The Field Guide to North American Monsters by W. Haden Blackman
Bigfoot. Champ. Mothman. The Dover Demon. Anybody with even a passing interest in cryptozoology has heard of these “monsters.” But what about the Deer Woman? Or the Grinning Man? Or the Nagumwasuck? I’ve been studying cryptozoology for years, and I have to say, these eluded even me. But all of the aforementioned monsters, as well as many more, are featured in W.Haden Blackman’s The Field Guide to North American Monsters.
The book is really more of a reference guide, covering such general categories as Hairy Humanoids, Lake Monsters & Sea Serpents, Flying Monsters, Dwarves & Giants, Cryptid Animals, Beastmen & Beastwomen, Supernatural Monsters, and Enigmatic Entities. As the title suggests, the focus is only on monsters appearing in the North American continent, so there’s no mention of the Yeti or Nessie in here.
Field Guide Format
The overall layout of the book also is implied by the title. It is set up like a field guide, as if the reader was going to take this with them when they went Hairy Humanoid watching. And while the facts presented for each monster’s description are largely accurate, it’s also done a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Entries warn the reader about encroaching on a monster’s territory, not startling them, and sometimes even bringing gifts. This humor is used throughout the book, and I found myself chuckling more than a few times. But then again, that’s my kind of humor. To give you an idea of what I mean, here is the author’s little bio, from the back cover:
W. Haden Blackman is a tall, omnivorous biped inhabiting San Francisco, California, where he forages for freelance writing assignments. He is largely nocturnal, has seldom been photographed, and cannot survive in captivity.
Honestly, I didn’t mind the tongue-in-cheek tone of the book. That’s really what gives it it’s charm. Each monster entry starts with a brief summary of it’s vital statistics, including distinguishing features, height & weight (approximate, of course), range & habitat, population size, diet, behavior, and chance of encountering the creature. A narrative follows the vital statistics, including some of the more well-known stories regarding the monster in question.
The guide ends with some interesting appendices, including a sample questionnaire for the “aspiring monsterologist;” a state & province listing which is great for seeing, at a glance, which states harbor which monsters; and the requisite glossary of terms and bibliography.
The Good: Lots of good stuff in here. So many different, rarely heard of monsters, it’s really a treasure trove for those of us sick to death of reading about Ogopogo. Some of my personal favorites are the Grinning Man, the Wendigo, the Goatman (also my brother’s personal favorite) and the Winsted Wildman (hits a little close to home, or at least where I vacation every year). Also, almost every entry has a related picture, if not of the beast, then usually it’s preferred stomping grounds. Great stuff.
The Bad: Not too many bad things to say about this book. The tongue-in-cheek humor is a little detrimental in the big scheme of things, I think. Skeptics could pounce all over that, and I’m surprised there hasn’t been more made of this. It’s very hard to get the scientific community to look at these phenomena in a serious light to begin with. This book doesn’t help the cause of the believers. But then again, that’s not its intention.
The Ugly: Some of the “monsters” in here are known hoaxes, which I think hurts the book’s overall integrity. Things such as the jackalope, the fur bearing trout, and the razorback hog would be more at home in a book about folklore, or urban legends. The author does give a nod and a wink to the fake nature of these beasts, however. For example, under the vital statistics for the jackalope, the source is listed as “American folklore and creative taxidermy.” So in a way, they’re acknowledged as not being “real.”
The Bottom Line: Hoaxes and humor aside, this is a great book. It’s not meant to be a serious study of these creatures, so at the end of the day, I don’t really mind their inclusion here. On some level it bothers me, but when it comes right down to it, I love this book, and always have a smile on while reading it. Lots of little known critters get to share the spotlight with their more famous cousins, and it’s great to see them finally have their moment in the sun, so to speak. Lots of pictures add a touch of class and atmosphere. Even if no pictures of Mothman exist, it’s cool to see the creepy TNT area where he supposedly prowls.
Final Score: 90%