Here Be Dragons

Richard Freeman. Dragons: More than a Myth? CFZ Press, 2005.

One of the disputes which ripples through both the Fortean and folklore communities is whether beliefs in anomalies and strange things are handed on through cultural transmission or through actual experiences, whether objective or subjective. You might think that stories of dragons are pretty good examples of the former. OK, perhaps some dragon stories are based on the finding of fossilised animals of various kinds, but there are no actual real cases of 'encounters with dragons'.

Richard Freeman begs to disagree here. Now to be sure most of the encounters recounted here are not of your actual treasure-guarding, fire-breathing, maiden-eating dragons, just tales of all sorts of large reptiles, amphibians or things which could be taken for them. Like many such books this one tries to convince by quantity rather than quality, and story after story gets recounted. If these stories were presented in a clear catalogue-like format they might be followable, but when presented in endless blocks of text the brain soon wearies.

On the cover this book claims to be "the first scientific investigation into dragons since 1884". Well if that is supposed to mean that it is the first 'scientific' treatment of the various water monsters which make up the bulk of the contents, then it is clearly not true. Further, despite the author having a background and university degree in zoology parts of this book are anything but scientific, and we have accounts of the author's magickal experiments to produce the tulpa of a giant spider and much other occult speculation. Thus we are treated to the strange ideas of the wannabe exorcist Donald Ormand, who long time Forteans will remember once tried to exorcist Loch Ness.

Though, as such books go, this is by no means a totally uncritical work, it does have some odd lapses, For example we see our old friend the Brentford Griffin, an advertising spoof dreamed up by comic author and onetime Magonia collaborator Robert Rankin, presented po-faced as a cryptozoological encounter. How many other tales recounted here have similarly dodgy origins one wonders? -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 92, June 2006.

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