Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

Search This Blog



Click on this logo to find out more about helping CFZtv and getting some smashing rewards...


Sunday, March 28, 2010

NAOMI WEST: Monsters - a softer side

For the past five years I have taught The Odyssey to my high school students. And each year I am intrigued by our textbook’s reprint of a painting depicting the Cyclops Polyphemus as a furry, long-necked creature with the soft, one-eyed gaze of a gentle pet.

This Cyclops strikes me as vulnerable, not the sort of creature that would snatch up men to eat them alive and drool pieces of them afterward in drunken hiccups.

Yesterday as my students were reading the gruesome scene with Polyphemus, I read the caption of the painting, which explained that its French artist, Odilon Redon, had wanted to portray a sympathetic cyclops.

This concept isn’t a complete fabrication: one of the most striking elements of the scene with Polyphemus is the gentleness he displays toward his sheep even as he gorges himself on men.

When the young Dawn with fingertips of rose
lit up the world, the Cyclops built a fire
and milked his handsome ewes, all in due order,
putting the sucklings to the mothers. Then,
his chores being all dispatched, he caught
another brace of men to make his breakfast,
and whisked away his great door slab
to let his sheep go through…

Upon each reading, I find myself oddly moved by the gentle shepherding of Polyphemus. The juxtaposition of his care for his sheep with his brutality toward Odysseus’s men leaves me feeling ambivalent and examining my own nature. While I am certainly not a cannibal or even a murderer, I understand feeling occasional hostility toward my fellow humans while caring deeply for animals. Most animal-lovers can attest to the same.

Beyond this common disillusionment with people, however, I find that I am slower than some to label any strange creature a 'monster.' What constitutes a monster? Something that kills and eats its food? That’s most of us but only people make a sport of it. Something that looks unfamiliar, like the Texas Blue Dog? In report after report, I hear the Blue Dogs described as 'ugly.' A man in Tennessee even stated, “It looks something out of ‘you know where’.” Assuming he meant hell, I observed a picture of the dog he had killed and tried to see what he was seeing. It was probably the fangs, the dark skin, the eyes shut tight against any possible expression of emotion. Still, I can’t see anything sinister in photographs or videos of live ones.

Then there were the paintings and drawings in Nick Redfern’s study, most of them of the Owlman/Mothman. Many of these in particular looked like something out of ‘you know where’ as well, but I found myself staring with a slight, unexpected affinity at one. It certainly wasn’t because of its demonically glowing red eyes; maybe it was the furriness of its form. There is something about fur that softens people toward a creature – and something about the lack thereof that does the opposite, as many dead Blue Dogs could attest to.

So, while I still can’t quite define what constitutes a monster, what makes one person shoot a Blue Dog while another feeds it food scraps, or what makes a part of me like the vicious Polyphemus, I finally came to terms with my feelings for the cyclops and purchased a reprint of the painting yesterday. He will soon be hanging in my study, which may be well on its way to bearing its own wall of 'monsters.'


Dale Drinnon said...

"Monster" is already a prejudicial term. Many Cryptozoologists disliked its use, including Heuvelmans.

I had been plagued for several years by some really stupid neighborhood youths that thought it was funny to yell out "Monster!" at me from behind cover and then beat a hasty retreat. For several years I could not bear hearing the term and if you called me that to my face, your relatives would probably be paying for your funeral shortly thereafter.

I have mellowed somewhat more recently and it might not instantly provoke retaliation if you use that word in my presence. But I should emphasize that I consider myself a Cryptozoologist.

I do not now nor have I ever been advocating the study of Monsters. Only Unrecorded species of animal life.

Jon Downes said...

LIZZY CLANCY WROTE: That was a fascinating blog, Naomi, and I think I agree that the painting of the cyclops is lovely. Also, I disagree with the man who thought the blue dog looked like it came from Hell, if that's what he meant. The pictures of the mounted one in that lady's living room showed a very 'different' but completely beautiful animal.

One note, though, according to a study a couple of years ago (I can't remember who by but it was the subject of a documentary), dolphins kill porpoises for sport/ practice. I think this was the subject of a recent blog posting, as well, actually.

Naomi said...

I looked up an article on the dolphin thing and that is very interesting. I missed it on here somehow as I don't get a chance to read everything. Thanks, Lizzy.