Spring-Heeled Jack

Roman Golicz. Spring-Heeled Jack: A Victorian Visitation at Aldershot. 2nd edition, Don Namor Press, 2006. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson

Spring-heeled Jack has a fond place in our Magonian hearts, for it was an enquiry about Spring-heeled Jack which first led to correspondence between our editor and me back in 1969; and our late friend Roger Sandell first appeared in UFO print with an article about Jack in Flying Saucer Review back in 1970. This booklet claims to look at the visitation of Jack to the military barracks at Aldershot in 1877; however the reader who wishes to find a detailed account is likely to be disappointed. The obvious road to follow with such historical accounts is to reproduce the original sources in full, with any comment reserved to a separate sequence. Golicz does no such thing, only fragments of the original reports are published, with generous ellipses and parenthesis of the sort which give the distinct impression that some inconvenient information is being deliberately omitted.

Golicz obviously thinks that his limited space is better devoted to the usual paranormalist/occultist rants about rationalists, cynics and the like and idle speculation about paranormal entities. As with so many of these people, it seems Golicz’s interest in SHJ is limited to its use as ammunition in his ideological war against the modern world. There is, of course, no point in a critical analysis of what went on, when you have the answer already (control entities, whatever they are, which influence history)

To be fair I suspect that Golicz does have a point when it comes to explanations in terms of human tricksters, they made have played a role, but probably a minor one in this case. Spring-heeled Jack clearly lies in the tradition of anomalous entities, particularly those experienced at night. The author plays down possible psychosocial models, but it is a fact that night sentries are notoriously liable to hallucinatory episodes generated by a mixture of sensory deprivation, fatigue, hypnogogia and micro dreams. Individual experiences thus caused may have set of contagious panics, with all sorts of shadowy figures half seen in the gloom.

Golicz underestimates the role of the mass media in the Victorian period, where pamphlets, handbills, broadsides and other ephemeral publications circulated widely. He also fails to understand that newspaper (and many other kinds of) reading in the mid-Victorian period was often a public act, with the best reader reading out aloud to others with lesser literacy, or with father reading the suitable bits to the family. One newspaper might easily have a dozen or more listeners, and a tale told often makes a more lasting impression than a block of print, particularly if done with some basic acting skill.

1 comment:

Mike Dash said...

The "rationalists, cynics and the like" Golicz is ranting about are all me. I had some correspondence with him on this subject as a result of the publication of the first edition of his booklet. The chief point Golicz advances in favour of SHJ as a paranormal entity is that Jack was, allegedly, able to leap the Basingstoke canal, which has a width of at least 30 feet. I pointed out to him that no contemporary source makes this claim (the earliest reference is from 1907) and that no eyewitness or even secondary source actually says Jack was seen performing this feat. At most, Golicz can only claim that SHJ was supposedly seen on both sides of the canal on the same night. There are actually two bridges over it within the bounds of Aldershot camp in any case.

Anyway, he wasn't too happy to hear this and the correspondence ceased when I pressed the point.