Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Monsters of West Virginia: Mysterious Creatures in the Mountain State by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

(2021, Stackpole Books, www.stackpolebooks.com, $12.95, ISBN: 978-0-8117-1028-2)
[Disclaimer: The final chapter of this book, “The Enchanted Holler,” details many of the paranormal experiences my family has had on our 3 acres in north central West Virginia. I will not be discussing this chapter in this review and I do not believe that this precludes me from making a fair judgment about the rest of the book. JM]
There is an illustration going around Facebook recently that lists the qualifications of a Paranormal Researcher in the past as compared to now. As one can imagine, in this age of ready (but often questionable) Internet “data” and a glut of paranormal shows on cable television, anyone with a camcorder, an EMF meter (which a 10-year-old friend of my daughter’s recently got as a Christmas present), and some curiosity, what passes as a Researcher/Investigator is nowhere near as rigorous as it used to be.
True professionals do the leg work—literally—traipsing the natural landscapes and man-made locations where sightings are reported to have happened and spending countless hours in libraries and archives reading past accounts and, even better, interviewing witnesses.
True professionals in the field of Paranormal Research must do many things well: they must understand basic scientific principles, which can account for phenomena otherwise mistaken to be “paranormal”; they must be historians, anthropologists, and sociologists; they must also be adept at the skills of the writer and storyteller.
Most of all, they must be willing to be disappointed, or to not hold expectations that their forays into the field will bear tangible fruit.
Based on all of these criteria, I can highly recommend any of the previous 50 books written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, and this new one is no exception. Why? Because I have been fortunate enough to be in the field with her on numerous occasions and to have read many of her books, and she meets all of the above criteria to an impressive degree.
In Monsters of West Virginia, Guiley investigates a wide array of Mountain State creatures and entities, from the two most famous—Mothman and the Braxton County (or Flatwoods) Monster—to some lesser known, but no less interesting, local legends.
In the five years that I have lived in West Virginia, my work has taken me to a majority of the places that Guiley chose to write about, and her feel for each locale is right on the money.
The 12 chapters covering each exotic entity are a balanced mix of field work, and firsthand and published accounts, and Guiley has a knack for not poking fun or pushing any one explanation or thesis too hard; this elevates her above many of her peers in this area of study, and is a main reason why I tend to use her books over others for my own research. In the rare cases, such as in the chapter “The Yayho: West Virginia’s Bigfoot,” where she favors one position over another (i.e., that Bigfoot and other creatures of its ilk are multidimensional beings and not from this planet) she enlists the help of other world-renowned researchers such as Nick Redfern.
In addition to the monsters already mentioned, there are excellent chapters on “Monster Birds, Thunderbirds, and Flying Reptiles,” “The Grafton Monster,” and “White Things and Sheepsquatch,” among half a dozen others.
Although particularly appealing to those interested in the Appalachian culture, chock full as it is of paranormal and folk stories, Monsters of West Virginia is fun, light reading for anyone interested in the myriad monsters that have roamed (and are roaming still) our world—and, perhaps, beyond.

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