Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Three

The founding of Clark Publishing Company in late 1947 and the publication of the first issue of Fate in the spring of 1948 weren't just by happenstance. They were a result of the events of the first summer of flying saucers, which had its beginning on June 24, 1947, when Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot flying out of Chehalis, Washington, saw over Mount Rainier a flight of nine unidentified objects that "flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water." (1) Within a few days--in some places within a few hours--of Arnold's story getting out over the newswire, flying saucer fever seized Americans of all stripes, and people began seeing these unexplained aerial objects everywhere.

Kenneth Arnold was an average joe and not a crackpot of any kind. Observers found credence in his story. Around the middle of July, he received a letter from an outfit called The Venture Press, presumably based in the Chicago area. The sender asked him to investigate a supposed sighting of flying saucers over Maury Island, located about three miles north of Tacoma, Washington. And not just a sighting but a crashdown--a partial crashdown to be sure, one of debris that had supposedly fallen from a damaged craft, but one that nonetheless might yield physical evidence of the existence of flying saucers. What's more, the sighting and crashdown of debris were supposed to have taken place on June 21, 1947, three days before Arnold's sighting over Mount Rainier and about two weeks before Mac Brazel is supposed to have found evidence of a crashdown near Roswell, New Mexico. In other words, the incident--now known as the Maury Island Incident--if found to be based in fact would establish precedence for its two witnesses. Keep that thought--precedence--in the back of your mind for a while. It will come up again before too long.

The man who wrote to Kenneth Arnold from The Venture Press was Raymond A. Palmer, at the time the editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures, published by Ziff-Davis of Chicago. If there ever was a Venture Press, it didn't last under that name. More than likely, the name was a front for a new venture planned by Palmer and his business partner, Curtis G. Fuller, editor of Flying magazine. According to Palmer's biographer, Fred Nadis,
[F]or nearly two years, beginning in 1947, Palmer had been leaving the Ziff-Davis offices (on North Wabash Avenue as of the mid-1940s) in Chicago's loop for long lunch breaks, during which he would head three blocks west to a drab office on Clark Street. There, using the pseudonym Robert N. Webster, he edited and prepared Fate magazine designed for an audience with a taste for the paranormal and unexplained. (2)
So, fake name and fake company. In any case, whether Fate was in the works before the first flying saucer sighting or not, Palmer and Curtis--Palmer especially, I think--must have seen a potential gold mine in the subject. And when Kenneth Arnold agreed to investigate the Maury Island Incident, Palmer uncovered another rich vein, for the incident introduced into the flying saucer story sensations of fear, paranoia, and conspiracy that have never really been shaken off in the seventy years since. The incident also brought on one of the first investigations of flying saucers by the U.S. government and resulted, tragically, in the first deaths associated with the phenomenon.

Fred Nadis goes into more detail on the origins of Fate:
Decades later, Curt Fuller said he started Fate after the first wave of flying saucer sightings in 1947. As editor of Ziff-Davis's Flying magazine, he had numerous contacts in the aviation and military worlds. He began to ask questions and concluded military officials were lying to him. [. . .] In this same period, Palmer was developing an "all flying saucer" issue of Amazing [Stories, of which he was editor until December 1949]. According to Palmer, Ziff-Davis [publisher of Amazing Stories] rejected the proposed issue after receiving a visit from a government official. Sharing notes, Fuller and Palmer decided to start a magazine that would question standard assumptions. (3)
Here again is the theme of fear, paranoia, and conspiracy, especially conspiracy supposedly carried out by the U.S. government and against believers in flying saucers.

The cover of the first issue of Fate capitalized on the flying saucer craze as it approached the beginning of its second year. The cover story is "The Truth About Flying Saucers" by Kenneth Arnold, while the cover illustration, captioned "The Flying Disks," shows Arnold's bright red Call Air A-2 in flight above Mount Rainer and overshadowed by three large, otherworldly craft. The magazine was a hit among those caught up in the phenomenon. John Keel reported that at the first flying saucer convention, held in New York City in the fall of 1948, most of the attendees (there were only about thirty) clutched copies of Fate as they shouted and argued their positions. (4) In case you're wondering, Fate is still in existence and is closing in on its seventieth-anniversary year.

* * *

Year after year beginning in 1947, flying saucers fascinated the American public, and year after year, flying saucer fans kept up on the latest news in Ray Palmer's several titles, including Fate, Mystic Magazine, The Hidden World, Search, Ray Palmer's News Letter,  and ForumBy John Keel's estimation, Palmer was the man who invented flying saucers. What has largely been forgotten, however, is that he was also the prime promoter of a mystery that served more or less as the forerunner to flying saucers. This was the so-called Shaver Mystery, which excited, perplexed, and angered readers of science fiction from its beginnings in the mid 1940s until it was overtaken by spacecraft from another world. 

To be continued . . . 

(1) From The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer (Boise, ID, and Amherst, WI: Authors, 1952), p. 11.
(2) From The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2013), p. 116.
(3) From Nadis, p. 117.
(4) See Nadis, p. 116.

Kenneth Arnold (1915-1984), who made his fame by seeing and reporting the first flying saucers. From The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer (Boise, ID, and Amherst, WI: Authors, 1952), p. 161.

Raymond A. Palmer (1910-1977), the man who invented flying saucers and kept them in the public eye for almost thirty years. As with Gray Barker, his name is suggestive: a palmer was a Christian pilgrim of the Middle Ages, in other words, a devout believer. On the other hand, someone who palms cards is a cheat or a grifter. On the other, other hand, Ray, as in ray of light, suggests something pure, warm, illuminating, heavenly, or in the science-fiction sense, a deadly force. From The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer (Boise, ID, and Amherst, WI: Authors, 1952), p. 163.

From left to right: Curtis Fuller (1912-1991), his wife Mary Fuller (dates unknown), and Jerome Clark (b. 1946), all on the staff of Fate magazine in 1982 when this AP photo was published. Fuller and his wife bought out Ray Palmer in 1955 and ran Fate for decades afterwards.

