoilers. Well, I lied. But only because the fact that the hunt is succesful becomes almost insignificant in the light of the other twists and turns that the plot takes.
For some reason, I was reminded of the late great Douglas Adams's two books about Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency whilst reading this, because both authors seem to have a childlike delight in the wonders of new technology, and just like in the Dirk G books, Roland Smith keeps the new technological advances heralded in his prose completely believable, so that they are not even really within the realm of science fiction, although beyond the grip of known technology at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.
The writing is tauter, darker, and - in places - nastier, than in the first book. Indeed, there is an undercurrent of elegant brutality, which I find most engaging. I also like the way that the back story of the two main villains is beginning to unfold, underlining the thing that my dear wife says to me on the occasions that I get arsy about someone or someones, that there are two sides to every story.
Even my fictional alter ego appears to have got his money by doing a covert job for the American Government, at such a level that the anarchist in me (which is most of me, remember) tells me that it could not possibly have been something of which I would have approved.
I can't wait for the sequel, because unlike the first book, which could have been a stand-alone novel, this one leaves a cliffhanger, which means that another sequel is damn well unavoidable. But don't worry: if you want to read this one without having read the first, it works equally well as a stand-alone novel. But I make a guarantee - anyone who reads this book (whether or not they have read the first) will be sitting on the edge of their chair waiting for the next in the series.
Well done Roland (can it be China next, although I suspect it will be South America first)
I have always disliked the writings of Michel Meurger. He dismisses native testimony and has no zoological experience or qualifications to back up his absurd theories. In his book Lake Monster Traditions he tried (and dismally failed) to dismiss Canadian lake monsters. The main thrust of his argument is that many different kinds of creature are reported from the same lake. Some look like floating tree trunks, others have horse-like heads, others have humped backs and others look like huge snakes. So many different creatures could not live in the same lake ergo they are a fiction. Rubbish! Meurger is sorely lacking in any zoological experience. An animal - even a familiar one - can present radically different aspects or outlines according to how and where it is observed. This is even more acute in water where only a portion of the animal may be observable.
In an issue of Fortean Times a few years back he wrote an article called Two-headed Trolls have gone right out of fashion. It was an attack on Dr Bernard Heuvelmans for postulating that some troll legends were based on encounters with relic hominids when they were found in
Meurger’s argument against this was that some ancient depictions of troll portrayed them as having two heads - clearly impossible for a hominid. Again Meurger is displaying his lack of knowledge. It is well established that when ‘primitive’artists want to draw a heard of animals they draw each one separately. When they want to depict movement they draw the same animal over lapping with itself, like an early form of animation. The movement of a snake rearing up and swaying side to side in a threat posture is probably where the idea of the multi-headed hydra comes from: the depiction of a snake in movement.
I have long maintained that the dragon has a basis in fact and I have written extensively about modern sightings of dragon-like beasts. A sceptic would try to dismiss this with arguments about multi-headed dragons. I would counter not only with the ‘animal in movement' argument but with the fact that in many cultures, rivers and their tributaries were represented as dragons.
The villagers were plagued by a five-headed dragon that had its lair in a nearby lake. Aware of their suffering, on May 31, 552 A.D, the goddess Benzaiten caused the
Some of the passages from the book are clearly describing floods and storms as dragons. Take for instance the following:
During the seven-hundred-year period from the time of the Emperor Jinmu (traditional dates 660-585 BC) (1) to the time of Emperor Suinin (29 BC-70 AD), the evil dragon, accompanied by the spirit of the wind, demons, mountain spirits, and other spirits, wreaked calamities throughout the land. Mountains and hills crumbled, releasing floods and causing damage resulting in plagues and revolts.
Kokei is using the Shoku Nihongi, a 40 volume history of
More descriptions make the dragons sound like flood water:
During the 60-year reign of Emperor Keikou (71-130 AD), the 12th emperor, the evil dragon constantly made fire [or torrential rains] and rain descend on the eastern lands [roughly today's Kanto region]. Consequently, the people made their homes in stone caves.
At the time of Emperor Keikou (71-130 AD), the evils caused by the dragon increased. Hailstones fell, killing people. At the time, many people had to hide in stone caverns. It is related that in winter they lived in holes and in summer in trees, like the way people lived in the most ancient times.
At this time, the five-headed dragon first appeared at the water gate of
A village elder lived at the base of the valley. He had 16 children, all of whom were swallowed by the poisonous dragon. Grieving and anguishing, he left his old home to move to a location to the west, which was then called "Elder's Mound."
The evil dragon then spread out through the villages , swallowing and devouring children. Terrified, the villagers forsook their homes to move elsewhere. The people of that time named the new location Koshigoe.
By this time the dragon's swallowing of people had taken place throughout the eight lands [of the Kanto region in
Thereupon, the people of the eight lands, high-born and low-born, came together to discuss what to do. It was decided to offer a [female] child in sacrifice to the dragon. The wailing and lamentations of the people, high-born and low-born, continued without ceasing.
