28.8.15

Here Be Dragons

The historical and legendary background to cryptozoology:

Juliette Wood. Here be Dragons: Mythical Beasts in Ancient Legend and Modern Myth Hardcover – Continuum Publishing Corporation (25 Aug. 2016)

'Here be dragons' was the traditional warning used by ancient mapmakers to indicate dangerous, or simply unknown, lands. These were the dwelling places of fantastical beasts, creatures such as dragons, sea serpents, unicorns, griffins and mermaids. Throughout the ages, such beasts have been viewed in complex and contradictory ways because they embody both our fear and our fascination of the unpredictable natural world around us. They appear in the earliest myths and accompany the heroes of medieval romance and folktales. 

Whether as the symbolic creatures of myth, or as the marvelous beasts of medieval legend and travellers' tales, fantastic animals have always inspired art and literature. Today they feature among the many marvels that populate the alternative worlds of fantasy and the outer reaches of cyberspace. Drawing on sources as diverse as myth, history and folklore, this book explores the ways in which mythical beasts continue to inhabit our fantasies and to define our constantly changing relationship to both real and imagined worlds.

21.8.15

Parapsychology Today

Continuing McFarland's series of titles on parapsychological and paranormal topics.

Etzel Cardena, John Palmer, David Marcusson-Clavertz (Editors) Parapsychology: A Handbook for the 21st Century. McFarland. (31 Aug 2015)

Many people have experienced unusual or intriguing phenomena, such as dreams that later seem to correspond with unforeseeable events, thinking of a long-lost friend just before he or she unexpectedly calls, or the ability to "feel" the presence of deceased loved ones. What many do not realize is that these types of experiences have been researched for more than a century by eminent scientists, including Nobel laureates. Most of these researchers have concluded that some of these phenomena do occur, although we are far from explaining them to everyone's satisfaction.

16.8.15

Satanic Panic

Surveying the 'Satanic Abuse' scares which Magonia reported and commented on in the 1980s, and placing the American events in their historical and cultural context.

Richard Beck. We Believe the Children: Moral Panic at the Dawn of the Culture Wars. PublicAffairs (4 Aug 2015)

Using extensive archival research conducted in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, and drawing on dozens of interviews conducted with the hysteria’s major figures. Richard Beck shows how a group of legislators, doctors, lawyers, and parents, most working with the best of intentions, set the stage for a cultural disaster. Psychiatrists and talk therapists turned dubious theories of trauma and recovered memory into a destructive new kind of psychotherapy. 

Social workers and detectives employed coercive interviewing techniques that led children to tell them what they wanted to hear. Local and national journalists fanned the flames by promoting the story’s salacious aspects, while aggressive prosecutors sought to make their careers by unearthing an unspeakable evil where parents feared it most. 

Beck tracks the panic all the way to its decline at the end of the decade, as parents and prosecutors were finally forced to reckon with the total lack of physical evidence underpinning the story. Yet at the heart of We Believe the Children is the idea that the conditions that made this frenzy of accusations possible were very specific to their moment in American history. The climate of fear that surrounded these cases influenced a whole series of arguments about women, children, and sex that had been intensifying for some twenty years. At the root of these accusations were competing visions of society and what it was that threatened it most.

9.8.15

Conquering Heroes

An imaginative exploration of man's future in space.

Giovanni F. Bignami. The Mystery of the Seven Spheres: How Homo Sapiens will Conquer Space. Springer; 2015 edition (31 July 2015)

In this book, Giovanni Bignami, the outstanding Italian scientist and astronomer, takes the reader on a journey through the “seven spheres”, from our own planet to neighbouring stars. The author offers a gripping account of the evolution of Homo Sapiens to the stage where our species is developing capabilities, in the form of new energy propulsion systems, that will enable us to conquer space. The reader will learn how we first expanded our activities to reach beyond our planet, to the Moon, and how nuclear energy, nuclear fusion, and matter–antimatter annihilation will enable us to extend our exploration. After Mars and Jupiter we shall finally reach the nearest stars, which we now know are surrounded by numerous planets, some of which are bound to be habitable. The book includes enticing descriptions of such newly discovered planets and also brings alive key historical characters in our story, such as Jules Verne and Werner von Braun.

