Friday, September 21, 2018

From Naga to Ziz

A review of "Mysterious Creatures, Vol 2" 

This is the second volume of a two-part encyclopedia devoted to cryptids and their allies. Cryptids are unknown animals, often of a monstrous and/or folkloristic character, chased by avid enthusiasts known as cryptozoologists. According to the all-knowing source Wikipedia, cryptozoology is a pseudo-science. I happen to agree that this peculiar form of human activity isn't “scientific” in the strict sense, but rather straddles fences between the study of folklore, folklore itself, paranormal research, adventurous exploration and, well, zoology. It could be considered a sub-branch of Forteana. However, I fail to see what the problem is?

The material collected in this volume (which covers the letters N to Z) is highly diverse, and does show how confusing (and exciting) this field of exploration might be. Some of the creatures included could be real animals related to already known forms, such as the Southern (Antarctic) Narwhal, Stellar's Sea Ape or the Spotted Lion. At the other end of the spectrum are clearly fantastic beings, such as the Sphinx or Springheel Jack. Most are in a broad gray zone between these extremes, such as unknown hominids or lake monsters. You judge were the Werewolf or Merpeople fit in on the scale! The more respectable cryptozoologists might perhaps be annoyed by the inclusion of mythological creatures or paranormal entities, but I think it's clear that there isn't a “Chinese Wall” between these and the “real” animals.

The encyclopedia clearly aims at completeness, covering all the world, and including many cryptids only known from centuries-old observations or just a single observation. Thus, the mysterious Specs have only been observed once, off the coast of Florida. Our very own Swedish cryptid Storsjöodjuret (try pronouncing that!) has been blessed with an entry of its own. A few hoaxes have also been included, for instance the trollish claim that the Swedish "Slaguggla" is a cryptid (actually, it's just the Swedish name of the perfectly normal Ural Owl). Speaking of owls, I get the impression that the editor of this volume takes Cornwall's Owlman seriously, while others consider it a hoax. Strictly orthodox Forteans might be rubbed the wrong way by the editor's decision to include non-Fortean explanations for many of the creatures described. Sometimes a lake monster might just be a floating log, you know. The volume ends with a long list of animals known to Science discovered since 1900, and a somewhat peculiar discussion on Pygmy Elephant research.

Five stars, although perhaps somewhat boring (!) to the casual reader, who presumably want more action. Oh, and I think dogmatic Forteans are cryptids…

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