I knew nothing about cryptozoology before reading Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids (Daniel Loxton, Donald R. Prothero). I didn’t know that the Bigfoot legend started practically in my Canadian backyard — I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought it was an American story (that sort of thing happens to Canadians a lot). Nor did I know that my former home of Victoria is reputedly home to a Cadborosaurus — that name only rang a bell. Some kind of local Loch Ness? Yes, but Caddy came out of the (fascinating) tradition of great sea serpent legends, not mysterious lake monsters.
I didn’t know that every single monster myth has vivid human and cultural origins, that each one is far more a story about people than monsters or natural history, closer kin to pop cultural inventions than proper legends with deep roots. Cryptozoology seems to have everything to do with people telling stories about monsters — our hijinks and lies and eager delusions — and almost nothing about direct evidence of monsters. The historical record, according to Loxton and Prospero, makes it plain that Sasquatch and Loch Ness and Cadborosaurus were publicity stunts to stimulate tourism! Effective ones. The idea of them didn’t exist before that. That is really all I needed to learn to make my own mind up about these critters. Everything else was just colour.
But what a lot of interesting colour! This is a detailed book, in terms of both story and scholarship. The tales of fraud are particularly entertaining and numerous. So many pranksters! So determined and devious! Monster mythology seems to be made of about two thirds fraud, with optical illusions accounting for most of the rest. As for actually inexplicable ancedotes and truly tantalizing eyewitness reports, never mind physical evidence? There just don’t seem to be any.
Once monster stories reach a certain threshold of popularity, they apparently become self-perpetuating and impervious to evidence, and they can easily seem forever plausible and intriguing to anyone who doesn’t look into them very carefully. Each generation will have to rediscover how little there actually is to discover. This book will be a great help to them!