There tends to be a fair amount of overlap between those who love science fiction and those of a Fortean leaning - for example, William Gibson, author of the proto-Matrix novel Neuromancer, is known to be a subscriber to Fortean Times. But it seems the legendary science fiction author H.G. Wells can't be counted among that group. When the influential American novelist Theodore Dreiser sent Wells copies of Charles Fort's seminal publications The Book of the Damned and Lo! (Dreiser was one of Fort's biggest fans and supporters - he originally got his publisher to release The Book of the Damned in 1919 by threatening to take his own books elsewhere), Wells responded with a letter that left little doubt about his thoughts on Fort's writing style, topic of choice, and both Dreiser and Fort's penchant for attacking "orthodox science".
I'm having Fort's Book of the Damned sent back to you. Fort seems to be one of the most damnable bores who ever cut scraps from out of the way newspapers. I thought they were facts. And he writes like a drunkard.
Lo! has been sent to me but has gone into my wastepaper basket. And what do you mean by forcing "orthodox science" to do this or that? Science is a continuing exploration and how in the devil can it have an orthodoxy? The next you'll be writing is the "dogmas of science" like some blasted Roman Catholic priest on the defensive. When you tell a Christian you don't believe some yarn he can't prove, he always call you "dogmatic". Scientific workers are first rate stuff and very ill paid and it isn't for the likes of you and me to heave Forts at them.
God dissolve (and forgive) your Fortean Society. Yours,
Dreiser responded to Wells with a defence of his friend Fort, expressing his surprise that "You, the author of The War of the Worlds" could be "so sniffish and snotty over The Book of the Damned!", and pointed out to the great science fiction writer that Fort's strange anecdotes were not just cut from newspapers, but that also "a respectable body of his data seems to come from scientific papers, reports and letters written to the Royal Society in England and the American Academy of Science here".
For more fascinating facts about the early years of Fortean studies, see Jim Steinmeyer's biography of the "mad genius of the Bronx", Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural (Amazon US and UK).
My brain hurt like a warehouse it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I'd need so many people...
-David Bowie, Five Years
If you had asked me as recently as two weeks ago if I thought the fifth anniversary of Slenderman's birth - today - was worth noting, I would have probably have said, "not so much". Other than the news that a feature length adaptation of the first (and still best) Slenderman video blog Marble Hornets had been announced, there was a feeling that the world's first open-source monster was fading into the background.
Sites were shutting, Tumblr blogs such as Ask Slenderman were posting less and less often and shedding staff. And, though I still find the mythos that has appeared around him fascinating, I would have thought few others would still be interested.
That was before last week. Before Wisconsin.
The tragic events in the town of Waukesha, Wisconsin - in which two 12 year old girls attacked a third as an alleged sacrifice to Slenderman - horrified the world. Suddenly, every news agency was asking "what is Slenderman?" - the monster, it seemed, had finally found its wider audience. The suggestion of a possible second incident in Hamilton County, Ohio, and the fact that recent Las Vegas cop-killer Jerad Miller cosplayed as Slenderman (and The Joker) only emphasises this.
As readers of Darklore will know, I’ve been watching the Slenderman phenomenon for over half of his lifespan (looking both at Slenderman’s origins and the possibility of killing at least local manifestations of it). One of the most significant aspects of the entire Slenderman mythos has been the way that Slenderman has slipped across the permeable membrane between fiction and reality - occupying a very old definition of the concept of myth, while simultaneously being a child of the most modern aspects of communication.
Right from the very start, Slenderman crossed that line again and again - within the mythos, he has always been shown as a creature capable of crossing supposedly rigid boundaries of space and time effortlessly, and it is apt that this nature is reflected in the wider expression of the myth. In the videos purporting to be found footage of those unfortunates to have crossed his path, for the participants in the many Alternate Reality Games that appeared to further tell his tale, or simply those who, for a second, when playing the Slender game felt his faceless gaze upon them and shivered in terror... his presence is becoming more and more palpable.
Whether you call it by the anthropological term ostension, see it as a manifestation of the hyper-real nature of how we perceive and are altered by symbols in times saturated them, or even believe that Slenderman is truly a new form of deity... there is no question that those entities whose birthplaces were in known fictional works are becoming more and more influential.
Slenderman may simply be the first. Learning what to to do about that may become an important question for our times. It may even offer the possibility of understanding how all our beliefs sway us, can drive us to both atrocity and gnosis.
However it plays out, the next five years of Slenderman will certainly be worth watching closely.
You no longer have to go into the woods to have a terrifying encounter with some strange Fortean being...you can now do it in the comfort of your lounge via the Internet. As part of the marketing for the indie movie Lord of Tears (created on the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign), the 'Owlman' from the story made some surprise appearances on unsuspecting users of Chat Roulette (an online chat system which pairs random people from across the globe in webcam-based conversations). The results are at times hilarious, but also give some fun insights into the different ways people react when seeing something from beyond the outer limits.
(Warning: some strong language)
Okay, who cut a square chunk out of our sun? This recent footage from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) feels like something out of an episode of Doctor Who, given the 'artificial' feel of a rectangular coronal hole and the strange visual of seeing the Sun in the ultraviolet range:
A coronal hole is an area where high-speed solar wind streams into space. It appears dark in extreme ultraviolet light as there is less material to emit in these wavelengths. Inside the coronal hole you can see bright loops where the hot plasma outlines little pieces of the solar magnetic field sticking above the surface. Because it is positioned so far south on the Sun, there is less chance that the solar wind stream will impact us here on Earth.
