A book that changed my life: The Maybe Monsters
I’ve read thousands of books in my life.
They’ve all changed me in some way. Just as the air you breath and the food you eat has an impact on your body, the books you read have an impact on how you think and how you see the world.
Some books, though, have had a much larger effect on me. In some cases, they have not only affected me themselves, but led me to other books, and even changed the way I spend my time and the people I have met.
One of the most important of these, and one of the earliest, was
The Maybe Monsters
by Gardner Soule.
The way I remember it was being in elementary school (maybe 5th grade or so), and finding this book in the school library.
I think I was always into animals, and while I don’t recommend it, we did have exotics when I was growing up (a wallaroo, an armadillo, herptiles, a squirrel monkey…).
I was definitely into reading about animals (and still enjoy that). I’ve read Gerald Durrell, and I would bet that some of you also enjoyed Capyboppy by Bill Peet.
This book, though, was different.
It’s cover was an odd amalgam of animals. Some looked familiar, but some definitely did not. There was something that looked like a dragon, and a lion with spots, and what might be a cross between a seal and a kangaroo.
Those certainly looked like fantasy creatures…but this book was in non-fiction! It was in the Science Survey series, along with books on archaeology, chemistry, and electricity.
That seemed odd to me, and intriguing.
Just inside was an introductory paragraph:
“Today in just about every large metropolitan zoo in the world you will find a live specimen of a creature which less than a century ago was considered fictitious. Ever since the days of Saint George, and possibly a few centuries before, some men have believed in dragons and monsters, and other men have scoffed at reports of dragons and monsters. The subjects of this book are one real dragon and a number of “maybe monsters”. Some (and it may be stretching imagination to call them “monsters”) are no longer fictitious; they have been proven to exist. Others, such as the Abominable Snowman and the Loch Ness monster, are creatures whose existence is not yet totally proved or disproved.”
My family was quite science oriented. I tended to believe that what scientists said was true. We were also readers, and certainly, we expressed our opinions…even at that age, I wasn’t a “follow the leader” thinker.
However, this book was different. It wasn’t written in a particularly sensationalistic way…this wasn’t the National Enquirer. It simply presented the idea to me that the common scientific wisdom might be wrong. It made me think that scientists (and by extension, other authority figures) might not make their decisions and declarations just based on science…that they might (gasp) have personalities and prejudices that might influence what they said and what I heard from them. I came to realize the shocking truth…
Scientists were people!
As people, of course, they could be wrong.
Being perhaps a ten years old, that was pretty mind-blowing.
It certainly didn’t make me abandon science. Quite the opposite: it was important that the book wasn’t saying that the scientists were wrong, just suggesting to me that they could be.
The idea of science was strengthened in my mind. There are no scientific facts…only theories. A true scientist doesn’t emotionally cling to something that they previously thought was true, or exclude evidence that contradicts what seems to have happened before. A scientist likes it when someone challenges a hypothesis that they themselves have put forward…and proves it wrong.
That’s what science is all about: truth matters, not tradition.
That one book from the school library led me to many others. I read Fate magazine regularly. I got all the books I could on “fringe” topics…it became unlikely that I would go into a used bookstore and find a single book on UFOs that I didn’t own.
Now, from past experience, I know that some people might…be concerned about my interests. I think it’s important to note that I wasn’t a “true believer” in any of it, nor a Skeptic (and the capital “S” is intentional). I became fascinated with the people who so adamantly rejected the possibilities…as much as those who accepted it without question.
I lectured on critical thinking. I thought a lot (and still do) about how people come to conclusions.
I liked Charles Fort, who gets incorrectly labeled as anti-science, in my opinion. Fort was anti-institutionalism, against what I call “true disbelievers” and “true believers” both. As self-labeled Fortean John A. Keel (who I also read ) put it, “Belief is the enemy.”
“Enemy”, for me, is too strong a word…if it suggests that it is believers external to yourself that are the threat. I don’t think that’s what Keel means…I’m certainly not anti-religious. I think it’s the idea that when you believe in something in a question of fact (not of morality…that’s different), then it limits you.
