I come from a moderately superstitious family; realistically bordering on the lower end of the moderate spectrum.
Being of Eastern European descent, my siblings and I were instilled with the number one archetypal Slavic fear ingrained by all good Slavic grandparents: do not fuck with ghosts.
Do not try to contact them. Do not go looking for them. Do not go bringing Ouija boards into the house and certainly do not get pissed off when you have a supernatural nuisance on your hands because we told you so. Just listen to this one thing, and don’t fuck with the ghosts.
So I never did, and I probably never will because my Baba taught me real good. But I absolutely adore horror books and films, especially ones that take a ghostly approach, probably because it is as far as my supernatural flirtations will ever go.
Aliens, on the other hand, which technically fall into the realm of the supernatural, I never think about. I’m never concerned that an alien is going to abduct me, harvest my organs, and dump my new shell of a body somewhere in the desert.
But maybe I should be. Maybe this should be my number one archetypal fear, instead of fussing about ghosts. And maybe this is what John Keel’s 1975 novel, The Mothman Prophecies, was trying to warn us about.
Maybe. But probably not.
Every once in a blue moon, I get another child of the 90s to have a flashback in their mind as they mentally watch a rerun of the 2002 film adaptation of the same title, and the memories rush back of a mediocre film starring Richard Gere as John Keel himself, Debra Messing as his wife, and Laura Linney as the small town cop. The film itself is actually entertaining enough, something a TV station might play at 3 am, but just interesting enough to hold your attention for a bit.
But the film adaption is wildly different from the book, taking a much more demonic/ghostly/angelic route than dealing with aliens. After reading the novel, now I understand why the filmmakers had to make a change and by “a change,” I mean rewrite the whole story.
I can’t say The Mothman Prophecies is the worst book I ever read, but I can say it is structurally one of the worst. For those unfamiliar with the Mothman phenomenon, the novel centers around eerie, real events that happened in the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia between 1966 and 1967. Multiple citizens over the course of the year reported seeing a winged, man-like creature that would appear in the sky at night. Things progressively became more troubling when several townspeople began to suffer from unique ailments, like hearing voices and seeing visions. People received strange phone calls with garbled, scratchy voices on the other end that would cryptically predict future events. Some even saw the creature itself but were instantly blinded so as not to see full details.
Perhaps the most horrifying element to Mothman, which is much more expressed in the film than the book, is his/its appearance in places right before tragedy occurs. Case in point- several Mothman sightings were reported by a multitude of citizens right before the 1967 Silver bridge collapse in Point Pleasant, killing 46 people, which no matter which route the film or book take on the matter, happened in real life.
That being said, the Mothman construct in the mediocre film is far more terrifying and realistic than the Mothman construct in the book due to one fact alone: poor writing.
I can’t really blame Keel for poor writing because he was a UFOlogist and not a formally trained writer. It’s clear that when he was alive, Keel knew his shit about UFOs, about the systems in charge of protecting us, about the lapses in those systems, and about the psychological effects fear and unknown take on the human mind. But he cannot convey them properly to the reader.
His style of writing is like a four year old telling a story, “And then . . . and then . . . and then . . .” There are recurring characters throughout the text, but they have no memorable characteristics. There’s no rhyme or reason to the particular chapters being in the order they are because the story jumps constantly from one character to a different time period to a rant about the government to Mothman. It’s exhausting to follow, and though the events are fascinating, the reader is left without any real context of what happens.
What blows my mind most about The Mothman Prophecies: I still cannot tell if the book is supposed to be true or not, if these things truly happened or they’re straight fiction. Keel seems pretty adamant that they’re real, but the story is presented in such a way, sans so many vital details, that it becomes incredibly difficult to become convinced.
However, if the events in this book did actually happen and are continuing to happen, ghosts are the least of our problems because the events in and of themselves are horrifying. But when it comes to thinking about aliens, I go totally white girl, with my Uggs, black leggings, and Pumpkin Spice Latte, and literally can’t even. This girl’s not ready for a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.
I’ll just take the Pumpkin Spice Latte instead. Sorry, Mothman.