Wednesday, July 08, 2009

John A. Keel (1930-2009)

John Keel
By Dr David Clarke

     John Keel - the American journalist whose 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies was adapted into a film starring Richard Gere - has died in New York after years battling the effects of diabetes.

Keel's journalistic career began on a weekly paper in New York during the '40s and he, like me, was a keen fan of the works of Charles Fort. Keel was gripped by the flying saucer craze in 1947 and saw his first UFO in 1954 whilst visiting the Aswan Dam. One of his early books, Jadoo (1957) is a ripping yarn that describes his adventures travelling in India and Tibet, where he followed the tracks of the abominable snowman and saw demonstrations of the famous 'Indian Rope Trick.'

During the 60s and early 70s he produced a series of ground-breaking books on UFOs, crypto-zoology and alternative archaeology based upon the contemporary counter-culture zeitgeist. This view saw UFOs not as extra-terrestrial in origin but controlled by "ultra-terrestrials", nebulous powers from other dimensions who co-existed with us and loved to play games with humans.

UFOs, aliens, the sinister Men In Black and a host of other supernatural phenomena were incorporated into a bizarre but ultimately more satisfying theory which traced them to something Keel called "the super-spectrum". This was, as far as I could make out, some form of alternative reality from which they downloaded themselves into our three-dimensional world.

In retrospect, it's clear that Keel was actually constructing an updated medieval demonology carefully constructed for 20th century readers. I later learned the man himself loved playing games with his readers and had a keen sense of humour. Much of what he wrote in those books, he told me in 1992, "shouldn't be taken seriously."

By that time, however, my sense of disillusionment with Keel's writings was almost complete.

He will be remembered mostly for his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies. This charted his investigations of an outbreak of weird happenings in the tiny West Virginia town of Point Pleasant during 1966-67. It was a fast-moving account that combined horror narrative with straight reportage. The film adaptation that followed in 2002 - to mixed reviews - used the phrase "based on true events" that has since become a horror flick staple.

Nevertheless, for a teenager growing up in bleak '80s South Yorkshire, Keel's books were a source of inspiration and escape into a world where anything was possible, and indeed probable. Keel's accounts of his adventures in West Virginia, chasing the red-eyed winged monsters, sinister MIB in dark cadillacs and cool gentleman spacemen called Indrid Cold who descended from flying stovepipes simply blew my mind.

It was partly a result of reading Keel's UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (first published in 1970) and The Mothman Prophecies that a) encouraged me believe in six impossible things before breakfast b) placed me firmly on the flying saucer beat 30 years ago at the tender age of 13 and c) led me on the path to becoming a rookie journalist, so I could embark on my own adventures in the UFOlogical borderlands. The rest is history.

It's been said that one should never meet one's heroes in the flesh. But I did and have fond memories of showing the old buffer around the delights of Sheffield city centre when Keel spoke at the Independent UFO Network conference in 1992.

While his presentation was a bit of an anti-climax Andy Roberts and I did get to interrogate him during his three day stay in Yorkshire. The result is a transcipt that runs to several thousand words. But it does give a unique insight into the world of an eccentric, talented writer whose contribution will be sorely missed. Through the good offices of my webmaster Gary Anthony I to post the transcript of that interview onto my webpages soon.

So soon after the passing of John Michell, it seems the UFOlogical generation I grew up with is finally coming to its end.

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