I eventually appeared on television and radio, wrote a column for Fate, and appeared in Strange magazine. I was on the board of a 501(c)3 non-profit, OPUS (The Organization for Paranormal Understanding and Support).I served as the Education Director, and I worked to keep my part of it non-advocatory. It was in this role that I digitized a couple of books, which are freely available to the public through that site.
After a while, that just all became too much time, and not under my control enough. If you are going to go on TV, it takes time away from the family. I value my time with my family, as regular readers know, and prioritize it highly. I stepped off the Board, and stopped trying to get on TV and radio (although I’ve done the latter a couple of times in the past four years).
All of this, because of a book in a school library.
I do spend a lot of time now writing this blog. However, I can do that early in the morning, or late at night, or when my Significant Other is at the gym (our adult child no longer lives with us). I’m home, not out on the road.
Thank you, Gardner Soule, for changing my life! Thank you also, school librarian who purchased this book!
I believe that The Maybe Monsters is in the public domain (no longer under copyright protection). It was first published in the USA in 1963, which means you can check on line for copyright renewals…and there wasn’t one (although some of Soule’s other books show there). At some point, I hope to digitize the entire book and make it available online, but for now, let me just give you the table of contents and one chapter.
Those of you who are interested in the technical aspects might want to know how I accomplished the digitization. I’ve been considering getting a new, faster scanner, and better OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software. I think we are going to see continuing, rapid advancement in that technology over the next few years. That doesn’t mean I’ll wait, but this didn’t seem like the right time.
So, I did it by brute force. I literally retyped what you are going to read below. I type pretty quickly, and I’m more accurate than the OCR I’ve used in the past, which means I don’t have to spend as much time proofreading when i type it. I have a scanner, but it takes too long per page, and too long to change each page, and it requires some dexterity to move the book around to the right positions…I didn’t want to risk damaging the book (even though what I own would be considered a reading copy…it’s not in mint condition, by any stretch).
Here’s the table of contents…I’m just going to type that, not try to match the formatting:
- “A Sight I Think Never to Forget”
- Loch Ness MOnster
- Australian Tiger-Cat
- Nandi Bear
- Komodo Dragon
- “Red-Haired Men of the Woods”
- Abominable Snowman
- Gigantic Octopus
- Spotted Lion
- Sasquatch, Monster of the Northwest
- Pacarana, the Terrible Mouse
- Sea Serpents
- Alive, After 300 Million Years!
- They Call Him “Moon-gwa”
- How to Catch a Monster
I’m going to go with the fourth chapter, because I know it impressed me at the time. Again, I’m not going to follow the formatting: for example, the book doesn’t have blank lines between paragraphs, and indents each one. That, though, is harder to type…and harder to read online. Everything else, though, should be pretty much the way I read it:
Chapter 4: Nandi Bear
IT WAS in East Africa in 1905 when Geoffrey Williams was the first European to see the mysterious Nandi bear. The most mysterious thing about it then was that no bear has ever been known to exist in tropical Africa. The most mysterious thing about it today is that no bear has yet been proven to inhabit tropical Africa.
But people keep seeing the Nandi bear.
Williams was on a safari in a tableland in Kenya (home of most reports of the Nandi bear) at a place with the strange name of Uasin Gishu.
We were marching when we saw the beast…sitting up on its haunches not more than 30 yards away. It’s attitude was just that of a bear at the zoo asking for buns, and I should say it must have been nearly five feet high.
The grass had all been burnt off some weeks earlier and so the animal was clearly visible. I snatched my rifle and took a snap shot at it as it was disappearing among the rocks, and, though I missed, it stopped and turned its head around to look at us…
The head was long and pointed and exactly like those of a bear, as indeed was the whole animal.
There is a saying in Africa. What’s hit is history, but what’s missed is mystery. The Nandi bear remains a mystery.
Williams knew no bears were supposed to live in equatorial Africa. (The Uasin Gishu is on the equator). So, thinking no one would believe him, he delayed telling his story for seven years, until 1912.
After the bear he saw had taken its look at him, Williams explained, it simply ambled away.
What happened to Williams has been happening to men in equatorial Africa ever since. Dozens of them have seen the Nandi bear. It always gets away. It has never been caught or identified.
