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Wake Up, Down There
am 6. April 2000
As one of the most fascinating and influential Fortean books published since 1947--generally agreed upon as the beginning of the modern UFO-era---The Mothman Prophecies is, with the earlier Operation: Trojan Horse, John Keel's major contribution to the fields of speculation and Ufology. What spellbinds the reader is his very original, radical, and complete reconfiguation of what is, in the West, generally presumed to be the nature of reality; this reconfiguation is effectively woven into the macabre tale of the year-long haunting of several localities in West Virginia during the Sixties. The elements of the haunting consist not only of nebulous purple lights in the night sky, strange and invasive men who are presented as other-than-human and other-dimensional, and flying headless creatures whose glowing red eyes are set into their chests, but kidnappers, 'men in fright wigs,' time travel, hallucinations, animal disappearances, violent deaths and 'alien' space craft that drop vertically from the sky right into the laps and lives of everyday people. The first-person narration is astoundingly effective,and Keel's disarming sense of humor, implicit from the first page, permeates the story and manipuilates the reader almost unconsciously into a sense of trust, which subtly strengthens the sense of growing discomfort as the story mounts, as 'reality' as it is generally understood constricts around the narrator and reader alike, and dislocations of reason pile up.
However, since most of Keel's other books (Strange Creatures From Time & Space, Our Haunted Planet, and especially Disneyland of the Gods) achieve only rambling hackwork status, the reader must approach Mothman carefully if searching for more than a terrifying entertainment. The largest discrepancy in the story concerns Keel's relationship with and to the mysterious "Men In Black." Keel claims to have come to know, over a period of many months, his own personal Man In Black (Mr. Apol) via telephone, as well as several others (also via telephone) through some of the contactees who walk in and out of the book's pages. Since Keel plainly believes these sinister figures to be inhuman agents who are literally 'lost in time' and created and controlled by their unknown and near-omnipotent otherworldly manipulators, it is significant that he never tracks Mr. Apol down in the flesh to attempt to prove his theory to himself or the reader. The Men In Black disappear like clouds of smoke around the corner time and time again, and Keel's efforts to confront them directly are presented as minimal. Clearly, if he honestly believes what he claims, he would be making a discovery of inestimable value, and any amount of effort on his part to validate the claim would be permissible. Instead of diligence, even in cases of contactees who are presented as having almost daily physical contact with these entities, Keel reports back what is related to him, rather than accompanying the contactee or shadowing them to their mysterious rendevous. Since the physical distance is the matter of miles between New York City (where Keel lived at the time and spends much of the book) and Long Island, the reader can only draw a negative conclusion.
The book ends with Keel stating, among other 'revelations,' that he believes 'the man in the fright wig' to be behind much of what occurred in West Virginia; since this figure is mentioned briefly in one incident on one page, the reader is left at a loss,and cynically suspects this oversight may have been intended mystification, rather than the result of bad editing. In this book, as in Operation: Trojan Horse, Keel shows a wary relationship to speculative physics, and present-day work in this field seems to lightly support some of his more basic and contained premises. A fascinating read for the open-minded, the imaginative, the experienced, and all lovers of the weird, The Mothman Prophecies (the wonderfully evocative title actually suggested by the publisher, who cut a good portion of the original manuscript away) enjoys international cult adulation, and deserves a wider audience among the general public that might respectfully desire to shed some light in its hazier corners.