Fate, Spring 1948, the first issue of a magazine that continues to this day, nearly seven decades later.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Two

On Friday evening, September 12, 1952, a visitor from another world came to West Virginia. Soon after dubbed the Flatwoods Monster, the Phantom of Flatwoods, the Green Monster, and the Braxton County Monster, the visitor put a scare into residents of Flatwoods. Within days, journalists and other investigators were roaming over town and country in search of witnesses, evidence, and clues. Gray Barker, a Braxton County native then living in Clarksburg, was among them. He arrived in Flatwoods after work on Friday, September 19, only a week after the sighting of the monster. He had in hand an assignment from Fate magazine: 3,000 word and a few pictures with a Monday deadline. That weekend, Barker interviewed some of the witnesses of the event. He also ran into Ivan T. Sanderson, another investigator of strange and unexplained phenomena. The two men collaborated in their investigations in that last weekend of the summer of 1952, the closing of what in journalistic circles is sometimes called "the silly season." Both got their stories. It was likely the first time they had met.

Gray Barker's story of the encounter with the Flatwoods Monster, entitled "The Monster and the Saucer," was published in Fate in January 1953. By then, Barker was already in touch with still another investigator, Albert K. Bender, Jr., of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Barker first wrote to Bender on November 20, 1952, after having read a letter by Bender that was published in the December 1952 issue of Other Worlds Science Stories. Bender's missive to Other Worlds announced the formation of the International Flying Saucer Bureau and invited interested parties to join. In writing, Bender also offered an honorary membership to the editor of Other Worlds. Although the wording of his response is ambiguous, the editor seems to have accepted the honor. His name, by the way, was Raymond A. Palmer, also known by his initials, Rap.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 1, 1910, Palmer was a writer, editor, and publisher of fact, fiction, and things from the twilight zone between them. Palmer was badly injured as a child. In search of solace and escape, he read science fiction and fantasy, then created with Walter Dennis the first science fiction fanzine, The Comet, published in May 1930, when he was only nineteen. With the June 1930 issue of Wonder Stories, Palmer became a professional author of science fiction. He also managed to slip his first name into the title of his first published story, "The Time Ray of Jandra."

Palmer was not quite thirty when he landed a plum assignment as editor of Amazing Stories. The June issue of 1938 was his first. Eleven months later, in May 1939, he took on additional duties as editor of the new Fantastic Adventures, also published by Ziff-Davis of Chicago. He remained as editor through the December 1949 issues of the two magazines and was succeeded in the following month's issues by Howard Browne. Palmer wasn't out of of work, though, for he had already started as editor of Other World Science Stories in its inaugural issue of November 1949. More commonly known as Other Worlds, the new publication was digest-sized in keeping with a growing trend in the pulp-fiction market. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction also began as a digest-sized publication in the fall of 1949. (1) Astounding Science-Fiction had started the trend in November 1943. Weird Tales didn't follow suit until September 1953.

Other Worlds was published by Clark Publishing Company of Evanston, Illinois. Although the magazine was new in late 1949, its publisher was not, for Clark Publishing Company had been formed about two years before, in late 1947, by Raymond A. Palmer and Curtis Fuller. Their purpose was to publish a new kind of magazine, a magazine to look into the strange and unexplained facts on the fringes of science. They called it Fate

To be continued . . . 

(1) The first issue was called The Magazine of Fantasy.

A clipping from the Charleston, West Virginia, Gazette from Tuesday, September 23, 1952, page 3, eleven days after the sighting of the Flatwoods Monster in Braxton County. Kathleen May and Gene Lemon were the only two adults to see the monster. All of the other witnesses were children. A week after the sighting, Mrs. May, Gene Lemon, and A. Lee Stewart, Jr., co-editor of the Braxton Democrat, appeared on the NBC television show We the People in New York City to talk about the incident. Note that the photograph above was taken at the Charleston bus station. Presumably, that was on the trip to or from New York. I don't know who drew the picture the two eyewitnesses are holding here, but I believe it was also shown on We the People. It may have been drawn by an artist for the show or by a newspaper artist.

A photo-montage of the Flatwoods Monster, ostensibly created by Gray Barker. However, Barker admitted in another context that he was not an artist. If he in fact created this image, he seems to have superimposed the artist's drawing from above onto a photograph of a woodland scene, with a large white oak tree on the right. I don't whether the photograph of the oak tree was shot at the original location of the sighting of the Flatwoods Monster or not. In any case, in the sixty-five years since the monster came to Earth, the tree has died and rotted. There may be little left of it.

Barker wrote his account of the encounter with the Flatwoods Monster for Fate magazine. It was published in January 1953. I like the drawing of the monster shown here. Unfortunately, I don't know the identity of the artist. 

Asa Lee Stewart, Jr., known as A. Lee Stewart (1930-1998), was co-editor of the Braxton County Democrat and the first reporter on the scene after the encounter with the Flatwoods Monster. According to Gray Barker in Barker's book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (1956), "He arrived about half an hour after the incident." (p. 28) A few weeks later, Barker stopped in at Stewart's office. "Stewart chuckled as he held up an 8 x 10 photo, attached to a publicity release from Collier's magazine. The issue of October 18 was to contain the story of how a moon rocket would be constructed in the future, and the photo was [of] the art work which was to appear on the cover." (p. 30) Stewart, then, would seem to have been the first to notice a similarity between the eyewitness descriptions of the Flatwoods Monster and the cover art for Collier's, October 18, 1952. (Rev. S.L. Daw of Washington, D.C., an associate of Albert K. Bender, Jr., would write about the similarity in the January 1953 issue of Bender's Space Review.) Again, I don't know the identity of the artist. I also don't know whether the October 18 issue would have been on the newsstand as early as September 12. It doesn't seem likely to me, given that Collier's was a weekly rather than a monthly. On the evening of the incident in Flatwoods, the issue whose cover is shown above would have been still five weeks--and five issues--out.

Not long ago, I was watching the 1950 science fiction film Rocketship X-M when I saw this scene: actor John Emery as physicist and rocketship designer Dr. Karl Eckstrom at the chalkboard as he explains his creation to the astronauts who are about to be shot into outer space. I was struck by the resemblance of the drawing to the Flatwoods Monster, especially to later mechanistic interpretations of the monster's appearance. According to Wikipedia, the design of Rocketship X-M was based on drawings that had appeared in the January 17, 1949, issue of Life magazine. So in this wondrous age of the Internet, what do you do but look for just those drawings?