29.7.15

Vision and Belief in Time of War

Re-examining one of the classic cases of 'Vision and Belief':

Richard J. Bleiler. The Strange Case of the Angels of Mons: Arthur Machen's World War I Story, the Insistent Believers, and His Refutations. McFarland. (30 Jul 2015).

The First World War began disastrously for the British when the Germans routed them at Mons, Belgium, on 23 and 24 August 1914. Less than a month later, the Anglo-Welsh writer Arthur Machen fictionalized this encounter in a newspaper story, claiming that the English were saved by the appearance of angels, but his newspaper fiction became accepted as fact. The believers - and they included figures as notable as G. K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, and C. S. Lewis - wrote pamphlets, testimonies, poems, parodies; they even performed music and created motion pictures attesting to the existence of the guardian angels. 

The Angels of Mons provides a documented history of this controversy and collects and annotates for the first time Machen's work and many of the responses it inspired. Owing to their fragility and rarity, many of these responses have not been digitized and have not been available since their publication a century ago; biographical data on the writers are also provided, many for the first time. Also reprinted for the first time are a number of Machen's responses to the believers including The Angels of Mons: Absolutely My Last Word on the Subject and The Return of the Angels: This Time They Are at Ypres.

22.7.15

Boundaries, Boggarts and Barguests.

Carolyne Larrington. Land of the Green Man, I.B.Tauris (September 2015)

Beyond its housing estates and identikit high streets there is another Britain. This is the Britain of mist-drenched forests and unpredictable sea-frets: of wraith-like fog banks, druidic mistletoe and peculiar creatures that lurk, half-unseen, in the undergrowth, tantalising and teasing just at the periphery of human vision. How have the remarkably persistent folkloric traditions of the British Isles formed and been formed by the identities and psyches of those who inhabit them? 

In her sparkling new history, Carolyne Larrington explores the diverse ways in which a myriad of imaginary and fantastical beings has moulded the cultural history of the nation. Fairies, elves and goblins here tread purposefully, sometimes malignly, over an eerie, preternatural landscape that also conceals brownies, selkies, trows, knockers, boggarts, land-wights, Jack o'Lanterns, Barguests, the sinister Nuckleavee, or water-horse, and even Black Shuck: terrifying hell-hound of the Norfolk coast with eyes of burning coal. Focusing on liminal points where the boundaries between this world and that of the supernatural grow thin - those marginal tide-banks, saltmarshes, floodplains, moors and rock-pools wherein mystery lies - the author shows how mythologies of Mermen, Green men and Wild-men have helped and continue to help human beings deal with such ubiquitous concerns as love and lust, loss and death and continuity and change. 

Evoking the Wild Hunt, the ghostly bells of Lyonesse and the dread fenlands haunted by Grendel, and ranging the while from Shetland to Jersey and from Ireland to East Anglia, this is a book that will captivate all those who long for the wild places: the mountains and chasms where Gog, Magog and their fellow giants lie in wait.

15.7.15

Time Out

Matthew Jones and Joan Ormrod (editors). Time Travel in Popular Media. Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games. McFarland, (31st July)

In recent years numerous films, television series, comic books, graphic novels and video games have featured time travel narratives, with characters jumping backward, forward and laterally through time. No rules govern time travel in these stories. Some characters move by machine, some by magic, others by unexplained means. Some time travelers can alter the timeline, while others are prevented from causing temporal aberrations. 

The fluid forms of imagined time travel have fascinated audiences and prompted debate since at least the 19th century. What is behind our fascination with time travel? What does it mean to be out of one’s own era? How do different media tell these stories and what does this reveal about the media’s relationship to time? This collection of new essays—the first to address time travel across a range of media—answers these questions by locating time travel narratives within their cultural, historical and philosophical contexts. Texts discussed include Doctor Who, The Terminator, The Georgian House, Save the Date, Back to the Future, Inception and Source Code.