Thursday, August 21, 2008

Karl Shuker: Interviewed!

As I mentioned here last week, I was recently asked to write the Foreword for Dr. Karl Shuker's new book, Dr. Shuker's Casebook: In Pursuit of Marvels and Mysteries, which delves deeply into not just Karl's usual arena of cryptozoology; but into a whole range of other Fortean mysteries, too.

A couple of days ago, I caught up with him to arrange an interview on the subject of his new book, and here it is. Enjoy!

NR: Karl, you are generally known for writing about cryptozoology, but your Casebook is a bit different, in the sense that it also covers UFOs, ghosts, and much more. What prompted you to write it?

KS: I’ve always been interested in mysteries of many kinds; and it was my zoological background that led me into cryptozoology. But, I’ve always wanted to write about other things in terms of books; and I did do that in The Unexplained back in 1996, at the height of The X-Files. I’ve also actually written a lot of articles on non-crypto subjects – several hundred of them, in fact. But, whereas a lot of the crypto articles had been incorporated into compilations, none of the non-crypto ones had been, until now.

KS: Well, I was speaking to Jon Downes one day, the publishing-director of CFZ Press, and I asked Jon if he would be interested in putting these non-crypto articles into book form, and he said “Yes, definitely.” We did think about it being completely non-crypto; but then I thought it wouldn’t really be a book of mine if there was no crypto material in there at all. So, there’s actually quite a few chapters in the finished book on cryptozoology as well as the other material.

NR: On the crypto and mystery animal front, what does the book contain?

KS: There are a lot of very diverse crypto chapters in the book: there’s some very interesting material on mystery animals of what we call Senegambia – the collective name for Senegal and Gambia. Some of those are almost certainly true crypto animals, others are more paranormal. There’s a similar chapter: on animals of the Australian Dream-Time. As with the Gambia, some of those are physical, others are distinctly supernatural, and some are mythological. There’s also a chapter on reports of Unicorns: living, cryptozoological, and man-made. In fact, until I got into this, I didn’t realize how many types of unicorn were on record throughout the years.

KS: On the subject of Fortean zoology, I talk at length about what have become known as winged-cats. That’s a real pet-subject of mine, and I managed to find the explanation behind the winged-cats. In that chapter, you have the most detailed, comprehensive coverage of winged-cats anywhere, ever. And also photographs that have never been published before.

KS: There are also chapters on ghostly creatures. I’ve looked at some very unusual ones, including a kind of bipedal wolfman – with the head of a wolf and the body of a human – that has been reported in various areas of the UK; and which is similar to the Bray Road beast in America.

KS: I also cover the story of the Woolpit children. Woolpit in Suffolk [England] isn’t a million miles away from me; so I went to Woolpit myself. There are a lot of stories in books about these green children that we read about from time and time again. But no-one ever seems to think to visit the place. They just repeat the same old stories over and over. Now, Woolpit is a corruption of the words "wolf-pit." These pits were built at the time, the 11th century, to catch wolves, which still existed in Britain in the wild then. And it’s in one of these pits that the two green children were said to have come from.

KS: I found one thing that was very intriguing and that no-one has ever mentioned before. In the church at Woolpit, St. Mary’s Church, if you look around the church it has a lot of carvings of strange animals. This was quite unexpected, as I’d never read that anywhere. One of them, which was a very dominant carving at the end of one of the pews, is of a creature which is basically a monkey with wings. And a winged-monkey in a church was somewhat unexpected.

KS: One thing led to another, and I thought to myself: we have a story here of two green children who emerge from a mysterious, twilit green land. And on the other side of the pond, in America, we have the story of The Wizard of Oz in which we have the Emerald City where everyone, including the children, is green; and a flock of winged-monkeys that chase after Dorothy. Now, the story of the green children of Woolpit has been well-known for a long time. And I wonder if some acquaintance of L. Frank Baum, who wrote The Wizard of Oz, visited Woolpit, mentioned the green children legend and the winged-monkey carving in the church to him, and perhaps inspired, at least in part, The Wizard of Oz.

NR: So-called Sky-Beasts and the work of Trevor James Constable feature heavily in the book, too. What are your views on all this?

KS: I suppose looking at it from a zoological standpoint, almost every square inch of the Earth has life that has evolved to live in it: on land, in lakes and oceans, in caves. The only area where there seems to be a conspicuous absence of evolved life-forms, actually living exclusively there, is the sky. Of course, birds and insects fly in the sky; but they don’t live there. But then along comes Trevor Constable, and others, with the idea that perhaps UFOs – which we tend to think are either things like weather balloons, lenticular clouds or alien spacecraft – are a type of living creature: a living UFO that lives all its life in the skies, and that perhaps comes down occasionally out of curiosity and we see them. It’s an extremely radical theory. One of the big questions is: what would they feed on? The answer is energy. They’re energy-consuming creatures. But plants do something similar: they photosynthesize and get their food directly from energy. It’s all very speculative; but I find it a fascinating concept.

