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John A. Keel: The Man, The Myths, and the Ongoing Mysteries Paperback – July 14, 2019
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- Publisher : Independently published (July 14, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 332 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1079014500
- ISBN-13 : 978-1079014501
- Item Weight : 15.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.75 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #825,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Librarian and co-founder of AFU
A journalist and television writer, Keel had a flair for the dramatic. The deadpan humor he used writing for comedy shows was carried over into his writings on the paranormal; to Keel, the paranormal is so patently absurd that humor often seemed the most effective way to respond. Very few got the joke. Many still don't. Furthermore, Keel’s research was frequently slipshod, and in his preference for the bold and eye-catching, he often played fast and loose with the facts. That Keel published primarily in popular men's magazines did little to help his credibility. This perceived lack of journalistic or investigative integrity frequently led more "serious" researchers to dismiss as crackpot literature Keel's somewhat outré theories of the superspectrum, a shadowy realm from which all manner of paranormal activity manifests, and of ultraterrestrials, the devious, at times sinister cosmic pranksters that travel the electromagnetic spectrum, materializing and dematerializing at will. Yet such was the power of his many compelling ideas that the more "serious" researchers of the day, including Jacques Vallee and Jerome Clark, and even the sober-minded J. Allen Hynek, eventually warmed up to some of Keel's theories that concern the paranormal aspects of the UFO phenomenon.
Author Brett Raynes' new book John Keel: The Man, the Myths, and the Ongoing Mysteries, isn't so much a biography or a critical study—both of which are much-needed and long overdue—as it is a reckoning with this substantial and problematic legacy. Raynes, the editor of the e-zine Alternate Perceptions, was an associate of Keel's and one of many researchers whose interest in the paranormal was sparked by Keel's evocative writings, an undeniably rich, sparkling vein of paranormal research still being mined today. While there is much valuable information about Keel's life, theories, and works in Raynes' book, they are regrettably arranged in an entirely haphazard fashion, with little to no connective tissue to guide the reader. This arrangement is perhaps in the spirit of its subject, whose books are not known for their structural integrity; Keel’s most controversial work, The Eighth Tower, is almost wholly comprised of material removed from The Mothman Prophecies (both 1975), his most celebrated, just as the earlier Our Haunted Planet (1971) was made up largely of leftovers from Strange Creatures from Time and Space (1970). As a result, Raynes seems to present a thicket of information with seemingly no guide. Chapters are organized somewhat thematically, yet disconcertingly veer off into the anecdotal or digressive, and too often pertain to the author's own, tangential investigations. Interviews with friends and associates—or simply other paranormal researchers, either significantly or tenuously influenced by Keel—some of which are already available online, are presented intact as opposed to folded into whatever main narrative thread might have otherwise been attempted. This leads to unnecessary, and at times verbatim, repetition.
The relative ease of the self-publication revolution brought about by the internet and print-on-demand technology and distribution has resulted in a flood of amateurish work that might have been otherwise suppressed by discerning editors, trouble, and expense. Yet POD has also allowed worthwhile works that might never have otherwise seen the light of day an opportunity to find their audience. It has also resulted in the republication of much out-of-print work. Keel is a major benefactor of the latter, with all of his major works and, owing to the efforts of Andrew Colvin, many of his essays and articles, now thankfully back in print; eight collections of these various writings were published between 2013 and 2018. Yet with this reduced upfront cost and relative ease of publication comes a diminished focus on quality or editorial input. Indeed, Raynes' book, which suffers from poor design and construction, and is replete with vestigial and typographical errors, certainly would benefit from more thorough proofreading. There are no footnotes or index. A professional editor would likely have sent Raynes back to the drawing board and demanded a more coherent, linear framework, as its disorderliness is definitely off-putting and distracting. Moreover, at times Raynes' credulity, as in his repetition of the long disputed 19th century Culmont pterosaur story, to name just one glaring example, is even more pronounced than Keel's.