British media are carrying a wonderfully Fortean news story about a school-girl sighting (and videoing) a 'UFO' composed simply of a large black ring (see image above).
A schoolgirl was stunned when when she looked into the sky to see an enormous unexplained black ring. Georgina Heap, 16, was playing tennis with mum Jo when she was stopped in her tracks by the fascinating sight.
Gazing into the sky, the pair saw a clearly defined black circle which looked like a giant smoke ring. The UFO remained there for around three minutes before it disappeared completely.
Georgina, who is studying for her GCSEs, said: "I looked up at it and thought, 'what the hell?', it was amazing. It was just floating there like a cloud and then it disappeared. It wasn't birds either. There were about ten of us who stopped what we were doing and watched. It is the weirdest thing I have ever seen."
The spectacle, which appeared near Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on Friday evening, has stumped officials.
The 'UFO' has a wonderfully spooky look to it, but what is it? British UFO commentator Nick Pope is quoted in the Huffington Post as saying it might be a swarm of insects - and is definitely not smoke - although I'm not sure what evidence he's basing his conclusions on.
Over at Who Forted, Chris Savia points out that 'black ring' sightings such as this are actually not so rare, and has posted a similar image sighted in the skies above Texas in 2013 shortly after a transformer caught fire, an eye-witness account from 2003 that suggests a black ring formed after a lightning strike, and the video below from Chicago in 2012:
Skeptical news site Doubtful News offers a more detailed explanation: these 'black ring UFOs' are actually well-documented IFOs, being properly known as 'vortex rings', which "are often remnants of explosions":
In most instances, the rings are formed by air mixed with smoke or steam that is forced out of a (relatively) small circular or cylindrical opening (this can be a chimney, the barrel of a canon, or a vent in a volcano crater). Because of the drag of the surface of the opening, the air expelled from the centre will move faster than the air exiting the opening near the edge. The air from the sides is sucked in, and a circular motion is created. In this way, a doughnut-shaped vortex is formed, just like a smoke ring that is blown from a smoker’s lips. The ring-shape is maintained due to the rotational motion of the air flowing in the vortex ring.
In short: it's a smoke ring, like some cigarette smokers blow occasionally, just on a larger scale.
Update: A likely source of the smoke ring has been identified. Via the BBC:
A Warwick Castle spokesman said they had been testing "fire effects" to go with the daily firing of the Trebuchet Fireball - a giant catapult. "We've seen a number of different effects, including the vortex images that have been reported," the spokesman said. "As yet we don't know what causes the phenomenon but it's certainly a spooky spectacle."
News Link: Schoolgirl takes picture of 'black ring' UFO
Take tumbleweeds, a twister, and a small grass fire. Mix. Et voila, a scene like something out of an X-Men movie...
TUMBLEWEED FIRE TWISTER!
Customers looking for shirts in this section might have quickly hurried on to shop in the brown underpants department soon after...
Ice boulders have returned to Lake Michigan in Glen Arbor. The giant ice balls form in just-below-freezing water and start as small chunks of ice. The boulders grow layer-by-layer, getting shaped by the waves before washing up on Lake Michigan shore
To the Mountain of Madness: A Fortean Road-Trip in Search of Lovecraft, Crowley, and an Alien AbductionPosted by Greg at 03:43, 09 Jan 2014
What happens when a couple of guys grab their video camera and set out to explore the weirder side of New Hampshire? You get a fantastic 'trilogy' of mini-documentaries following the region's historical links with the likes of horror legend H.P. Lovecraft, master occultist Aleister Crowley, the famous 'alien abduction' of Betty and Barney Hill, and strange sites including Mystery Hill and Crowley's magickal retreat (in which he claimed to have witnessed manifestations of ball lightning), before ending at the highest point in New Hampshire's own so-called Bermuda Triangle - the Ossipee Triangle - host to numerous UFO sightings and brutal unsolved murders, and a stone table reputed to have bee used for human sacrifice.
The entire documentary is one big, awesome Fortean road trip - enthusiasts having fun investigating strange history and locations, speculating, making connections, discovering new things - but all the while not taking things too seriously - accompanied by good music, and fair helpings of weird vibes.
For those trapped behind their desks, or any other fairly mundane environment, it's definitely worth grabbing a brew and watching through all three videos below. Good fun and a great atmosphere!
There are few cities in the world whose history is as well-documented as London, but for those seeking the stranger side of that history you might have some fun with the Google Map above. James Clark, author of Haunted London and other books on the myths, legends and paranormal stories concerning the great city, put together the map with clickable pins that fill you in on the fascinating tales associated with each particular location - from White Ladies to Spring-Heeled Jack:
By no means an exhaustive list of London's countless strange stories, this is simply a guide to those tales I have personally written about.
I hope this map will help you find locations that interest you, and - I'll be honest - hope the summaries here tempt you to buy my books! (Go on, you know you want to…)
At the moment, I’m gradually adding stories from my 2013 book – Haunted Lambeth – which looks at the London Borough of Lambeth. Don't forget to check back later to see what’s new.
You can find out more at James Clark's website.
(h/t Theo Paijmans)