NR: Moving away from cryptozoology, you also discuss Doppelgangers in the book.

KS: Yes. And I start that chapter with a quote from a Hans Christian Andersen story called The Shadow, in which a person’s shadow separates from the person concerned and takes on a life of its own. And ultimately it has a sinister ending: the shadow replaces the man after he is executed. And although that's just a story, a lot of people have seen, and are seeing, their own doubles, or other people’s doubles. One of the theories is that these aren’t separate entities, but are perhaps an extension of the person themselves.

NR: How about the "Winged Men" you talk about in the book?

KS: There’s a whole chapter on these that asks: are they genuine crypto-creatures or something more paranormal? I mention the famous ones such as the Mothman and the Cornish Owlman. But I also mention the more unusual ones. I think my own personal favorite is Batsquatch, as the media called it. Batsquatch was seen in 1993 on Mt. Rainier. The witness said their car stopped, the engine cut-out, and this huge, winged monster with a wolf-like face with fangs came down in the road, and then rose back into the sky. And of course Mt. Rainier is where Kenneth Arnold had his iconic UFO sighting in 1947.

KS: I also stray into some of your territory and mention the Big Gray Man of Ben Macdhui, and the British Bigfoot side of things. As you know, formerly living in much the same area as me, the Cannock Chase in Staffordshire is quite a center now for seeing these hairy man-beasts. And yet you would think that, in a place like the UK, it would be impossible to have a genuine, physical, corporeal man-beast. And this is where the “zooform,” paranormal angle comes in.

KS: I’ve always been very interested in this aspect of cryptozoology: black dogs and similar creatures. I also talk in the book about reports of dogless-heads, headless dogs, and the Hairy-Hands: giant hairy hands that have tried to wrench the steering-wheel of cars away from drivers in Dartmoor, England. The Monster of Glamis is in the book; so is Herne the Hunter, who has this head of antlers, and a pack of black dogs with him as he rides across Windsor Forest, England . It’s supposed to be a legend, of course, but there are reports from England as recently as the 1950s.

KS: And just going back to the black-dogs: this ties in with the chapter in the book on the Australian Dreamtime animals. They have a story of the Mirrii, which is almost like a kind of marsupial black-dog, which looks like the British black-dogs with glowing eyes. And it will try and lure people into the water to kill you, just like some of the creatures of Irish and Celtic legend.

KS: I’ve always focused on the more corporeal, flesh-and-blood creatures. But the more I’ve looked into these other animal-like forms, there’s no doubt that these, such as the black-dogs, are not physical. How could they be with glowing red eyes? And Batsquatch: there’s no way we’ve got something like that. None of this makes normal, biological sense. So, some of these creatures are definitely not flesh-and-blood.

KS: One of my favorite non-crypto sections of the book, because I’ve just come back from there, was investigating the mysteries of Easter Island. This was a lifelong ambition that I fulfilled in April; and I did a lot of investigations with the local guides. I found out to my surprise that a lot of what we thought we knew about the mysteries of Easter Island, and that has been reproduced in many books, is in fact totally wrong. A lot of it stems from the visits of Thor Heyerdahl back in the 1950s. Unfortunately, some of the local people, with a wicked sense of humor, told him various things that were not true at all. So, I expose a fair few of those in the book.

KS: Also, I’ve always loved stories of miraculous icons – religious icons. Obviously, everyone has heard of the Shroud of Turin, but I discuss others like the Veil of Veronica and the Gabriel Feathers. So, there's lots of things in the book that I've investigated that hopefully people will find as fascinating as I do.

NR: And a final question: are you pleased with the finished book?

KS: Yes. I love cryptozoology and I always have done and always will. But when you have so many other interests, and you want to write about them, doing the Casebook has given me a great chance to do exactly that. I’ve had a great time doing it. (Note from Nick: To learn more about Karl and his new book, here's his website address. And here are the Amazon US and Amazon UK addresses where you can purchase the book right now.)


cryptidsrus said...

Great interview, Nick!!!

Glad to see "Unicorns" are still being seen---and the Green Children still work their magic even after hundreds of years. Cool. Shuker knows a lot of stuff. Thanks for the head-up.

Nick Redfern said...

You'll love the book!

Raven's Mysterious Haven said...

I definitely need to get a copy of this book. Dr. Shuker has a lot of knowledge on the subjects.
The book sounds like a veritable shmorgasbord of goodies ! I cant wait!

Great interview as always,Nick!


Nick Redfern said...

Thanks! There actually isn't much that Karl's book doesn't cover!