In the Reference Library

  • James Randi, The Supernatural A-Z; The Truth and the Lies. Headline, 1995.
  • John and Anne Spencer, The Encyclopedia of the World's Greatest Unsolved Mysteries, Headline, 1995.
  • Jenny Randles and Peter Hough, Encyclopedia of the Unexplained. Michael O'Mara, 1995.
  • David Richie, UFO: The Definitive Guide to Unidentified Flying Objects and Related Phenomena. Facts on File, 1994.

Everyone seems to think they can write an encyclopedia, but in fact it is extremely difficult, and they nearly always fail. Of this lot, the Spencers, and the Randles - Hough partnership cover a wide range of Fortean and paranormal topics; the former in an A-Z format, the latter by larger, topic-based sections. Both sets of writers can be interesting when dealing with topics of which they have personal experience, but skimpy and not very well researched when they step out into wider fields. They are also both rather too uncritical, and do not give sufficient attention to the sceptical case. Both sets of writers would be advised to stick to topics and events with which they have had a personal involvement, or else spend the next year or two on a mass reading sabbatical! And John Spencer could use the time to take on board that fact that the Alexander Hamilton calf-napping was a hoax, as definitively proven by Jerome Clark as long ago as 1977. There really is no excuse for dragging this old legend out yet again.

Randi's work is more a sort of Devil's Dictionary of the occult, but its real lesson is that when it comes to producing lazy, sub-standard hack work the sceptics can be up there with the worst of them. The standard of scholarship is revealed by the entry for the Necronomicon: "said to have first been published in about AD 730 - in Arabic - by Abdul Alhazred, an English translation is attributed to John Dee ... ", Sorry, Randi, like John Spencer, you've been had. The Necronomicon and the 'Mad Arab' Abdul Alhazred were the inventions of the famous writer of horror stories, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, in the 1920's, to add background colour an authenticity to his tales. In the words of Molesworth: 'Every fule no that'.

The work by Ritchie is strangest of all. He is an aerospace journalist, with no background in ufology, and I am tempted to think that he is the publishers' in-house writer. The bibliography is poor. On the other hand he does seem to be making an effort, and one could almost begin to take this work semi-seriously, until a check on the index reveals constant references to one Father Seraphim Rose. Who he? you might ask. He is an Orthodox priest who wrote a pamphlet in 1977 claiming that UFOs are a demonic phenomenon, and in Ritchie's introduction there is an all-so-subtle hint that the UFO phenomenon is a demonic conspiracy to undermine Christianity and promote Hinduism, Buddhism, and - you've guessed it - the 'New World Order'. Rave reviews then from Gordon Creighton, embarrassed silence from everyone else. -- Peter Rogerson. From Magonia 56, June 1996.

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