Crypto trio

  • Neil Arnold. Monster! The A-Z of Zooform Phenomena. CFZ Press, 2007.
  • Ronan Coghlan. Further Cryptozoology. Xiphos Books, 2007.
  • A. C. Oudemans. The Great Sea-Serpent Coachwhip Publications, 2007.

Two very different approaches to cryptozoology are outlined here. Neil Arnold’s dictionary is devoted to alleged creatures and things reported or rumoured, which not even the most hardened, true believing cryptozoologist would insist were genuine paws and pelts cryptids. It purports to be the first book on this liminal zone between experience and folklore, but Ronan Coghlans Dictionary of Cryptozoology of which Further Cryptozoology is an update, got there back in 2004.

Both should be treated as works of folklore in that many of even the alleged recent occurrences come from various dubious websites and popular books. A proportion of the stories do however seem to be based on actual claimed experiences, which one must presume either to be misidentications of some sort, hoaxes, or some kind of subjective experience. It is hard to know how much Arnold appreciates this, at times he suggests various things hail from the depth of the human psyche, but at other times there are the usual genuflections towards the paranormal.

Arnold would have us believe that there are indeed other kinds of real paws and pelts cryptids, but the evidence for that is fairly weak. Though various new animals are discovered every year, they are never the sort of thing which have been the subject of cryptozoological speculation, such as the hairy hominids or the lake monsters. Betting must surely be that these hail from the same realms of the imagination as the winged humanoids, giant bats, black dogs and bipedal wolves which feature in Arnold and Coghlan.

Sea Serpents may also fit into that category, they are seldom reported these days. Back in the 19th century however they were the flying saucers of their day, reported by the classical sober witnesses and subject to serious scientific study. Oudemans book was just that; first published in 1892 for decades it has been the book people talked about but seldom encountered, and which only the seriously rich could hope to acquire. Now Chet Armed has made it available to the great masses, and of course it will be a must for all serious cryptozoologists and Forteans.

For the general Fortean reader the interest in this book is that it is really the first modern Fortean Book, predating Fort by more than a quarter of a century. It is also the first quasi-scientific, serious Fortean book, aimed at something other than casual entertainment. Compared with its successors it stands up really well, for example Oudemans quotes actual sources verbatim, and by and large separates speculation into chapters separate from the presentation of the cases reports. There are of course, some less desirable features which will be reproduced in much later Fortean literature: there is the obligatory reference to how scientists refused to take meteorites at face value, there is the shoehorning of very different accounts into a single omnibus explanation (giant long necked seals).

Over 100 years after Oudemans’s book the sea serpent is as elusive as ever, and as mentioned above have largely disappeared. Note the similarity with aircraft based UFO reports. Perhaps the sea serpent is a symbol of the romance of the wild ocean in the days of sail, like the flying saucers were part of the romance of the empty skies. Both are perhaps road ghosts writ large. -- Peter Rogerson.

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