Nevertheless, Raynes is to be commended for his otherwise thorough research; his book is, for all its faults, clearly a labor of love and does provide valuable insights into this complex and in many ways incorrigible man. Keel's theories, whatever their faults—and Raynes does not shy away from criticism—nevertheless challenge the reader and require careful dissemination. Some of that difficult work is undertaken here. Read in tandem with Keel's recently reprinted articles, and with Doug Skinner's lovingly curated website johnkeel.com, which continues to present Keel's copious correspondence and notes, a more complete portrait of Keel's life and ideas is now beginning to take shape. Perhaps someday somebody will rise to the significant challenge presented by a proper critical biography. Keel, as complicated a man to ever enter the Fortean field, is certainly deserving of one. It's a shame that this disappointment isn't it. -- Eric Hoffman, Fortean Times
Top reviews from other countries
John Keel was born as Alva John Kiehle. He’s probably best known for his book ‘The Mothman Prophecies’, which was first published in 1975. It deals with a series of strange events, involving multiple witnesses, in the Point Pleasant area of West Virginia between November 1966 and December 1967. They culminated in the collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River on 15th December 1967. The bridge was busy with traffic at the time and 46 people lost their lives. The tragedy may have been coincidental. But were the aforementioned phenomena, which included sightings of a strange man-like flying creature (‘Mothman’), portents of the disaster? Prior to the collapse of the bridge, Keel conducted extensive enquiries in the area. During them, he personally experienced strange things. In 2002, the film ‘The Mothman Prophecies’ was released. It featured Richard Gere and was loosely based on Keel’s book.
Raynes (pp. 20-2) relates a bizarre event that supposedly befell Keel on the very day that the Silver Bridge collapsed in December 1967, although Keel chose not to mention it in ‘The Mothman Prophecies’. An old friend of his, Joe Woodvine, turned up unexpectedly at the door of Keel’s apartment in New York City. They spent some hours together, during which they attended a UFO meeting at a hotel. Other people, including the person who informed Raynes of the incident, also reportedly saw Joe (or his lookalike) on that fateful day. However, Keel subsequently encountered Joe’s wife, who explained that her husband had died of a heart attack in July 1965! Another very strange experience is mentioned, albeit very briefly, on p. 251: Keel claimed that he’d once visited a house in Ohio, but it wasn’t there the next day.
Sceptics might wonder whether Keel was prone to invention or exaggeration. This matter is touched on briefly in the book. For example, on p. 77, Raynes quotes an unnamed “respected ufologist”, whose impression was that Keel “would stretch things to make a point”, perhaps without realizing that he was doing so. Raynes relates (pp. 74-5) that he wrote to Keel in 1970 about errors in his (Keel’s) material. Keel explained that many of them had been typographical errors over which he’d had no control. For example, in a sentence in his book ‘UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse’, the word ‘invisible’ mistakenly appeared as ‘visible’, reversing the intended meaning.
Keel disputed the popular notion that UFOs are extraterrestrial spaceships. He noted that there’s a considerable overlap between UFO phenomena and paranormal manifestations (interesting examples of this are given in the book), and he suggested that they had a common source, an omnipotent intelligence that resides in an energy field that he called the “superspectrum” (pp. 268-9).
On pp. 257-8, Raynes discusses the case of Victor Goddard, an RAF officer who eventually reached the rank of Air Marshall. He reportedly had a precognitive experience while flying a biplane in Scotland in the mid-1930s. It supposedly entailed his seeing a disused airfield as it would be a few years later, after being brought back into use by the RAF. However, writing in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (January 2019 and January 2020 editions), Robert Charman has identified serious problems with Goddard’s story, and he concludes that the case shouldn’t be cited as an example of a confirmed precognition.
The book contains photographs, but there’s no index. Despite the interesting content, there are significant presentational problems. For example, there are numerous lengthy quotations that would have stood out better if they’d been indented and rendered in a smaller font than the main text. Instead, Raynes uses quotation marks; but they’re not always applied in accordance with accepted practice. Worse still, there are passages – both in Raynes’ own material and that which he quotes – that lack clarity. For instance, there’s a passage on pp. 306-7 that makes limited sense, because words are obviously missing. In places, the book’s punctuation is faulty. At points, Raynes misuses ‘principle’ for ‘principal’. Many of the subheadings within the chapters appear without being highlighted or underlined. As is normal, book titles are italicized, but in some cases, and for no discernible reason, they are also underlined, which looks odd. In short, this isn't a well-produced book.
Unfortunately, as seems more and more common these days, the layout is untidy and there seems no indication of proof reading having been done. There are numerous spelling errors, gaps in the text and other easily visible matters which needed attention. A sloppy production doesn't help to get these subjects taken more seriously, as they should be.