Gerald Durrell, who has written a number of the best-read books about animals of our time, says the Nandi bear has become “perhaps the most famous — or as one should say, infamous — of Africa’s unknown monsters.”
N. E. F. Corbett, the District Commissioner of Eldoret, had a close brush with the Nandi Bear. He was fishing on the Sirgoi River. He said later:
To my surprise, I walked right into the beast. It was evidently drinking and was just below me, only a yard or so away. I heard something going away and it shambled across the stream into the bush…I am certain that it was a beast I have never seen before.
The annoying thing was that I had been past exactly the same place half an hour before with my gun after a duck, and when I returned, I had nothing but a fishing-rod.
Captain William Hitchens of the Intelligence and Administrative Services of East Africa reported in 1927 what he believed was the scream of the Nandi bear.
The African jungle is not necessarily a quiet place at night. It is often, in fact, a pandemonium. Bill Hitchens knew its sounds.
I have heard a dozen lions roaring in a stampede-chorus not 20 yards away. I have heard a maddened cow-elephant trumpeting. I have heard a trapped leopard make the silent night for miles around a rocking agony with screaming, snarling roads.
These are only the beginning. The small tree hyrax by itself makes sleep impossible — it starts with deep growls, goes into a raucous call, changes to wild yells, and ends with a piercing shriek. The hyena too gives voice to a medley of revolting and hideous sounds. There is a growling noise, believe to emanate from a snake. There is a sound like a steamship whistle whose maker no one has yet identified. Just before daylight, a troop of chimpanzees will break into full cry.
On the trail of a Nandi bear, Hitchens was resting in his tent. Then, he reported:
The most awful howl I have ever heard split the night. The sheer demoniac horror of it froze me still. Never have I heard, nor do I wish to hear again, such a howl.
Hitchens had brushed smooth a sandy path near his tent so that any animal’s tracks would show. He found some:
Huge footprints, four times as big as a man’s, showing the imprint of three huge clawed toes, with trefoil [three-lobed] marks like a lion’s pad where the soles of the feet pressed down. But no lion, not even the giant 9 feet 41/2 inches long which fell to Getekonot, my hunter, at Ussure, ever boasted such a paw as that of the monster which had made that terrifying spoor.
Some footprints led to the forest. Here, “searching with our hearts in our mouths every day for a week and more we found and lost and found them.” But Hitchens and his men caught no Nandi bear.
Sometimes when man meets the Nandi bear, one of the two of them fails to walk away. It isn’t the bear. Many Africans have been found killed, their skulls crushed as though by a giant claw. This is not the way a lion or leopard, both common in Africa, attack. A big cat leaps for a man’s neck, snaps it in his jaws.
Wrote C. R. S. Pitman, a game warden: “Anyone who has lived in a Nandi bear atmosphere cannot doubt the reality of the dread the brute inspires.”
Reports of the mysterious animal keep coming in over the years. In 1936, George Sandart, on the rise of the Congo-Nile watershed, saw a strange creature:
The apparent absence of a tail, the shape of the head, the large snout, the little round ears, the slope of the back, the relatively long legs, everything about the animal reminded me of a bear. But a bear in Africa…
A native story, hard to believe, was that the Nandi bear had killed a rhinoceros. Easier to believe, it is also said to kill sheep, goats, cattle.
Charles T. Stoneham, a big-game hunter, searched for the Nandi bear. Instead of finding it, he found more tales from people living in its territory: “Men told me it came down to the villages at night and murdered the inhabitants in their huts.” Another of its tricks is supposed to be to lie along a low branch till someone comes by, then with a blow of a great claw to rip open the man’s head.
When the Magadi railway was being built, the Nandi bear’s footprints were spotted. Then, an engineer, G. W. Hickes, sighted the creature itself:
At first I saw it nearly broadside on: it looked about as high as a lion…with very shaggy long hair. It was short and thick-set in the body…and had a short neck and stumpy nose… It did not turn around to look at me, but loped off…I could not at all think what animal it was, and it was only after I actually past that I realized it must be the strange beast of which we had all heard…
I have been in Africa — East, South, and West…during a considerable part of the last 18 years, and I can not think of any animal I have not seen in its wild state, but I have never before seen anything like this beast.
