Monday, October 20, 2008

Lovecraftian Traveller II (Prologue): Three Men Seeking Monsters

Ok, ok, so I haven’t quite managed to update this blog as regularly as expected. Nonetheless, I’m back for another crack of the whip. One forthcoming post will be a belated entry in my Lovecraftian traveller series, relating sundry adventures in Dunwich and surrounding environs back in July this year. Which brings me to a Fortean tome acquired just prior to the Dunwich jaunt, Nick Redfern's Three Men Seeking Monsters - a book of interest to myself because a) it involved some of the locales I was planning to visit and b) more importantly, it’s about monsters.

Redfern may be well known to some of the readers of this blog for his ufological writing and indeed focus of this book covers related conceptual terrain - in this case a kind of cryptozoological road-trip involving Redfern, Jonathan Downes and Richard Freemen (well-known figures on the UK’s Fortean scene and regulars at the Fortean Times’ annual UK UnConvention). The fact, however, that the six weeks of said road-trip is fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol and (I'm afraid I do feel somewhat qualified to make this claim) amateurish occult theatrics as the ‘gang’ seek to unravel a range of monstrous mysteries does little to support Redfern’s requests to be taken seriously.

Even so, the book warrants mention here due to the fact that what unfolds is a story that meshes Lovecraft with John Keel via an ancient possibly pre-human conspiracy. To cut a long story short, said conspiracy is co-ordinated by the usual bunch of occult hidden masters (in this case ‘The Nine’, who seem to appear fairly regularly in New Age discourse) seeking to open gateways to a nightmarish realm of unreality inhabited by the ‘Cormons’. A rather rubbish and unscary name for an equally unimaginative bunch of entities who thrive on human emotion but, like Forbidden Planet’s creature of the id can only sustain itself through the power of the mind. Incredibly, Redfern asks us to believe that the British Secret Service has, since WWII been involved in a massive occult cover-up as they seek to thwart the plans of the Nine (a consequence of this being, apparently, the appearance of a sea monster near MI5's HQ on the Thames and the existence of giant worm-like cryptids lurking in the obligatory underground bases near, in or around Rudloe Manor - which, it seems, the gang have little or no trouble accessing ). Indeed, like many of the monsters Refern and his friends are chasing, Lovecraft lurks as a constant albeit unseen presence at the periphery of the book. The only difference being that, unlike said monsters, the Old Gent actually does appear (at least in name) on a couple of occasions. Also of note is Redfern's recounting of Freeman’s youthful attempts to summon up Clark Ashton Smith’s spider god Atlach Nacha, along with a second-hand account of astral time-travelling to view the summoning and capture of a Nightgaunt-like creature (albeit with glowing red eyes) by a bunch of Neolithic hunter gatherers.

Sadly, none of this comes across as being anything close to believable given the aforementioned state of inebriation that characterises the gang’s ‘investigations’, the key methodological principle of which is invariant reptition: if a witness tells the same story twice without elaborating on it the second time, they are deemed a worthy and truthful witnesses. A twisted logic also prevails in Redfern and friends' evaluation of witnesses: in one instance, the mental aberrations that the gang detect in one individual (who believes the UK Government is involved in covering up the existence of roving bands of cannibals) is deemed to be the result of trauma caused by an encounter with a genuine paranormal entity. The fact that the encounter might itself be the product of mental illness is not considered. on top of all this circumstantial evidence, vague supposition and half-glimpsed shadows are constructed as powerful evidence that something crytozoological really is afoot in this green and pleasant land: for example, a rustling in the treetops at night accompanied by a vague feeling of a nearby ‘presence’ is taken as evidence of the reality of some weird bat-winged entity. In another instance we are told that after hearing mysterious howls during a nightime exploration of Rendlesham Forest (site of the now generally discredited ‘British Roswell’), that the sound ‘could not have been a fox’ - the insinuation being that if it could not have been something entirely natural, it must be something altogether...unnatural.

This is one of the points at which Redfern’s book intersects with my own experience in and around Dunwich, as I also heard howling whilst strolling through Rendleshem Forest (only to discover about twenty minutes later that it’s source was an altogether mundane pack of dogs visible in the garden of a house next to Woodbridge RAF base). I also saw what looked to be a giant black dog (a repetitive cryptozoological feature of Redfern’s narrative) running through the undergrowth, only to realise as it came running toward me (owner in tow) that it was of regular size and provenance.

The book also displays a frightening lack of reflexivity when, despite a willingness to believe some very outlandish tales, the gang apparently refuse to believe overweight geeky twenty-something Gavin - a caricatutre all too reminiscent of the monster hunters themselves - who claims to have encountered some kind of wild man of the woods (Redfern rather callously disbelieves Gavin's claims to actually having once had a girlfriend, despite being more than willing to accept far less credulous claims.

All in all, what this boils down to is a bunch of inexpert forty-somethings acting like over-excited adolescent occultists who have a) just discovered how cool Chaos magick is five years after it is no-longer derigeur and b) subsequently making a nuisance of themselves after having supped a glass too many of Henry Weston’s Vintage Cider whilst reading Lovecraft.

If you are looking for a slightly surreal rock n' roll Fortean road trip book, ignore this and try Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail instead.