Review: “Adventures in Cryptozoology”

adventures in crytpozoologyRichard Freeman’s Adventures in Cryptozoology: Hunting for Yetis, Mongolian Deathworms, and Other Not-So-Mythical Monsters (Mango; 2019) takes the familiar, survey-like approach to the undiscovered animals that make up the world of cryptozoology, not unlike Bernard Heuvelmans did in his landmark 1955 book On The Track of Unknown Animals.

In five of his six chapters, Freeman breaks up the mystery menagerie into several broad categories—Dragons, Lake Monsters, Sea Monsters, Giant Apes and Hominins and  the intriguingly-named “The Magic Zoo”—and he then details sightings and examines evidence of each in a region by region tour of the subject. As for the other chapter, that is the first in the book, and it details the history of cryptozoology, including a generous section devoted to many of the field’s leading lights and lesser-known participants throughout that history.

The discussions of water monsters and giant apes and hominins will include many instances and anecdotes familiar to readers of past cryptozoological works, but the dragons section is particularly interesting. Freeman’s definition of a dragon is a wide one, and while there are a few sightings of animals that seem straight out of medieval legend, complete with fire breath, there are also discussions of outsized lizards and what might be relict Pterosaurs…anything that might be mistaken for a dragon, basically.

In “The Magic Zoo” chapter, Freeman explores various legendary animals once thought to exist—unicorns, griffons, basilisks, the fire-resistant salamander—and a couple of famous creatures of cryptozoology, the colorfully-named Mongolian deathworm and the tatzelwurm. He also tackles the 18th century mystery killer known as “The Beast of Gévaudan,” which he quite confidently identifies as a sub-adult male lion, likely escaped from a wealthy person’s personal menagerie.

The first installment of a two-volume series—the second volume, In Search of Real Monsters, was just released this January—Freeman’s Adventures in Cryptozoology is a great first book on the subject, mixing a voraciously wide set of examples with reasonable, rather convincing deductions regarding the possible reality and identify of the cryptids under discussion.

The Lake Erie Monster

It’s also relevant to the subject of monsters in Ohio, or, at least, a part of it is. The third chapter, “Monsters of Lochs and Lakes” includes this section:

The Great Lakes of the eastern USA, and southern Canada, five linked massive bodies of water, are not without serpent reports. Samuel Rafinesque, a biologist who catalogued many North American species wrote of a thirty-five to sixty-foot serpent that had been seen on Lake Erie in July 1817. It was a foot thick, dark mahogany in colour, and had shining eyes.

He is, of course, talking about The Lake Erie Monster, and he goes on to share a dozen sightings of the monster between 1960 and 1993, including such locales as South Bass Island, Cedar Point Causeway, Huron and Kelley’s Island. Freeman closes his section on Lake Erie by saying Lake Erie has the most monster sightings of any of the Great Lakes, though not a monopoly. He also expresses his displeasure at one of the monster’s nicknames, “South Bay Bessie,” which he says “continues the slightly irritating convection of giving monsters ‘twee’ names.”

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