Five years ago--even a year ago--you might not have found what you were looking for. Now it's another story. And so I found these two images (above and below), illustrations for the article "Rocket to the Moon," predicting a trip within the next twenty-five years. (It actually took twenty.) The artist was Michael Ramus (1917-2005). 

Although they don't offer the best view of Ramus' rocketship design, these images show a craft similar to the one in Rocketship X-M, a movie released a little more than a year later, on May 26, 1950.  

In any case, as this advertisement from the Beckley, West Virginia, Post Herald from May 9, 1953, shows, Rocketship X-M was still playing at theaters three years after its debut. In other words, it might still have been fresh in the minds of moviegoers. By the way, Gray Barker worked as a movie theater booker. His business was the largest of its kind in West Virginia at the time. So did he book Rocketship X-M at the Pine theater in Beckley less than a year after the Flatwoods Monster incident? 

A baby Flatwoods Monster? No, just a barn owl with its heart-shaped face turned upside down to form instead a spade-shape. Some people believe that the witnesses in Flatwoods actually saw an animal, possibly a barn owl, and in their excitement, fear, and hysteria, mistook it for a monster. After all, they went up on the hill expecting to see a Martian, so they saw one. Photograph by Lisa Kee. By the way, the tapetum lucidum of barn owls is orange, the same color reported by the eyewitnesses at Flatwoods as to the monster's eyes.(Actually, they said the Flatwoods Monster's eyes were "greenish-orange," an obvious impossibility, unless there were distinct and separate areas of green and of orange in or around the monster's eyes.)

Gray Barker (1925-1984), in the overused "talking on the phone" portrait of the 1940s and after. I don't know when this picture was taken nor the identity of the photographer, but in looking at it, you might get an idea of Barker's great height: he was six feet, four or five inches tall. You might also have noticed by now that Barker shared his first name with the most common type of alien (unlike him, a diminutive creature), while his last name suggests an association with a carnival barker. "Step right up, folks," he says, "and see the gray alien from another world." Half sincere, half huckster and hoaxer, Gray Barker had one of the most appropriate names of anyone I know of. (A forestland owner I knew by the name of Forrest Akers might have had him beat.)

Finally, Albert K. Bender's letter in Other Worlds Science Stories, December 1952, page 156. This is almost certainly the letter that prompted Gray Barker to write to Bender on November 20, 1952. (I don't have access to the October 1952 issue of Other Worlds, but I doubt there was a letter prior to this one.) Barker's letter was his introduction to Bender and to the whole mystery that would soon surround him, including the Mystery of the Three Men in Black.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Little (or a Lot) on Algernon Blackwood

About once a month, I meet with a weird fiction book club to discuss some short works by a given author. In our past two meetings, we have talked about the works of Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951). For our first meeting on Blackwood, we read "The Willows" and "The Wendigo." In our second, we talked about the short stories "Smith: An Episode in a Lodging-House," "May Day Eve," and "The Listener." A theme runs through all of these stories, namely, an encounter with the invisible or previously unseen, usually by way of a kind of crossing over into or contact with worlds beyond on our own.

Algernon Blackwood was a mystic and an occultist. Again and again in his stories, he wrote of encounters with the non-material. I hesitate to use the word supernatural, as the weird forces and entities he described in his stories seem less supernatural than simply not of our world: they may obey laws of nature, but those laws are not necessarily the same laws that govern us in our earthly realm. Supernatural also suggests a hierarchy of some kind, with some things in nature and others above it. In Blackwood's stories, there seems to be a unity among all things. He was interested in Buddhism. His stories seem to reach towards an Oriental oneness, of body and spirit, of the material, physical, or earthly realm with the non-material or spiritual realms that actually lie all about us and perhaps also within us.

H.P. Lovecraft was or claimed to be a hard materialist. Here is a quote, admittedly from an unknown source:
I am, indeed, an absolute materialist so far as actual belief goes; with not a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism--religion, spiritualism, transcendentalism, metempsychosis, or immortality.
Algernon Blackwood was obviously not a materialist. He seems to have believed wholeheartedly in the spiritual or non-material. In reading his stories, I am reminded of the title of a wholly unrelated book, Wonders of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather, for Blackwood seems to have been an explorer of the invisible worlds that adjoin our own or that are, to use a Lovecraftian word, coterminous with it. If only we could expand our consciousness or awareness, we might commune with these worlds. That reaching towards greater consciousness or awareness seems to have been Blackwood's purpose in his stories.

Lovecraft admired Blackwood. In a letter to Vincent Starrett, from 1927, he wrote: "Aside from Poe, I think Algernon Blackwood touches me most closely . . . ." He considered "The Willows" "the finest weird story" he had ever read. This admiration came "in spite of the oceans of unrelieved puerility which he [Blackwood] so frequently pours forth." (1) I can't say what exactly was Lovecraft's objection to Blackwood's writing. (2, 3) I assume his accusation of "puerility" to have been directed at Blackwood's mysticism or non-materialism, perhaps more specifically at Blackwood's occultism.

Blackwood is supposed to have had a less kindly opinion of Lovecraft's work. In a search of the Internet, I found only a reference to Blackwood's claim that he found "spiritual terror" lacking in stories by his younger admirer. And that brings up another difference between Blackwood and Lovecraft, namely, that Lovecraft was more direct and the threats about which he wrote are more physical than in Blackwood's work. Cthulhu is a monster with height, breadth, and depth. He is a certain color, has a certain anatomical structure, and so on. Yes, he has come to earth from deep space. He has lived countless eons and will go on living for countless more. And he affects the dreams of sensitive people. But he is still a physical being. His body can be cloven by the prow of a fast-moving ship, thus sending him back to slumber in his submarine city. Blackwood's monsters, on the other hand, can't be seen clearly or directly. For example, the entities haunting the willows in the story of the same name are indistinct; they are not clearly defined or delineated. (4) They may leave footprints (or hoof prints) in the sand, they may leave their mark on the poor Hungarian peasant, but they are nonetheless non-material, or at most only partly material. Peter Penzoldt said it best when, in The Supernatural in Fiction (1965), he described Algernon Blackwood's entities as "apparitions." In any case, Blackwood, being a non-materialist, was not bound by the mere physical. The terrors he described extend into the spiritual realm. Lovecraft, more or less his opposite, may have been bound by his materialism, thus his terrors are, on their face at least, only physical. That might be a narrow reading of Lovecraft, though. He may have believed more than he let on.

