Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures, by Aaron Mahnke

Today I'm looking at a book by Aaron Mahnke who apparently runs both a TV show and podcast around the idea of examining folklore, ghost stories, and urban legends throughout history. This book is a collection of a variety of stories some of which deal with monstrous creatures such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves, but also deals with terrors such as murderous dolls, poltergeists, and ghost ships. The result is a book that gives me mixed feelings to say the least because of how Mahnke seems to veer between belief and skepticism.

When I first checked out this book I thought it would be an investigation of various stories from folklore and giving a variety of explanations for why these stories exist. And I was initially proven correct in this assumption as Mahnke talks about stories surrounding vampires and how bodies can decompose in certain ways to make it appear that the hair and nails have grown, as well as distending the stomach, making an exhumed corpse appear ''alive''. Mahnke also talks about how creatures such as oarfish may have inspired stories of sea serpents and other great sea creatures. And this is something that I greatly enjoy, looking at folklore and finding a variety of explanations for how such stories may have come into existence.

What makes me concerned, though, is that Mahnke then jumps from full skepticism to full believer with certain stories, and I can't seem to find any particular logic to the stories he seems to believe versus the ones he doesn't. For example, Mahnke seems to believe in the Beast of Bray Road, a creature seen in rural Wisconsin about thirty years ago. But based on all the eyewitness reports the animal sounds like an ordinary bear and it turns out that yes, bears can walk on their hind legs. So it was probably a bear that people saw in Wisconsin thirty years ago. Mahnke also apparently believes in the real-life Annabelle the Doll (who, by the way, is a Raggedy Ann doll, which is far less threatening than you'd think). Even a cursory wikipedia examination shows that other demonologists dismiss the owners of the museum that Annabelle is housed in as mostly full of boffo and the story of Annabelle has no corroboration. It's a very odd story to choose as one that you believe as legitimate.

I find it very curious that Mahnke seems to veer so frequently between a total skeptic and a total believer. Even when there's a rational explanation available for some stories, he seems to go for the more fantastic explanation. As a strong skeptic myself I find it rather frustrating and the lack of rhyme or reason to the stories Mahnke seems to believe or disbelieve just further compounds it. If you're interested in stories of the unusual it's probably a good choice but don't expect every story to have an explanation.

- Kalpar

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