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The Complete Books of Charles Fort (Dover Occult) Kindle Edition
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My general impressions of the data that Fort presents is that it was well researched, which makes me respect his findings. Also, Fort doesn't force his opinions of what these "unexplained" phenomenon might be. He helped me to continue to develop my open mind's eye. I always try to react to any news media item with "not necessarily"; in this respect, this book was very helpful. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a look at the underside of the leaf.
"Good morning!" said the dog. He disappeared in a thin, greenish vapor.
I have this record, upon newspaper authority.
It can't be said-- and therefore will be said-- that I have a marvelous credulity for newspaper yarns.
But I am so obviously offering offering everything everything in this book, as fiction. (_Wild Talents_, 862)
Martin Gardner (1957) shrewdly compares the first Fortean Society with the Baker Street Irregulars. Many of the members did not take Fort literally so much as they _pretended_ that his ideas were factual. It was all part of an immense joke.
Sam Moskowitz, however, notes Fort's greatest weakness: He was wrong in almost all of his major assertions. Even Immanuel Velikovsky (like the blind hog in search of an acorn) managed to get a few predictions right now and then, but Fort's cosmology (a pancake shaped Earth, a solid sky with holes in it for stars, a Sargasso Sea up in the sky that rains down animals, and planets only a few thousand miles away) has been completely discredited with every spaceship that has gone up since Sputnik.
Many of Fort's specculations of a noncosmological nature are not much more plausible: that a large percentage of arsons are started by mental firestarters; that sheep and cattle slaughterings are frequently the work of werewolves and vampires; and that people, animals and objects are often teleported about by Unknown Forces.
Fort is most famous for four nonfiction books: _The Book of the Damned_ (_1919), _New Worlds_ (1923), _Lo!_ (1931) and _Wild Talents_ (1932). The books sold very little at first, though Fort did acquire a circle of admirers that included Theodore Dreiser, Tiffany Thayer, Albert Payson Terhune, Alexander Wolcott, and Clarence Darrow. In 1934, two years after Fort's death, _Lo!_ was serialized in _Astounding_ in eight parts. It reached its largest audience to date. The reader response was positive but not wildly enthusiastic; and after the first few installments, the letters tapered off (Moskowitz, 1965). But gradually, the readership for Fort grew. This may be in part because of the activity of various Fortean societies after his death. It may also have to do with Fort's influence on science fiction. At various times, writers like Eric Frank Russell, Robert A. Heinlein, Damon Knight, H. Beam Piper and Avram Davidson would write a story or novel with a Fortean theme.
Fort's followers have praised him for his documentation of borderline science incidents. It is true that he amassed a huge collection of notes on newspaper and magazine accounts, and the sheer volumn of details that he throws at the reader makes his books impressive. But Fort did little to check the veracity of such stories. Many were hoaxes and silly season stories, others were mistaken observations, and still other had solutions to the "mystery" that only received brief attention in the back pages of the newspaper.
In one case, a newspaper account of minnows that appeared in puddles in a Canadian town, apparently from a rain, turned out to be fishing bait that was thrown away by a townsperson when the weather turned too bad for him to go fishing (Mr. X, 1997). A small portion of the incidents that Fort cited may have been legitimate anomalies. Willy Ley (1967) reports that the "wheels of Poseidon," spokes of light seen turning around in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, are well documented (if not well understood) phenomena. They are reported by Charles Fort. The trouble is that legitimate amomalies are mixed with so many unreliable and sensational accounts that it is impossible to determine which is which with any great precision.
There are several omnibuses of Charles Fort floating about, but the best is _The Complete Books of Charles Fort_ (Dover, 1974). It is handsomely bound and printed. There is an excellent introduction by Damon Knight (author of the best biography of Fort to date) and a thorough index by Henry Schager. In a volumn this size (1,062 pages), a good index is not to be sneezed at. I would recommend that the beginning reader start with his third book, _Lo!_ It contains some of Fort's liveliest writing and the greatest variety of alleged anomalies. Give Fort a try. He may be frequently ridiculous, but he is rarely dull.