* * *

I began writing today with a few notes in mind on the stories of Algernon Blackwood. The first has to do with materialism vs. non-materialism. It's clear from reading Blackwood where he stood. But rather than come from the direction of the non-materialist in his attempts to sway the materialist, Blackwood tried the opposite strategy. His narrators in "Smith: An Episode in a Lodging-House" and "May Day Eve" are materialists. More specifically, they are medical doctors. And, boy, do they get their comeuppance. In fact, the narrator in "May Day Eve" has a conversion like that of Saul on the road to Damascus. Whole new worlds open up to him because of his experiences on the night of May 1 in some long-ago year. I would like to quote from "Smith: An Episode in a Lodging-House," though, because it gets at something I have written about before, i.e., the arrogance and sense of superiority of the medical doctor, feelings that often border on or cross over into the country of the murderer and psychopath:
"I was at the time, moreover, in the heavy, unquestioning state of materialism which is common to medical students when they begin to understand something of the human anatomy and nervous system, and jump at once to the conclusion that they control the universe and hold in their forceps the last word of life and death. I 'knew it all,' and regarded a belief in anything beyond matter as the wanderings of weak, or at best, untrained minds."
Rest assured that the narrator is relieved pretty quickly of those feelings in his encounters with things from beyond.

My second note concerns a passage from near the end of "May Day Eve." The narrator has undergone an extraordinary experience on the path to the country house of his friend, a folklorist to whom he had planned to present what he considered powerful evidence in favor of materialism. First the folklorist speaks. He is then questioned by the narrator:
"I meant [. . .] that you were a very brave man to walk to-night over the enchanted hills, because this is May Day eve, and on May Day eve, you know, They have power over the minds of men, and can put glamour upon the imagination--"
"Who--'they'? What do you mean?"
 [. . .]
"The elemental beings you have always scoffed at, of course; they who operate ceaselessly behind the screen of appearances, and who fashion and mould the moods of the mind. And an extremist like you--for extremes are always dangerously weak--is their legitimate prey."
I would like to emphasize those words: Extremes are always dangerously weak. Extremists themselves recognize that fact and always seek to recruit into their ranks their fellow extremists, knowing the weakness and vulnerability of the person who has extremist views and is driven by them. Eric Hoffer recognized it, too, in his book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951). From Section 61:
The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted.
And from Section 62:
Though they seem at opposite poles, fanatics of all kinds are actually crowded together at one end. It is the fanatic and the moderate who are poles apart and never meet. The fanatics of various hues eye each other with suspicion and are ready to fly at each other's throats. But they are neighbors and almost of one family. They hate each other with the hatred of brothers. They are as far apart and as close together as Saul and Paul. And it is easier for a fanatic Communist to be converted to fascism, chauvinism or Catholicism than to become a sober liberal. (5)
The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist [. . . .] The atheist is a religious person. He believes in atheism as though it were a new religion. He is an atheist with devoutness and unction.
I have that sense, too, that an atheist is a person who very desperately wants to believe in something yet can't bring himself to believe simply in God. In getting back to "May Day Eve," a believer in God would not be so disturbed by his experiences as is the narrator--the believer is already aware of and is in touch with the invisible world. On the other hand, a materialist like the narrator of "May Day Eve" has his whole worldview shaken in any encounter with the spiritual, invisible, or non-material.

My third note is in the story type used in "Smith: An Episode in a Lodging-House." It is, in its opening paragraphs, clearly a club story, that is, one told in a club setting, usually by a narrator in repose. Tales from the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke is an example of a series of club stories. I like the club-story type and have written one myself, set in the far future and on another planet. "Smith: An Episode in a Lodging-House" is another type of story, too, though, one I have never heard described before. So maybe I will be first, at least in my own mind, for inside Blackwood's club story is a rooming-house story. The rooming-house story is one in which someone who lives in a rooming house (or apartment house) encounters another, stranger denizen of the same place. In Blackwood's story, it is the narrator who meets Smith, a strange man up to something behind closed doors. Other examples include:
  • "The Music of Erich Zann" by H.P. Lovecraft (1922)
  • "The Dreams of Albert Moreland" by Fritz Leiber, Jr. (1945)
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  • Rear Window (1954)
Even stories like Dangling Man by Saul Bellow (1944) and "Mr. Tripp and Skobol" by Jack Matthews (Chicago Review, Autumn 1959) can be considered rooming-house stories. I am also reminded of Tom Waits' spoken-word recording "What's He Building?" from 1999. I welcome other additions to this list.

I'll close by saying that a few years back I wrote a rooming-house story, before I even realized there was such a thing. I encourage everyone to try your hands at the club story and the rooming-house story, and failing that, to write stories of every kind.

(1) Quotes are from that same letter to Vincent Starrett.
(2) In another letter to Willis Conover, from 1937, Lovecraft called Blackwood's prose style "poor." This comes from a writer who too often alternated between self-conscious faux-archaism and the purplest and pulpiest of prose. I find problems with Blackwood's prose, too, but I think Lovecraft's objection was about something far more serious, to him, than style. See the following note.
(3) In a letter to Farnsworth Wright, from July 5, 1927, H.P. Lovecraft wrote: 
Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form--and the local human passions and conditions and standards--are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown--the shadow-haunted Outside--we must remember to leave our humanity--and terrestrialism at the threshold. [Emphasis added.]
Note the use of the word puerility again. Did Lovecraft consider belief, faith, feeling, love, emotion--in short anything at all that is at once human and spiritual--to be unacceptably sentimental? Was that his complaint against Algernon Blackwood?
(4) Lovecraft may have admired "The Willows" so much because it is so close to his own conception of beings from beyond time and space that are attempting to break into our own world. The difference is in their nature and motivation, which aren't made entirely clear in "The Willows." Although Blackwood's story isn't quite science fiction, I think it is an early example of science fantasy, a sub-genre in which Lovecraft worked pretty easily. (I would consider "The Call of Cthulhu" science fantasy, although it can be described more easily--and with less precision--as weird fiction. Alternatively, "The Call of Cthulhu" can be considered a story that crosses genres or even defies categorization by genre.) "The Willows" has, without a doubt, an air of the mythological, folkloric, and supernatural. At first glance, it is a fantasy and about things of the past. But I think "The Willows" is more remarkable for its suggestion of contact between different physical dimensions, a scientific idea, an idea of the future, and one for science fiction writers to treat. I feel certain that Blackwood read and understood at some level Edwin A. Abbott's novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, first published in 1884. But did he also know of Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity, postulated in book form in 1905, only two years before "The Willows" was published? Or did he simply have an intuition that allowed him to envision the existence of other dimensions beyond our own? (We have seen the artist's intuition at work before in Eleanor Cameron's books about the Mushroom Planet.) Setting all of that aside, there have been, more recently, theorists of a so-called genre or sub-genre "dark fantasy." Academic Gary Hoppenstand believes that dark fantasy was invented by Francis Stevens. I have a different opinion. If there is such a thing as dark fantasy--a big if--then it seems more likely to me that H.P. Lovecraft was a pioneer in that genre or sub-genre. But I think "The Willows" may push the origins of dark fantasy back even farther, at least to 1907. More likely still, dark fantasy grew out of fantasy, folklore, mythology, and organized religion, all much older forms.
(5) Don't be confused by Hoffer's use of the word liberal. He meant liberal in the classical sense, i.e., a person who believes and understands that human beings are and by rights free. In current usage, liberal usually means the opposite, i.e., a progressive, leftist, socialist, or statist who wants to grind humanity and human freedom under his boot.

