144 pages, Stackpole Books
Review by Hereward L.M. ProopsFor as long as I can remember, I've been a little bit obsessed with monsters, ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Once, when I was about eight years old, I wore a set of plastic werewolf teeth and ran around the local D.I.Y. Store growling at the terrified / bemused adults. I spent hours poring over luridly illustrated children's books exploring the paranormal and for a number of years I was convinced that I had seen the demon hound Black Shuck (most sightings of Black Shuck occur in East Anglia but I was certain that I had seen him in a field in Devon). With age came maturity and the realisation that what I had seen that foggy evening was, in fact, a calf.
Age, however, did not rob me of my fascination with the paranormal. Whenever I visit somewhere new, I read all I can about any strange goings on in the area. Horror movies, particularly those involving strange and fantastic creatures, are real passion of mine. I've never given up trying to convince my darling wife that “Tremors” is one of the best films of the 1980s. I'm a subscriber to the monthly nerd-fest that is “Fortean Times” magazine and I find a heck of a lot of inspiration for my own strange stories within its pages (look out for my upcoming short story featuring a cat with two faces).When I saw “Monsters of West Virginia” reviewed in the latest issue of Fortean Times, I couldn't resist buying a copy. I've no particular interest in West Virginia (other than a couple of unprintable jokes an American friend of my father's once told me) but it seems the mountain state has more than its fair share of strange creatures and creepy goings-on.
Now might be the time to mention that whilst I totally love the idea of ghosts and monsters, I don't actually believe in them. I think it would be awesome if they did exist but with the advances in science and our growing understanding of the world we live in, it seems increasingly less likely. For a truly immersive experience of such cold scientific facts crushing a pleasant fantasy I recommend visiting the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition... pay ￡7 entry only to have the faint glimmer of hope that the Loch Ness monster is real mercilessly bludgeoned out of you by an endless stream of evidence arguing against the existence of such a creature. But I digress...Rosemary Ellen Guiley, the author of “Monsters of West Virginia” does believe in the existence of monsters. To be more specific, she believes in alternative dimensions where such creatures exist and the theory that they occasionally find a way through the fabric of space and time into our own world.
Bullshit, I know.Tenuous pseudo-scientific explanations aside, Guiley's short book is great entertainment. “Monsters of West Virginia” examines all manner of paranormal sightings: from possible UFO crash-sites to monstrous birds, demon dogs to big cats. There are whole chapters devoted to the Yayho (West Virginia's own equivalent of Bigfoot) and the state's most famous cryptozoological critter, the Richard Gere-pestering Mothman. Other chapters in the book detail some very strange beasties such as the Sheepsquatch (a vicious man-sheep thing) and the Snallygaster (an enormous flying lizard thing).
Whilst Guiley is undoubtedly from the Fox Mulder school of thought and actively wants to believe, she does bring a healthy dose of scepticism to the table. A number of the sightings of the creatures come from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when unscrupulous editors would fabricate ridiculous stories in order to sell more newspapers (much like the utterly sordid and regrettably untrue affair between myself and Scarlett Johansson). Guiley also utilises her knowledge of Native American folklore to add an extra level of depth when examining the strange cases. The sightings of giant birds are linked to the myth of the Thunderbird and Guiley also provides the reader with accounts of Yayho or Bigfoot sightings from a Native American perspective.There were a couple of occasions when even I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief and I began to wonder whether the author was so monumentally naïve that she would include any old nonsense in order to pad out the book a bit more. The giant flying manta ray spotted flying over a road seemed less than plausible whilst the entire final chapter, “The Enchanted Holler”, sounded like the deranged ramblings of that nutter you always end up sitting next to on the bus.
“Monsters of West Virginia” isn't going to set the world aflame. Any book of this sort is aimed at a niche market. It's a pleasant little distraction for those interested in the paranormal but it is unlikely to convert any sceptics into fully-fledged Bigfoot-hunters. I enjoyed reading it and I'm sure others will too. Just remember to take it with a pinch of salt... or maybe even a bucketful.Hereward L.M. Proops