The Mothman Prophecies – John Keel
Tor – 2002 (Originally published in 1975)
When I picked this book up, I expected it to be fairly similar to McCloy and Millet’s The Jersey Devil, a book describing how a strange cryptid briefly terrorized a small town; however, The Mothman Prophecies is more a descriptive synthesis of 4-5 paranormal beings and events, and it doesn’t contain a huge amount of information specifically about the Mothman apparition. The Mothman, you see, at least according to John Keel, is quite probably from another dimension, and its mothy form is likely only one of its possible manifestations.
The book describes several strange events:
- The Mothman appeared to several people in Point Pleasant, a small town in West Virginia.
- Several other people in this town saw UFOs.
- Strange men, dressed in black, showed up in Point Pleasant, asking strange questions to these witnesses.
- A few of these witnesses also received bizarre phone calls during which they would hear static, beeping, or a foreign man speaking quickly.
This stuff went on for a while, but when a bridge leading into the town collapsed, killing 48 people, the strange events seemed to stop happening.
The loss of 48 souls to a town that housed fewer than 6000 people would have been devastating, and one can sensibly attribute the cessation of paranormal activity in Point Pleasant after 1967 to its residents going into a period of mourning and spending less time looking for lights in the sky and weirdos in the streets. John Keel however, postulates that Mothman disappeared after the collapse of the bridge because his work as an ill omen was complete. Yes, Mothman has more in common with a guardian angel than he does with Bigfoot.
Most of the book is taken up with descriptions of strange lights seen in the sky. When I reviewed Whitley Strieber’s Transformation, I noted that he had given up the idea that aliens are extraterrestrial and that he now believes that “the visitors are likely trans-dimensional inhabitants of Earth”. It is quite possible that Strieber got this idea directly from Keel. (Strieber was a member or at least attended the meetings of Keel’s New York Fortean Society.) Keel reckons that UFOs are manifestations of something that exists outside of the dimensions that constrain our reality. Whatever it is that is causing the UFO phenomenon is probably the same thing that made people believe in fairies and religious events. If you think about it, a Mothman, as imagined by Keel, is basically the same thing as a Banshee.
Strange lights in the sky and cryptids sightings are cool and all, but the really interesting parts of this book are the bits about the peculiar men who dress in black and spend their time pestering UFO witnesses. Keel wasn’t the first person to write about the Men in Black; that honour, along with the honour of being the first to write a book about Mothman, goes to Keel’s friend, Gray Barker. Originally, the MIB were assumed to be government agents trying to keep witnesses quiet about their UFO encounters, but by the time this book was published, Barker and Keel agreed that the MIB were themselves aliens. Their descriptions in this book are actually pretty cool. They’re always dark skinned (although Keel repeats several times that they’re not black), they have pointy faces and unsettling smiles, their clothes are ill fitting, they don’t understand what common household items are for, and they speak like characters from a Samuel Beckett play.
Overall, the book isn’t very convincing. I had been looking forward to reading it, and it took me quite a bit longer to get through than I had expected. Keel didn’t have enough material to write a more focused book, so he seems to have crammed in any old crap he could find. He starts to contradict himself in the latter half of the book, but he realizes that he’s doing so and attempts to make these contradictions part of his argument. (See the Paranoiacs Are Made, Not Born chapter.) The Men in Black have been so successful in their attempts to obfuscate the public’s understanding of what happened in Point Pleasant that Mothman researchers can’t really know what they know about the topic. I read a review somewhere that described the book as John Keel’s descent into paranoid madness, and if you were to accept all of its claims, I’m sure that reading this book would drive you quite mad.too.
I’m not calling John Keel a liar, but many of the links he propounds are rather tenuous, some of his descriptions are vague, and much of his reasoning is plain shoddy. He was also admittedly very selective with the material he chose to use for this book. I’m not complaining about this (I’m all for that kind of writing!); I mention it only in response to the claim that Keel was paranoid. This is sensational, speculative non-fiction filled with what-ifs; it’s use your imagination stuff. Keel wasn’t mad at all; like he rest of us, he just enjoyed a good conspiracy.
I was fairly disappointed with the cover of my copy of this book. It’s a shitty, ugly version that came out to coincide with the movie version of 2002. (Earlier editions have really cool covers.) I watched the movie there too. I’m still not sure what to think of it. It’s set in the 90s or early 2000s instead of the 60s, and it doesn’t strictly adhere to the events in the book. It also cuts out all of the MIB and UFO stuff, so it’s not quite as all over the place. It looks pretty good, and there’s definitely an atmosphere to it, but I can’t imagine it making much sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book. It’s a little more cohesive without the MIB and flying saucers, but these omissions also render it a little dull, and while it’s not tough to sit through, there’s so little explanation given that you finish the film wondering why they bothered making it.
Well, that’s that. Another Fortean classic for the archives. Some of my long time followers may have noticed that I’ve upgraded this blog with a fancy .com address. My url is now https://nocturnalrevelries.com/. Any old links to the site should still work, but due to an irritating fuck-up, I managed to delete all post likes and cut my traffic in half. Still though, the blog must go on, and I have ordered some seriously atrocious sounding books for my summer reading. Expect to see posts about perverted werewolves, Lovecraftian magick, Satanic Nazis and rock’n’roll themed horror showing up here very soon.
2 thoughts on “The Mothman Cometh”
if you ever get the chance, you should come to the Mothman Festival they have in Point Pleasant every year.
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Would absolutely love to.