Friday, April 24, 2020

"The Mothman Prophecies," by John A. Keel--Guest Nonfiction Review By: James Reinhardt

I’m a sucker for a good “true” paranormal story. There’s something fun and escapist about letting yourself believe, even for a moment, that you could be hiking one day and come face to face with a Sasquatch, or be driving down a lonely road one night only to have a strange craft fly overhead. Up until a few years ago, I was a hardcore believer in the paranormal and strange phenomena. Part of it was definitely escapism on my part, choosing to believe that there’s some mystery and magic left in this world. In my old age, though, I’ve become much more skeptical, and though I still read these stories for fun, I tend to take them with a massive grain of salt.

John A. Keel

One of the most fascinating and well known paranormal incidents is the “Mothman” of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Allegedly, people in West Virginia were witnessing a large, monstrous being with wings and glowing red eyes between 1966 and 1967. In addition to the Mothman sightings, the area around Point Pleasant was allegedly plagued with all sorts of paranormal fun like UFOs and Men in Black sightings. Everything seemed to come to a head with the collapse of the Silver Bridge in December 1967, which caused the deaths of forty-six people.

Writer John A. Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies is considered the definitive account of the events of 1966-67 and is a classic of paranormal literature, and even got a film adaptation in 2002. Keel claims to have been a central player in whatever happened in Point Pleasant. Going so far as to claim that he and other people in the Ohio Valley area not only witnessed strange things like UFOs but also had contact with bizarre, otherworldly entities that foretold coming disasters like the bridge collapse.

What I love about this book:

Very little...

I won’t lie; this was a tough book to sit through. I listened to the audiobook, so I’ll give it this: it’s certainly never boring. The writing is fast, loose, and simple, so you’ll keep listening (or reading), and some of the encounters in the book with the strange and unbelievable (if they actually happened) are kinda fun and interesting to hear about.

What I don’t love about this book:

Remember when I said that it was tough to get through? Listening to this book in audio format was a lot like listening to my drunk uncle rant and rave about all of his conspiracy theories for eight hours straight. Most of the book is filled with Keel’s rambling, incoherent thoughts as he careens wildly from one topic to the other with barely any connecting thread. There were several points where I had to stop and ask aloud, “What are you even talking about?”

This entire book is filled with Keel passing conjecture off as fact, and he makes a lot of wild claims with little or no evidence to back it up. He posits several different explanations for what the strange entities in this book are and claims that each explanation is “definitive” with nothing to support his claim. Also, he can’t seem to make up his mind if these strange beings that he writes about are extraterrestrials, extra-dimensional beings, or “thought forms” given life by people’s belief in them (the proper term for this is “tulpa”).

Keel, in addition, claims every great leader in history was made that way after contact with these beings, and he also says that every terrible person from history is also because of contact with these aliens or whatever. And before you ask, no, Keel does not have examples or sources to back this up.

Also, for a book called, “The Mothman Prophecies,” there’s precious little of the Mothman in this book. Keel details eyewitness encounters with the strange, flying creature early in the book, but then he spends the rest of the time focusing on UFO encounters, alien contact, and the MiB.

Oh, and did I mention the old school, 1970s racism, and sexism that is rampant throughout this book? Keel uses the terms “negroid,” “negro,” and “oriental type” far too liberally for my liking, and whenever there’s a female witness, Keel will always be sure to let you know how attractive (or unattractive) he thinks she is.

The book "The Mothman Prophecies" is a strange dichotomy because Keel seems desperate to create a narrative that these alien visitors had something to do with the collapse of the Silver Bridge. Still, there is no real, concise narrative throughout this book. Since he presents this as non-fiction, I understand the challenges of trying to frame a story around alleged real-life incidents, since life rarely fits into a nice bow like most stories. Keel’s attempts to force a real-life tragedy into a story about aliens and flying monsters feel like it was done in very poor taste. This book was written in 1975, several years after the bridge collapsed, and Keel claims that the entities warned him beforehand that a tragedy was going to strike on the Ohio River.

Oh yeah, and he also claimed that the entities warned him about Martin Luther King Jr’s death (once again, for reference, King was assassinated in 1968, and “The Mothman Prophecies” came out in 1975).

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and seeing how this book was written several years after these tragedies, means there’s no way to prove that Keel knew about these tragedies before they would happen unless you take his word for it. With nothing to corroborate his claims, it really feels like Keel just kinda made up this narrative about aliens—or tulpas, or extra-dimensional beings or whatever. Their so-called warnings to him about these tragedies just to give his story some semblance of a narrative, and exploiting real-life tragedy for the sake of a story makes this book feel sleazier than your usual run of the mill paranormal story.

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Parting thoughts:

I’ve always been interested in stories of the Mothman since I was young, and I’ve always said that if what happened in Point Pleasant was real, then it was one of the most significant paranormal events of the 20th century. Likewise, if what happened in Point Pleasant wasn’t real, then it’s one of the most interesting cases of mass-hysteria of the 20th century.

I did a lot of research into Keel and what happened in Point Pleasant after finishing this book, and many skeptical explanations have been offered for what exactly The Mothman was, with the most prevalent being that people were seeing a Barred Owl. This book seems to be the thing that generated the “Mothman caused the Silver Bridge collapse” narrative that continues today, and I can’t help but feel that most of what transpires in this book has been made up. Many who knew Keel say that he was a very “mischievous” figure that “didn’t take his own writings seriously,” which further makes me feel that Keel is trying to pass off lousy science fiction as fact in this story. Keel himself refers in the book, several times, to his own failed attempts at writing fiction.

In the end, I can’t even say that Mothman Prophecies is a fun read. It’s an infuriating, rambling, borderline incoherent story that attempts to create a paranormal narrative around a real-life disaster. I would say that you, dear reader, are better off watching the 2002 movie The Mothman Prophecies, which has about as much Mothman as this book does, as in, very little Mothman. At least that movie is a semi-coherent story, though, but like this book, it tries passing off fiction as reality.


  1. I understand what you saying but frommy reaserch keel was credible and Mothman was not a owl

  2. I understand what your saying but. After doing research I believe that keel had crediblety and the mothman was not an owl

  3. The terminology to which you take exception was considered acceptable and polite at the time. At the time John Keel was doing this research, he was dating a black woman.