Fortean at Thirtean
In 1919, The Book of the Damned was published. It was Charles Fort’s debut non-fiction work—first in a series of books over the next few decades that delved into the strange, the eerie, the unexplained. It launched a field that’s come to be known as Anomalistics, the study of anomalies.
I happened upon the book as a curious adolescent and was so enthralled with the weird-but-purportedly-true tales that I was compelled to devour his several follow-ups: Wild Talents, New Lands, and perhaps his most famous, LO! (as in “lo and behold”).
The books were similar in the sense that they were all collections of documented events that defy rational explanation or conventional science. Certain subcategories were always represented--Cryptozoology, for one. That’s the study of beasts that may or may not exist. Scanning the table of contents, you’d find an entry regarding the Loch Ness Monster, another one about Bigfoot, an inevitable Yeti piece, and perhaps an eyewitness account of a Chupacabra or a giant squid sighting.
Another subcategory Fort explored was ufology. Well before the rash of sightings in the late 1940’s, he was publishing reports of alien craft from all over the globe. Small grayish beings with big heads, strange lights bouncing around the nighttime sky, cattle mutilations, all the familiar lore is there.
Each book was a must-read compendium of the paranormal. I read of (and pored over grisly black & white photos of) spontaneous human combustion—something I’ve been wary of ever since. I learned about famous “falls” throughout history when it had rained frogs or fish. I heard about pesky poltergeist shenanigans and the mysterious disappearance of many unfortunate souls, like the early settlers of Roanoke or the crew members of the ill-fated Mary Celeste.
For the most part, Mr. Fort was merely a presenter of the facts as they are known, and declined to weigh in with any absolutes or explanations. He did, however, tender the theory that ‘teleportation’—that is, ping-ponging through time and space, a term he’s credited with coining, by the way--plays a role in unraveling some of these mysteries.
All in all, pretty engrossing stuff for a thirteen-year-old. Hell, I’m engrossed with it now—who am I kidding. Fifty years down the line from the kid who couldn’t get enough of the weird tales from the far reaches of human experience, how do I evaluate these anomalies?
Well, I can’t make a blanket statement of acceptance or rejection; I take these tidbits on a case-by-case basis and weigh their possibilities and probabilities. But generally, I’m inclined to give most of them the benefit of the doubt. Call me gullible if you must, but do I think that an occasional zoological holdover like a Nessie or an abominable snowguy can exist? Sure, why not. Do I think we’re visited by aliens? Absolutely. Do I think there are examples of people and things slipping through some yet-undiscovered portal into a different place and time? Okay, I’ll bite.
Time and science will reveal all. Or it won’t. But I think it’s a lot more fun to believe in the outré than to poo-poo it, don’t you?