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951)

Put a mustache on Blackwood and he could have passed for Commander McBragg, that animated raconteur who told club stories in a time-honored way. In actuality, Commander McBragg was based on C. Aubrey Smith (1863-1948), a countryman and near contemporary of Algernon Blackwood.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Pantry on the Edge of Forever

I feel like Columbo . . .
"Just one more thing . . ."
After writing the other day about 11/22/63, I realized how much it has in common with "The City on the Edge of Forever," an episode from the first season of Star Trek, first broadcast in April 1967. The original teleplay for "The City on the Edge of Forever" was written by Harlan Ellison, then adapted, rewritten, and/or revised by at least one other writer on the production team for the show. I have the Bantam Fotonovel adaptation here beside me. Mr. Ellison doesn't get any credit on the cover, but there is an interview with him on the inside. I'll come back to that in a minute.

In 11/22/63, a man travels through a time-portal (located in the pantry of a diner in the ruins of his hometown) in an attempt to alter the past. He is successful in his mission, but the woman whom he loves in the past is killed, and the future is altered: the earth and everything he knew is threatened with destruction because of his meddling. He must then correct all of that. In his so doing, John F. Kennedy dies but the woman he loves lives on into the unaltered present. He loses her, but only to history.

In "The City on the Edge of Forever," a man travels through a time-portal (located in the ruins of a city on a faraway planet) and unwittingly alters the past, thus altering the future: nothing that he knew came to be and his fellow space-travelers are stranded in time and space. Two other men follow him in an attempt to undo what he has done. One of those men, Captain Kirk, falls in love with a woman from the past, Edith Keeler. Like the love interest in 11/22/63, Edith is a social activist or reformer. Like Stephen King's female lead, she remains unmarried and turns her efforts at making a better world outward towards that world rather than inward towards a family.

So Captain Kirk sets the past (and present) aright but loses the woman he loves, to death and to history. It is necessary that she die so that history can go on as it should or at least did. The mission is not to alter the past but to prevent the alteration of the past. Stephen King's protagonist, on the other hand, sets out to alter the past and to send history off in another direction. In so doing, he loses the woman he loves, but he also succeeds in his mission. The past, thus also the present, is altered. The problem is that the alteration, as in "The City on the Edge of Forever," results in disaster. In order to undo the disaster, the protagonist in Mr. King's novel decides to undo what he has done, but in the process, John F. Kennedy (one-half of the past's beloved) must die, just as Edith Keeler (all of the past's beloved) must die. The female lead in 11/22/63 (the other half, perhaps the lesser half, of the past's beloved) gets to live, although the protagonist still loses her to history.

So McCoy plays the role of the meddler, the same role played by the protagonist in Stephen King's novel, while Kirk plays the role of History, also the role of the lover. Edith Keeler is the beloved, both the love interest for the protagonist and the young President who must die. Spock is simply the protagonist's friend, Al Templeton, who has recorded all of the facts and knows what has to be done. (Spock is also a miniature version of the Guardian of Forever who replays history on his tricorder, just as the Guardian replays it in the images projected upon the doorway to Forever.) Kirk decides to allow the woman he loves to be killed so that history can go on and certain disasters are avoided. (Others are brought about by his actions, but they were going to happen anyway.) Stephen King's protagonist, on the other hand, decides to allow the woman he loves to go on living--and loses her to history in the process. Also in the process, he allows history go on unaltered, thereby preventing disaster and destruction. Clear as mud, right?

So who suffers the greater loss? Who makes the more heartbreaking decision? Who is more greatly affected? Who makes the greater moral choice? Captain Kirk or Stephen King's protagonist? By acting, Kirk allows the woman he loves to be killed. By not acting, the protagonist in 11/22/63 allows the woman he loves to go on living. One sacrifices the woman he loves up close and personal, while the other sacrifices the president whom he may or may not love (and then only from a distance), all so that history can go on as it should or did. None of this is to set up some sort of competition between "The City on the Edge of Forever" and 11/22/63, but it is getting me closer to my point.

Although 11/22/63 is original in many ways and a great work of the imagination, it is also a kind of inversion of "The City on the Edge of Forever." Is it a conscious inversion? In other words, was Stephen King inspired by Star Trek? I doubt it. (He was more likely inspired by John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels.) I can tell you, though, that there is something lacking in 11/22/63, for me at least. I'll let Harlan Ellison himself point out just what that is. (He didn't know he was pointing it out, of course.) From "Encounter with Ellison," an interview conducted by Sandra Cawson and published in Star Trek Fotonovel #1, City on the Edge of Forever (Bantam, 1977):
Sandra: Harlan. Why is "The City on the Edge of Forever" as well-loved as it seems to be by fans and critics alike?
Harlan: Because it's a story about people. The underlying philosophical theme carries the plot forward, but essentially it's a very simple love story. A story of choice. The kind of story that is identified traditionally as "tragedy" in the grand sense. I don't mean that to sound pompous or even to suggest that it's literature--because after all, what we're talking about is still just a television segment--but it's the essence of human relationships that snares the viewer. It's what Faulkner intended when he spoke of the only thing really worth writing about being "the human heart in conflict with itself." I think those who like the show identify with that.
That's what I was getting at the other day, for I think 11/22/63 lacks something of heart. (The protagonist himself admits that he is not a man who cries.) That's my opinion, of course; many reviewers and readers liked or even loved this book. Maybe to people of previous generations, losing John F. Kennedy to death was like losing a lover to the same spectre. To those of us born afterwards, however, his death, though tragic, is a piece of history. We will never know what things would have been like if he had lived. No amount of theorizing or speculation will make him live. More to what I think is the point of all the theorizing and speculation, whether in 11/22/63 by Stephen King or JFK by Oliver Stone (1991) or anywhere else, the Vietnam War will never be prevented. All of those men and women--58,220 of them--will still die. Their names (including that of a man named Terence Hanley) will be inscribed on a memorial to their sacrifices.

