Adventures in Bookland: The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena by Bob Rickard and John Michell
Our contemporary world, on its comfortable surface so often mundane, is, under that surface, deeply strange. But its strange in three different strands. There is the weirdness of science, of the quantum and relativistic phenomena of physics that underlie the material world. There is the strangeness of religion, that underlies the spiritual realm, with God taking delight in making mockery of all men’s plans. And then there is the weirdness of a third realm, not really addressed by the thought systems of either religion or science: the strangeness of what we might call the shadow realm, the world, or worlds, that lie between the equations of science and the insights of theology. In ancient Irish thought, this was the Otherworld, accessed through dreams and visions, through boundaries and under hill, that once visited could never be forgotten, a world hinted at in sidelong glimpses and unexpected memories. It’s that world that is explored in this book, a book of glimpses and strangenesses, of, as it says on the cover, unexplained phenomena. While this third world might seem to have receded through the last centuries of rationalism, I suspect that it has simply become stranger and more elusive, taking the chameleon hues, in its interaction with humans, of our changing expectations. So what were once fairies and elves are now greys and greens.
But perhaps the clearest signs of this wild weird are not the things that might make some sort of sense, such as alien visitors, but rather the things that make no sort of sense at all. Of these, my favourite are the rains of fish, and frogs, and frog spawn, and a whole extraordinary variety of other things, presented here with all the detached curiosity of two dedicated scholars of the field. From this litany of strangeness and coincidence, there appears to me to be a suggestion of a sort of gonzo humour underlying this level of the world, a humour that delights in raining unusual objects on the world right up to pretty well the ultimate in weird: fixing wings on kittens.
So, yes, the world is strange, and its strangeness lies all around, most of the time hiding in plain view, or at the edge of vision. This book is a wonderful – and I use the word precisely – compendium of that strangeness. Highly recommended.