The five heads of this dragon may refer to the five tributaries of the
Another work from 1754, entitled Enoshima Ozoshi, relates the story of the 16 children devoured by the dragon.
At the time, there was a village elder with 16 children, all of whom were swallowed by the dragon. Choked with grief, the elder moved his household to a settlement in the west where he interred their corpses. It then was called "Elder's Mound."
This sounds as if the children were drowned by flood waters rather than taken by some great beast that would have eaten the bodies. When we recall that Asian dragons are intimately linked with water and control over it, the idea of this dragon being a flood caused by unprecedented storms makes sense.
So if a creature is described or drawn as having more than one head, it does not necessarily mean that the creature in question did not exist. It’s all a matter of cultural context and artistic style.
The barn’s owner was cousin to a student of taxidermist Jerry Ayer. Mr Ayer now has the creature in his possession, and Richie and I were privileged to meet with him today to see what we could obtain for the CFZ. We found the creature already skinned and mostly mounted, but the carcass was perfectly intact.
Part of the excitement over seeing a whole carcass was that in our research on Devin McAnally’s “Elmendorf Beast”, or Texas Blue Dog, we have had only bones to study. We have had to rely solely upon McAnally’s description and a few pictures to see the anomalous features that, besides hairless skin, included upper fangs and tiger-like claws that extended from very small feet. However, one look at the creature today told me that it was not the same creature as Devin’s.
First of all, I saw nothing that anyone
could call 'blue.' The skin, while mostly hairless, was closer to a
faded black/ dark chocolate. But the two most telling deviations from the Elmendorf Blue Dog were the feet and teeth, both of which were typically canine. Like the Elmendorf creature, there was some sparse hair along the top of the spine, which Mr Ayer said was identical to coyote hair. Mr Ayer, who has mounted more than his share of coyotes, said that the only 'uncoyote-like' feature was the bald and very wrinkled skin; he pointed out where the neck fell into many folds.
The creature did in fact look exactly like a coyote in every way, minus the skin. She was extremely thin with every vertebra visible, but without fur it is hard to say if she was malnourished. Mr Ayer says the skin does not appear to be afflicted with mange.
Mr Ayer, who doesn't believe in mythical creatures, rued the media exploitation of the 'chupacabra' hype, and was pleased with the CFZ's scientific approach.
We were able to collect some tissue and bone for the CFZ and are anxious for the results.
Now, if I could only learn to say laBORatory....
I cannot tell you how proud I am of Naomi and Richie, especially Naomi who wrote to me: "It WAS hard on me seeing the poor thing skinned, knowing he was poisoned, etc. But I didn't leave or throw up, even when the guy drilled through the skull and got bits of bone and brain all over the place. You would have been proud." I am very proud indeed, my dear. The girl has done good!
This is what cryptozoology SHOULD be about: fieldwork, and gathering hard evidence, not sitting back in armchairs and writing self-serving nonsense (says he, sitting back in his armchair and writing self-serving nonsense). We agree with Mr Ayer, that it is appalling that a perfectly natural (though undeniably fascinating, 'cause I have been fascinated by it for five years now) subject such as the Blue Dogs of Texas, has got mixed up with and contaminated by all sorts of quasi-paranormal nonsense...
Watch this space - things are only going to get better
The CFZ has, as you may know, been running a project looking into the Texas Blue Dog for a while now. However, although Jon and I have our own thoughts on the phenomenon, we would both like to know what you, dear fanatic, think on the subject.
Also, in a similar vein, we would love people to look into the following subjects to help us with our research:
- Coyote, Dog, Grey Wolf and Red Wolf hybrids; which species will interbreed with which? And how strong are the offspring?
- Have there been any massive wipe-outs of canine populations in Texas in the last 2000 years?
- How common is blue skin amongst canids?
- Do any species of wild canid throw up hairless sports?
- Have there been any reports matching the Texas Blue Dogs from anywhere else, either worldwide or USA based?
- Are there any ancient domestic dog breeds from Mexico and Texas that could match the Blue Dog descriptions?
- Do any canids actually drink blood?
- How many different Blue Dogs have been found dead in Texas?
If anyone has the knowledge to answer these questions, or would be kind enough to research it, please let me know at email@example.com,uk .
Many apologies to Karen G. I am not very well at the moment, and am in bed for most of the day. I shall be contacting you about your extremely kind offer to do indexing stuff as soon as I am better again. Also, about a month ago someone else contacted me offering assistance. However, I lost your details when the old computer died. If you read this can you get in contact again, please?
Sunday can only mean one thing: it’s time to post up another 3D image I’ve made. This week I’ve had a look round my room and found a trilobite fossil. Don your red and cyan glasses and take a look.
And now, the news:
“I say, I say, I say; my pig has no nose.”
“How does he smell?”
“With great difficulty… Oh hang on, I did that wrong.”