Setting all of that aside, the loss of the love interest in 11/22/63, either to death or to the unaltered past, is not very affecting, to me at least--nothing like the loss of Edith Keeler. But maybe that's just another kind of nostalgia speaking in me. Who, though, has ever forgotten the scene in which Edith Keeler is killed, in which Doctor McCoy exclaims to an already grieving Captain Kirk, "Do you know what you just did? I could have saved her!", and in which Mister Spock replies, with very human sympathy and understanding, "He knows, Doctor. He knows."

One more thing . . . 

As I mentioned above, the friend in 11/22/63--the friend who sends the protagonist on his mission--is named Al Templeton. I will now stretch his name beyond the breaking point: Al can easily become AI: artificial intelligence--a computer--a robot brain. Templeton is, literally, town of the temple. And what is the Guardian of Forever in "The City on the Edge of Forever" but an artificial (possibly) intelligence residing in a ruined city, with its columns, lintels, and pediments like a Greek temple? So is Al Templeton's name an homage to or evocation of the Guardian in his city on the edge of forever?

Just one more thing . . .

According to Wikipedia, the ultimate authority on all things:
When a Star Trek film was being developed in the late 1970s, one of the ideas proposed by Roddenberry was to have the crew travel back to the 1960s and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This idea was based on "The City on the Edge of Forever," due to the episode's popularity among fans by that time. [Original source: Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek by Joel Engel (New York: Hyperion, 1994).]
And that's really all for now.

Star Trek Fotonovel #1, City on the Edge of Forever, by Harlan Ellison, even if he doesn't get any credit on the cover. Note the broadside for a boxing match in the background: in 11/22/63 by Stephen King, there is a fictional boxing match between a real and a made-up boxer. A note to everyone who scans and places images on the Internet: be sure to select "descreen" when scanning so as to avoid moirĂ© effects in your images.

Revised extensively November 16, 2017
Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, November 12, 2017

11/22/63 and the Conspiracies of History

I was in the middle of something when I last wrote, and I'm planning to pick up again where I left off. I would like to write about something simple before I get back to writing about something more complicated, though. The something simple is the time-travel, alternate-history, crime-drama, dystopian novel 11/22/63 by Stephen King, from 2011-2012. (I know, it doesn't sound simple, but it is.) I have read this book in the past couple of weeks, and I would like to write about it now in this month of anniversaries. One is the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the subject of Mr. King's book. The other is of the onset of the disease of Marxism-Leninism in 1917. Contrary to what you might think, these two anniversaries are linked. I think Stephen King knows that, but I'm not sure that he knows it all the way.

The novel 11/22/63 is about a man who travels back in time to try to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's a really intriguing concept, and in the first third of the novel, I was following right along and didn't want to put it down. You might be daunted by 849 pages of novel, but King is no Thomas Wolfe, and his book reads pretty easily. Too easily, I would say, and that's my first complaint. I have never been a big fan of Stephen King. That's not because I don't like his books but because I don't read his books. I'm generally not attracted to fat popular novels. (I have never read Clive Cussler and only one book by Tom Clancy. I shouldn't have bothered.) That's one of the reasons why I read Mr. King's mystery/crime novel The Colorado Kid, from 2005. It's short and to the point. It's also part of the Hard Case Crime line, which has a good reputation, despite its publication of books like Baby Moll by John Farris. (Please do not read this book. It's boring beyond belief.) Anyway, before I read 11/22/63, the only book by Stephen King I had ever read was The Colorado Kid. I enjoyed it, and I like the fact that it leaves the mystery unsolved, for the essential mystery is of the human heart, which is ultimately unsolvable. I found out later, too, that The Colorado Kid might offer some insight into the author himself and the life of his family, for Mr. King's father left them when Mr. King was a child and never came back, just as the title character of the book left his family and never went back.

I enjoyed 11/22/63, but like I said, there are some things about it that bother me. One is the obvious shallowness of the narrator. I suppose there are people this shallow in the world, people who lack inner depths to probe and so do no probing. I'm skeptical of that idea, though, and I had hoped especially that the narrator, an English teacher and author, would not be so shallow. (In my first incarnation, I was, like more than one character on A Prairie Home Companion, an English major.) I can suspend my disbelief that a man can travel back in time and alter history. I'm less willing to suspend my disbelief that a man who was not so obsessed before would become obsessed with his five-year mission to prevent an assassination--that he would never flag, never doubt, never want to throw in the towel, never get lonely, never ask why he should do this thing or that he should do this thing, never question his mission, least of all, that he should wish to go on even when he meets and falls in love with a woman with whom he can live out a normal life in a normal place, if only he would surrender to that love and that life.

The narrator's shallowness may have something to do with his apparent skepticism or agnosticism or outright non-belief in anything beyond the material, natural, scientific, or, perhaps most significantly, the historical. That mindset may or may not reflect Mr. King's. (I don't think it does.) But if a man loves and sees the person whom he loves as not just the biological means for perpetuating his selfish genes, then how can he go on being a materialist or a skeptic? I'm not sure. I will leave that question to the materialist or skeptic. Anyway, mark that up as another bothersome thing about 11/22/63: a not very likable or sympathetic narrator.

