Monthly Archives: August 2008

Review: The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

The Mothman Prophecies is a book by author John A. Keel which claims to tell the true story of mysterious events occurring in the eastern United States during the late 1960s. The tale is told entirely from Keel’s vantage point as a first-hand investigator (and experiencer) of the paranormal happenings in question.

I must say that I began reading The Mothman Prophecies with certain expectations. I had previously been exposed to the exploits of the infamous mothman by various authors in other cryptozoology texts. There was no question that this book would be the authoritative, original source material from which most other writers have since taken inspiration. I was surprised, however, at the diversity of the matter which awaited me.

On the positive side, Keel is an excellent and engaging author. He writes colorfully, and offers a work that will not likely bore any of his audience. It’s also nearly impossible to argue that this story isn’t a “must read” for those interested in the Mothman, or any of the number of other strange incidents which Keel documents here. Having had the unique privilege of investigating and experiencing these events in person, as they were happening, the author boasts a definite authority and purity in documentation. It’s obvious that The Mothman Prophecies has heavily influenced many modern researchers in various fields of the unexplained, making it an entry hard to ignore on any serious paranormalist’s reading list. I must also say that, even if one were to discount its potential as a true story, the book does make a fairly good classic sci-fi page turner in its own right.

Enjoyment and intrigue aside, I did develop some rather serious criticisms of The Mothman Prophecies which I feel could negatively impact some readers. As with most texts, the degree to which these cons influence your personal experience will vary.

First off, Keel blatantly and repeatedly breaks one of the cardinal rules of good scientific documentation; he continuously introduces theories and opinions into his writing. The Mothman Prophecies is laced with personal interpretations of the phenomena being witnessed. In fact, something that really surprised me on several occasions, were the seamless way in which the author would offer what are essentially his beliefs as solid fact, with nary a disclaimer. It’s not uncommon for paranormal investigators to attempt to draw conclusions from their works, but this goes well beyond that. Keels repeatedly debunks and downplays certain popular institutions, including UFO groups and alien visitation theories, while simultaneously replacing them with his own views. He ironically disclaims one ideology as being scientifically unsupportable, while concurrently supplanting it with his own, equally unsupported, theories. Keel regularly writes in a very matter-of-fact manner with explanations for curiosities that I do not believe have ever been accounted for scientifically, even to this day.

The lack of good scientific method is also not limited to the frequent disclosure of Keel’s convictions. I additionally found myself curious how someone as dedicated to investigating the paranormal as the author must have been, could still be so unprepared to gather any data other than witness statements and personal observations. Throughout the book, Keel documents a multitude of occasions where he witnessed anomalous objects and individuals, both by chance and by intent. All this time, he never mentions taking a single photograph or measurement of those in question. In one chapter, we hear how he repeatedly visits a certain hilltop at night to view a recurring colorful orb in the distance, yet he apparently never thought to take photographs, nor to simply go and wait in the location where these lights actually appeared. His lack of ability to take advantage of the seemingly ubiquitous and predictable phenomena makes the sheer legitimacy of some of the accounts suspect.

Getting back to expectations, having already learned of the Mothman character from other sources, I had come into The Mothman Prophecies expecting to read an exhaustive, authoritative volume of documentation on one of my personal favorite cryptids. I was rather surprised to discover, then, that the Mothman creature really only plays a limited roll in the proceedings. This book is absolutely not the standard investigators report that one might expect to find on other monsters such as Sasquatch or Nessie. Mothman here is little more than a supporting character in a large cast of humans, weirdos, monsters, and anomalous objects. The majority of the book, particularly the latter half, is actually spent away from the Mothman, and enters into a huge variety of lights in the sky, men-in-black, UFO contactees, phone tapping, and lots of miscellaneous strangeness. In fact, Keel relates such a variety of bizarre happenings from this period in his life, that it may greatly strain ones ability to believe that the story is the least bit sane and true. The author, rather than being the normal independent observer, actually becomes the central character in what would more easily be viewed as an old school sci-fi tale, had the cover of the book not disclaimed it to be “based on a true events.”

My final gripe, although smaller than the aforementioned bits, is that the writing style here has a tendency to be disjointed. Characters seem to pop up in various chapters, often for only a paragraph or two at a time. It makes remembering exactly who is where and doing what across chapters more confusing than it should be, and occasionally detracts from the ability to follow the overall story. The chapters, likewise, are somewhat hit or miss. They don’t seem to follow any specific convention, some based on people, others on a block of time, and still others on a specific phenomena. The chapters themselves are also subdivided into numbered sections, in a way which at times felt arbitrary and pointless. While there are no doubt multiple ways to tell a complex and chronological story of this nature, it would have been nice had the author and editors simply picked one theme and stuck with it.

Ultimately, The Mothman Prophecies is an interesting work, to say the least. If you want a good paranormal story, you certainly need to look no further. Additionally, if you’re in the market for a first-hand account of the origin of the Mothman or even the other paranormal events around Point Pleasant in the late 1960s, this is really a must read. On the other hand, if you’re a scientifically minded individual looking for responsible investigation of the unexplained, you’re likely to be disappointed by Keel’s very human (and very biased) manner of recounting events, which greatly stains belief and credibility.

Rating: 3.5/5