The French Collection

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Eric Zurcher. Les Apparitions d 'humanoides. Alain-Lefeuvre, 1979.

As long ago as 1963, Michel Carrouges, in his seminal study Les Apparition de Martiens, drew our attention to an essential difference between the French UFO experience and that of the United States: it is a difference typified by the simple statistic that during the 1954 French wave almost 1 in 5 of the cases reported were landings, a far higher proportion than has ever occurred in the USA. Now, this difference may be more apparent than real, and the reasons for it may be a question for the sociologist or the ethnologist; nonetheless, whatever the explanation, the fact remains, and it is a fact which has led French ufologists in a very different direction from that taken by their colleagues across the Atlantic.

Though the leading French UFO journal is entitled Lumieres dans la Nuit, the emphasis has always been on landing cases, and particularly on those in which entities, more or less humanoid in appearance, are involved. The biggest and most impressive book in the French UFO literature, Figuet and Ruchon's 750-page OVNI - Dossier Complet, is devoted to straight reports of close encounters, more than 600 of them, each and every one investigated by one or other of France's active and well organised groups. This book by Zurcher, shorter but more probing, is an in-depth contribution to the study of those cases in which humanoid entities have been reported,

The first part of the book sets out to do for ufonauts what McCampbell's Ufology did for their vehicles. 202 French cases of alleged humanoid encounters are taken to pieces and analysed according to their component elements, in chapters whose subject matter ranges from soil traces to the sounds heard by witnesses, and establishing the who, the when and the where of the reports. But the most interesting sections are of course those which relate to the ufonauts themselves.

There are sections devoted to the varieties of their visual appearance; to their dress and their appearance; to their activity and behaviour, whether on their own or in regard to the witness(es}. This latter section, for example, comprises such sub-headings as mode of appearance, mod e of movement, activity in regard to the environment, activity in regard to the UFO itself, activity in regard to the witness, and mode of disappearance. Each of these aspects is given its statistical basis: thus we learn that of the sample, 52% were cases in which the phenomenon was already 'in place' when the sighting occurred, the witness coming upon it 'by accident or otherwise'.

Even if this were all, the book would be immensely valuable, for it gives us just the sort of information base which is essential to valid model-building. But factual analysis represents only the first half of Zurcher's study. In the second part. he essays a comparative study between, on the one hand, the material gathered in part one, and on the other, reports from other fields of phenomena which appear to have characteristics in common. What can we learn, the author speculates, from a comparison of humanoid apparitions w1th religious visions? with paranormal entities such as spirit forms? with the entities of myth and folklore? Or with the creations of the human psyche?

In a brief concluding section, Zurcher presents us with two possible scenarios based on the preceding material. While he does not offer them as anything but conjecture, they do - like the pictures of models on the outside of Lego or Meccano sets - give some idea of what can he done with the materials available.

Thus, if we chose to adopt an extraterrestrial hypothesis, he suggests that we draw on an analogy with the conduct of our own terrestrial life scientists who, when seeking to establish a relationship with a species such as gorillas, imitate their behaviour in order to win their confidence, Perhaps what the ETs are doing is creating more or less human-like forms which behave in a more or less human-like manner, to pique our curiosity, to catch our interest, or perhaps simply to make us realise that they exist at all and that they are interested in studying our behaviour rather than in any formal invasion or conquest.

If, on the other hand, we are reluctant to adopt an ET-based approach, Zurcher suggests that what is at work might be some kind of superhuman intelligence, such as that which controls the behaviour of many kinds of animals: he cites suicidal lemmings as the most striking example, but migratory birds and fish indicate a similar subordination to some 'higher' authority. This intelligence might act on the collective unconscious, to make us see, perhaps even 'create', UFOs, for purposes at which we can as yet only guess, but which are presumably related to same kind of cultural development necessary for the preservation/advancement of our species.

Such ideas are not particularly novel: similar lines of speculation have been followed in the pages of Magonia and other of the more thoughtful journals from time to time, and provide the most satisfactory, if not necessarily the best substantiated, scenarios available to date. In the context of Zurcher's study they do perhaps take on a somewhat firmer credibility than when presented simply as unsupported ideas; nevertheless they are offered only as conjectures, in no way essential to the book as a whole. We are left free to construct any model we like with the pieces supplied.

Apart from the intrinsic merits of Zurcher's book, it presents an object lesson to British ufologists. One has only to set such a study alongside, let's say, the 'Collected Works of Arthur Shuttlewood', to see the immense gulf which separates the French ufologists from all but a handful of his counterparts in this country. Zurcher and his colleagues start with an absolute respect for the facts, which they collect, present and analyse ruthlessly. But they also recognise that facts in isolation are nothing, except insofar as they help us to envisage larger patterns, detect trends and tendencies, establish lines of thought. or demarcate parameters.

Too many English-language books are little more than expanded treatments of the theme "Wow, just look at what astonishing things are going on! Isn't it time someone did something about them?" Well, writers like Zurcher are doing something about them. - Hilary Evans, from Magonia 5, 1980.

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