Stephen King has contributed to Weird Tales (in 1984). So did John D. MacDonald (in 1949), a writer to whom the narrator of 11/22/63 refers more than once. That is significant, too, for Mr. King is, I think, a known admirer of John D. MacDonald, and in this book, Mr. King writes something along the lines of the man he admires. You might call the whole thing a salvage operation: something was taken from America and the world when President Kennedy was assassinated. The man who sends the narrator on his mission wants to get it back. And because the narrator is friends with the sender--his name is Al--he goes about his work out of amity and loyalty. The problem is that there was only one John D. MacDonald and only one Travis McGee. I could never quite believe that the narrator of 11/22/63 is up to the task at hand.

If you have not read 11/22/63 and still want to, you should probably stop reading here.

So just as in a case taken by Travis McGee, the salvage operation proves successful, but the woman is lost, in this case killed, as happens so often in MacDonald's color-coded novels. The narrator prevents the assassination, but in order to prevent the death of his beloved, he has to return to the present in order to start all over again. The novel takes a strange turn then, and very nearly loses it. What started out as a time-travel/alternate-history story and becomes in the middle a kind of crime drama turns out in the end to be a science fiction story of a dystopian future in which the portals of time are guarded by unknown people of--when? where? Because the narrator has prevented the assassination of the president, he has set the world spinning into a different timeline, and in that timeline, all kinds of terrible things have happened. (I get the sense that the narrator and the author behind him think of the election of George Wallace as president to be the worst of these things, never mind the earthquakes that have killed untold thousands.) In fact, the whole earth is threatened with destruction. In other words, John F. Kennedy had to die in order for the world not to be destroyed. In other words, the narrator, who discovers that there was no conspiracy to kill the president in the past, has come back to the present to find that there was after all a conspiracy. He doesn't recognize it, though, and neither, by appearances, does Stephen King. Put another way, neither believes in conspiracies carried out by assassins or agencies or governments, but both, especially Mr. King, seem to believe in conspiracies of history, that is, that history has to go a certain way and no other. History decided that John F. Kennedy had to die. And that's History with a capital "H," a curiously Marxist notion from a narrator and an author who want him not to have been assassinated by the Marxist Lee Harvey Oswald and who have done everything they can to prevent it.

That brings me to the second anniversary in this month of anniversaries. One hundred years ago, in November 1917 (October by the old calendar), the Bolsheviks under V.I. Lenin overthrew the provisional government in Petrograd and instituted a murderous replacement based on the ideas of Karl Marx. Tens of millions of people died under that system in the ensuing century. In the eyes of any thoroughgoing Marxist, the killing of John F. Kennedy by a Marxist assassin must surely be one of the high points of a century of political murder and terror. Kennedy was, after all, opposed to Marxism and was one of the most fervent of cold warriors among all of our postwar presidents. He was also leader of a nation that represented the greatest foe and threat to communism. By Marxist rhetoric, Kennedy was a reactionary and a defender of the bourgeoisie. History commands that such people be overthrown, overthrown being a euphemism for murdered.

In this anniversary year and month, apologists for and supporters of Marxism, communism, and other forms of socialism have celebrated the coming of the Bolsheviks. To them, it was a necessity--a historical necessity--that countless millions be ground under the iron heels of socialism. Today there are people among us who wish the same thing to happen again. One of them recently ran for president. Another is in control of the opposition in Great Britain. Tens of thousands more teach, study, and demonstrate on our college campuses. I don't know what Stephen King's politics might be beyond the Easterner's natural inclination to the left, but maybe he revealed something when he made Hillary Clinton president in his alternate history in 11/22/63. Believe what you want, but I would call that Dystopia. 

(November 2017 makes another anniversary in that a year ago this month, We the People kept the most corrupt and mendacious candidate in American history away from the presidency. We should all get down on our knees and say a prayer of thanks every day for that, even the atheists among us. And maybe even atheists might rethink their position considering that sending her back to where she came from seems to have come about in part by divine intervention.)

So, finally, another thing that bothered me about 11/22/63: In his coda, tacked on in 2012 to a novel published in 2011, Stephen King has his narrator meet the woman he loved in the past but knows him not in the unaltered present. She has lived a life of accomplishment, but it is accomplishment of a certain kind, what you might call the accomplishment of the activist, the social reformer, or even the collectivist. It is also accomplishment as defined by the current generation vs. accomplishment as people from Stephen King's generation and before might have defined it. (If I understand things correctly, the coda was suggested by Mr. King's son.) Unlike Stephen King, the woman from the past does not marry or have children. There is nothing interior, nothing directed towards a family. There is only the exterior and a turning away from family and towards this thing people call "society." In other words, her greatest love has been directed not towards family but towards "society," another curiously Marxist or leftist notion in a book that is ostensibly about love between a man and a woman. That orientation towards "society" may fulfill some people, but it strikes me as a kind of emptiness, an emptiness that concludes a book of essential emptiness. A good story, well told, with intrigue, excitement, and sensation, but in the end, like so much popular entertainment, empty.

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part One

On Friday, September 19, 1952, a week after the sighting of the Flatwoods Monster, a twenty-seven-year-old movie theater booker left his office in Clarksburg, West Virginia, for Flatwoods with a journalistic assignment in hand. It was a short trip for him, one he had made many times before, for in heading out for Braxton County, Gray Barker was going home.

Barker arrived in Flatwoods that evening but not too late to begin asking questions and interviewing witnesses to the sighting. He would have to make his investigations quick, though. Having previously sent a query by telegram to Fate magazine, Barker had received a rapid reply: 3,000 words, three or four "pics," and a rigorous, fact-based investigation for his story. Deadline: Monday.

As an admitted "frustrated writer," Gray Barker couldn't have asked for a better turn of events. A big, national news story had come right out of his native county, located just down the road from his office. He knew the country and the people. He had the weekend in which to work. And he had a perfect market in Fate, a magazine founded in 1948 by Raymond A. Palmer and Curtis B. Fuller for the expressed purpose of publishing stories of this kind.

As it turns out, Gray Barker wasn't the only investigator in Flatwoods that weekend. Ivan T. Sanderson, well known as an author, explorer, zoologist, and television personality, was also on the trail of the Flatwoods Monster. At the time, he was less renowned as an investigator of strange events, but like Gray Barker, Ivan T. Sanderson would make a name for himself as one of the giants of Forteana of the 1950s and beyond.

