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Reviews: Books


The Mystery Animals of the British Isles

Author: Mike J Hallowell; Neil Arnold; Glen Vaudry
Publisher: CFZ Press: Bideford, 2009
Price: £9.99; £14.99; £12.50 (all pb)
Isbn: 978190572394; 9781905723362; 9781905723423

The first three of a multi-volume series of British cryptozoology

The British Isles boast a diversity of mystery beasts: alien big cats and loch monsters; bat-winged monkey birds and grave-desecrating earth hounds; mermaids and sea serpents; dragons and flying snakes; cockatrices and human-headed horse-men; Black Dogs and wulvers; master otters and horse-eels; and even the (very) odd Skye-inhabiting unicorn.

Yet only a few of these, most notably Nessie, the dragons, and the Alien Big Cats (ABCs), have ever attracted any sizeable treatment in books. The rest have been allocated a few paragraphs here and there – until now, that is.

The CFZ Press, publishing arm of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, has launched a monumental, multi-volume series entitled ‘Mystery Animals of the British Isles’, in which the cryptids and zooforms of each major county or region of Great Britain will receive comprehensive coverage by a writer from that area (and therefore presumably familiar with its local crypto-fauna). There is also a volume documenting the monsters and mystery beasts of Ireland. Judging from the quality of the first three volumes, the series looks set to become the standard work on British mystery beasts.

CFZ Press founder Jon Downes has stated that he didn’t intend to impose a uniform style or format. Instead, he has actively encouraged the authors to approach their subjects in their own individual manner, and this is clearly reflected in these first three tomes.

But enough about the aims and intentions, what about the most important aspect for potential readers – the content? Well, these initial volumes don’t disappoint, providing sufficient variety and enough surprises to entertain newcomers to the field and seasoned cryptozoologists alike.

The Mystery Animals of the British Isles - Northumberland and Tyneside

In Mike Hallowell’s guide to the mystery animals of Northumberland and Tyneside, we are introduced to the ghost birds of Jesmond Dene, the beast of Bolam Lake, gast adders and mouse shrews, witch hares and vampire rabbits, a monster lobster and a wandering Willie (titter ye not!), the dreaded Laidley Worm of Spindle­ston Hough, Black Dogs and Hell Hounds, the shony, and much else besides.

For revealing so many previously obscure examples of unnat­ural history, Hallowell has done himself, and indeed the entire crypto-community, proud, producing a book that is both unique and thoroughly fascinating.

The Mystery Animals of the British Isles - Kent

Turning to Neil Arnold’s guide to the mystery animals of Kent we are regaled with an exhaustive selection of ABCs (at over 200 pages, this section could have stood alone as a book in its own right), as well as out-of-place wolves and wild boar, bizarre humanoid entities, water monsters, and some Unnameables straight out of the pages of HP Lovecraft.

At almost 400 pages and packed from cover to cover with memor­able facts, eyewitness interviews, timelines and much more, this hefty book is a glowing testament to the conscientious researches of Kent’s leading cryptozoological investigator.

The Mystery Animals of the British Isles - The Western Isles

Over to the Western Isles, aka the Outer Hebrides, with Glen Vaudrey, and we encounter water horses, færy cows and dogs, mystery whales, monsters of the marine and freshwater varieties, dangerous mice and diabolical parasitic worms, dragons, mer-folk, and even, with their species depicted very attractively on the front cover, a couple of putative post-extinction great auks. Vaudrey has also provided a very handy glossary, plus an illustrated spott­er’s guide to the varied crypto-critters that are presented here.

 All three books have eagerly grasped the opportunity to public­ise their areas’ lesser-known crypt­ids and other zoological curios in addition to their more famous counterparts, and the result is a treasure trove of legend, lore, and contemporary reports (supplemented throughout each volume by relevant illustrations and maps), many of which have never before appeared in the crypto­zoological or fortean literature.

Each book also has a concise bibliography, although a major criticism of the Hallowell and Arnold volumes is that neither has an index. This is an inexplic­able oversight, especially given how useful it would have been in substantial books that cover unfamiliar subjects in a good deal of detail. Here and there, I’ve also spotted a dubious fact or a glaring typo that more rigorous editing might have caught, but bearing in mind the scale of this unfolding mega-project, these are surprisingly few and largely insignificant. Certainly they should not detract from the very considerable value of these books and also, undoubtedly, their many successors in this remarkable series. If you’re even remotely interested in crypto­zoology it might be time to invest in an extra bookcase, because you’re likely to need one!

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