What could the Nandi bear be? As men have struggled to identify it over the past 50 years, they have called it a huge hyena, a lion, a leopard, a large ratel (honey badger), a baboon, a gorilla, an aardvark (the African burrowing anteater or earth-pig).
All of these animals may, of course, have been mistaken for the Nandi bear. But that they are not the Nandi bear seems clear from the following evidence. Hyenas travel in packs, and are not likely to attack men. The aardvark never eats animals or human beings; it lives on ants and termites. The gorilla avoids man, is too timid to fight him except under the rarest circumstances. There are no known baboons as large as the Nandi bear. Lions and leopards leave different footprints and attack by different methods. The ratel looks like a small bear, but scientists believer its diet is more likely insects, small animals and chickens, rather than larger prey.
It could be a chimpanzee. Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen reported that the East Africans themselves believed it was:
When King Edward was crowned, five men of the King’s African Rifles were sent home for the celebrations. One of these, Massud Effendi, speaks good English and told me that one of the five men was a Nandi; on being taken to the zoo they were introduced to a chimpanzee, when the Nandi shouted with delight: “There is the Nandi bear.” Whenever I have asked a Nandi to trace the outline of this “bear” it is always shown in an erect position.
It could be a bear. If it is, it will be the first known bear in Africa except only a few that crossed from Europe, near Gibraltar, but, so far as is known, reached only as far as Spanish Morocco. If it is, it will not be the first big bear to be discovered in this country [Bufo's note: "century"?]. The 1,600-pound Alaskan Kodiak bear, largest of them all except possibly the polar bear, was identified around 1900.
It could be — this is perhaps the most exciting possibility of all — a chalicothere. A chalicothere is a supposedly extinct animal. It was a member of the same order as the horse, rhinoceros, and tapir. The bones of the chalicothere have been found west of Kenya in the Nandi bear section of Africa, on the banks of Lake Albert — and these bones, as prehistoric bones go, are not very old.
A reconstruction of the chalicothere shows it was something like the hyena in shape and size, but like a bear in its head and ears. But the most amazing detail about the chalicothere is that instead of hooves, it had claws.
Such an animal, the size of a huge hyena or horse, equipped with claws like the hooks a longshoreman uses to lift heavy boxes, makes quite a picture in your imagination. If it exists today, it must be one of the most formidable beasts in the jungle.
Could the chalicothere have survived until the present time? There is no reason some of the animals might not have survived.
The jungle alone, in the Nandi bear-chalicothere region, is enough to show that they could have. The jungle might keep such animals hidden for centuries. Much of it actually is, for men, simply impenetrable, and therefore has no human population. The jungle is a thick vegetable tangle, a dense undergrowth that can only be hacked through with billhooks. All this undergrowth is full of brambles and creepers and tree fern thickets (some tree ferns 20 feet high) with countless fallen thorny trunks and branches lying in all directions. An hour or two of trying to get through this jungle will wear a man out, and then he has not gone very far. But can a large animal pass through the jungle where a man cannot? The answer is yes. A gorilla can move through the most tangled vegetation, and leave practically no trace.
Add to the jungle the fact that the Nandi bear is probably rare and that it moves only by night, and you can see why it might not be caught for many years.
Although, like many unknown animals, the Nandi bear has been called a myth and a fairy tale, by today many of the men who know its territory best believe in it. Said A. Blayney Percival in A Game Ranger’s Notebook:
The more I hear, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile this creature with any known species…Time will show, no doubt; meantime I do no more than state my belief that there is an animal of arboreal and nocturnal habit in the Nandi forests, awaiting discovery, description, and a Latin name.
And Colonel Stevenson Hamilton, who was a warden in the Kruger National Park in South Africa,suggested another reason why there may be a Nandi bear, or chalicothere, or whatever it is, in Africa. His suggestion was that we have much to learn about the animals of Africa.
After his first few years there, Colonel Hamilton said that he was confident he knew all there was to know about African wild animals and their ways of life. But after forty years of study of the creatures of the veld, mountains, and jungle, he had changed his mind by saying he knew practically nothing about them.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.