Barker and Sanderson ran into each other in Flatwoods and even carried out part of their investigations together in that last weekend of the summer of 1952. Gray Barker met his deadline. His article, entitled "The Monster and the Saucer," was published in Fate in January 1953. Sanderson got a story out of it, too. The earliest version I have found is "Scientist Questions Observers of West Virginia 'Saucer'," located on the front page of the Baltimore Sun for Tuesday, September 23, 1952. So Gray Barker had his start. He also had an opening with another investigator out of Bridgeport, Connecticut. And then the real strangeness began.

To be continued . . . 

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, July 24, 2017

Another Silly Season-Part Two

In 1952 came another silly season, or if you like, another summer of flying saucers, all now sixty-five years in the past. That summer began with an event that is meaningful only in retrospect, for on July 1, 1952, Otto Struve, a prominent Russian-born astronomer, was appointed first head of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, based at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Although the observatory was without any sizable resources at the time, eight years later, with the construction of a radio telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory began what became known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) under Frank Drake. Carl Sagan, who later co-wrote the story on which the movie Contact (1997) was based, was of course involved for years in SETI. He also testified in 1968 before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Astronautics in their hearings on UFOs. That was near the end of the golden age of flying saucers and many years after the season under consideration here. In other words, I've gotten ahead of myself.

Eleven days after the appointment of Otto Struve to his new position, flying saucers began their invasion of Washington, D.C. The invasion lasted a couple of weeks, from July 12 through July 29, 1952. Unlike the previous invasion, in 1814, there were no bombs bursting in air and no rockets either, while most of the glare was confined to the radar screens at Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base. The invasion otherwise came to naught. There were more sightings, more photographs, more pranks, and more books and magazine articles on the saucers in 1952, but the high point of the summer--and one of the high points of the flying saucer era--came near the end of that season with the first encounter people of Earth had with a being from another planet.

The encounter took place on September 12, 1952. It began when some boys playing football on the school playground in Flatwoods, West Virginia, looked up to see an object streak across the sky, apparently to come to earth on a hilltop above town. The boys set off to have a look, recruiting some others to go with them, including Mrs. Kathleen May, a local hairdresser and the mother of two of the boys. Night was falling when the group reached the hilltop. In the gloom and mist, some saw a glowing object on the ground. That was on their right. On their left was the edge of a patch of woods. There was a hissing sound from that direction. Then Gene Lemon, a seventeen-year-old national guardsman, shined his flashlight on the round and blood-red face of a terrifying creature. Ten feet tall or more, wearing a hood like the ace of spades and a green, skirt-like garment or encasement, the creature came towards them from next to a large oak tree. The creature didn't walk, though. It floated or hovered above the ground. And that was more than enough for the expedition from Flatwoods. Mrs. May and the boys fled in terror down the hill and to their homes. One or two were so sick with fright that they vomited repeatedly through the night. Mrs. May described what she had seen--a creature that became known variously as the Flatwoods Monster, the Green Monster, the Braxton County Monster, and the Phantom of Flatwoods--as "worse than Frankenstein," adding, "It couldn't have been human."

I have a book called The Field Guide to Extraterrestrials (FGtE) by Patrick Huyghe, published in 1996 by Avon Books. It's not comprehensive, but I think you can call it a good representative sample of the sightings and encounters of the flying saucer era. There are forty-nine types of aliens shown in FGtE, from 1896 to 1993. Aside from the sighting from 1896--which took place during the first UFO flap in America--there are five accounts that supposedly preceded the encounter with the Flatwoods Monster, from the alien bodies recovered at Roswell, New Mexico, in the summer of 1947 to an encounter with a frog-like alien in Orland Park, Illinois, on September 24, 1951. Unfortunately for those witnesses (or investigators) who have claimed precedence, all five of those claims from 1947 to 1951 were made retroactively. Only the encounter with the Flatwoods Monster was reported contemporaneously to the actual event. The reports from Flatwoods went out to the entire country within days. Kathleen May and Gene Lemon were even on television a week after receiving the fright of their lives. That was more than any of the other witnesses in the years 1947-1952 could manage. Rapuzzi Johannis may have wanted to be first with his report of an encounter in Italy in August 1947. But his waiting until 1962 to write about it surely casts doubt on his claim. Maybe Silas Newton and Dr. Gee, subject of Frank Scully's book Behind the Flying Saucers (1950), wanted to be first, too. Their story was debunked in almost no time at all. Even decades later, the conspiracy theorists who alleged that alien bodies were recovered at Roswell may have wanted some claim to precedence. But again, their claims were made decades after the fact, and their witnesses--the supposed participants in a vast governmental conspiracy spanning the whole country--are as rare as hen's teeth. There was really only one first, and that was the encounter reported by a woman and a group of boys with the Flatwoods Monster of West Virginia.

Although the summer of 1952 came to an end, the flying saucer era was only beginning, and for the first time, with the story out of Flatwoods, there were reports of alien beings from outer space. (1) That brings up one of the curious things about the study of UFOs in the 1950s, namely that there were at least two camps of believers: In one camp were those who wanted to talk about UFOs only as purely aerial--and presumably purely material--phenomena. These ufologists would not countenance the word, let alone the idea, of "occupants." The other camp was made up of those who let their imaginations wander farther afield, into realms of other worlds, other dimensions, and even into realms of the spirit. (2) As the decade went on, the whole flying saucer phenomenon became more complex and even more inexplicable. The kinds of flying saucers seen by witnesses proliferated. So, too, did the kinds of aliens that reportedly flew them. There didn't seem to be any purpose or meaning. There was no method to the madness of the saucers or their supposed occupants. No amount of data collection, analysis, synthesis, or hypothesizing seemed to be enough to solve the flying saucer mystery or even come close to solving it. Scientific explanations seemed to be up against limits in fact. That left purveyors of non-scientific and pseudoscientific explanations room to work, and work they did, as they already had been doing for years. You might say the flying saucer era was reaching a decadent phase.

To be continued . . .

(1) Author Frank Scully had previously reported on the supposed recovery of alien bodies from three flying saucer landings in the United States in 1949. That reporting was debunked by J.P. Cahn in True magazine in--you might have guessed it--September 1952.
(2) You might say that the aerial or material phenomena hypothesis is analogous to hard science fiction, while the broader, looser hypotheses are analogous to other forms of fantasy. You might want to hold onto that idea of a discontinuity between science fiction and all other genres of fantasy fiction because it's going to come up again.

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley