Monthly Archives: February 2009

Review: The Beast of Bray Road by Linda S. Godfrey

The Beast of Bray Road by Linda S. Godfrey chronicles the sightings of a werewolf supposedly taking up residence somewhere in the state of Wisconsin. The author of the book is a news writer for a small local paper, and is responsible for breaking the original Beast of Bray Road story. She has continued to follow it up to current day, collecting sightings, interviews, and lore along the way. We get the benefit of her first-hand dialog with witnesses, as well as her intimate familiarity with the local area in which she lives.

When I first picked up this book, I had fairly high expectations of finding a decent quantity of new paranormal or cryptozoological material. While I cannot argue that the chapters dealing with the Beast directly were in fact original, as the pages pressed on I found myself wondering more and more where the real substance was. It seems that there were really only a handful of reports of the Beast to be recounted. After the sightings are exhausted we are left with chapter after chapter of filler; a not particularly comprehensive smattering of general werewolf lore and history. While one could argue that every book should contain some supporting information on its core topic, I walked away feeling that the proportion was well off. I had hoped for the majority of the book to be spent directly on the subject of the Beast, while in reality no more than half of the work was directly connected in any way more than general lycanthropy. Still less of the text was actually devoted to witness sightings, while ample time was spent discussing little more than the author and her various run-ins with the media. If I had been interested in generic werewolf material, I would have chosen a book which aimed to be a comprehensive study of werewolves. On the other hand, selecting a piece which claims to focus on a given named phenomenon would lead me to expect significantly more time spent addressing the creature in question.

I also felt that the author was a bit too involved in her recounting of the story. There’s a fine line between being a good reporter and actually becoming involved in the tale itself. While I do not doubt that the witness material presented was of good integrity, I became dismayed at how much of the conversation centered around the author’s experiences rather than witnesses. We’re told of her working life, her failed screen plays, and appearances on TV documentaries following the introduction of the Beast. While it might make a fine human interest story, or even a brief autobiography, much of it seemed plainly irrelevant to the Beast itself. At best it’s a study of how the media responds to reports of the paranormal, but depending on your level of interest in such topics, these chapters may prove of little interest.

One final gripe was the layout of the pages. Whomever was responsible for formatting the pictures apparently did not bother to actually read the corresponding text. It seemed that without fail, a photo supporting a given story would be one if not several pages following the actual material. It was a small but continuous source of frustration trying to match illustrations with pages already read and past.

Ultimately, what you expect to get out of this read will probably heavily influence your enjoyment of it. If you expect the majority of the book to present you with fresh new accounts of a cryptozoological wonder, you’ll either want to pick and choose your chapters carefully or potentially skip it altogether. If, on the other hand, you want more of an all-encompassing adventure into folklore, and are interested in not only the event but the media surrounding it, you might find the story here compelling. Lastly, if you have a specific interest in the Beast of Bray Road, this is probably to be considered the authoritative source, lacking for depth of material or not.

Rating: 3/5

Review: Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation by Chad Arment

Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation by Chad Arment is a worthy attempt at defining the often slippery science of cryptozoology. The book is divided into roughly two halves, beginning with an in-depth explanation of what cryptozoology is and is not, and follows with real-world examples of its practice.

The first half of the book attempts to define, in no uncertain terms, the science that is cryptozoology. The author goes into rigorous detail here, first priming the reader with foundational chapters which address the topic from scientific, logical, and ethnozoological perspectives. This is also the most potentially difficult portion of the reading, if for no other reason than it’s a characteristically dry treatment of scientific principles. If you can make it through the explanation of various forms of logical fallacy, and how scientific fact differs from theory and belief, the rest of the reading will be a breeze. That’s not to say that the introductory material was superfluous or excessive. In fact, I agree entirely with the author’s intent to provide a solid scientific foundation for his work. Ultimately, however, if you recall your school science course fundamentals well enough, you may find these few chapters a bit tedious.

The good new is, things soon pick up speed. The remainder of Part I (“Science”) is spent addressing cryptozoology directly. What is it? What isn’t it? How does a real cryptozoologist practice in the field? Why is it a relevant field of science? What are some common arguments against the existence of cryptozoology, and how can they be countered? These few chapters are the real meat-and-potatoes of book. Arment goes farther than any author I’ve yet read to position cryptozoology as a relevant and worthwhile field of research. If you previously used the term “cryptozoology” loosely, or assumed it to be in any way a sort of catchall for various pseudosciences, this work has a good chance of reshaping your view. The author makes a sound enough case that you could easily see new university courses cropping up for study in this area.

The latter half of the book takes an entirely different track. We now understand what cryptozoology is on paper, so the author takes us onward into the field. He presents real life cases to illustrate and support the material we’ve just been presented, and he manages to do so in a refreshingly broad and original manner. The ensuing chapters cover historical cases which individually demonstrate folklore, hoaxes, and genuine cryptozoological mystery. These pages include large amounts of quoted source material, interspersed with the author’s commentary, and eschews mainstream topics in favor of the more obscure and focused.

All in all, this book really does qualify as a bible of cryptozoology. It goes to great lengths to define the subject as a legitimate field of scientific inquiry, and it follows through with well structured real-life illustration of the important topics. This should be a must-read for anyone who wants to intelligently discuss or otherwise practice the science of cryptozoology.

Rating: 5/5