The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Perilous Tome of Doom!

I remember coming home from school, I must have been 9 or 10, and finding my mother waiting for me in the living room. She had a book on her lap, and when she picked it up I could see that it was one that I had picked up from the school library. She looked at me, waved the book about, and said “I found this in your room.”

“Yeah?” I replied, not sure why she was bringing this up.

She looked at me and said “I am disturbed that you have this book!.”

I was a bit surprised by this. The book was, as I have already written, from the school library. It wasn’t anything racy, or anything that was not age appropriate. It wasn’t Catcher in the Rye or Fahrenheit 451 or even Huckleberry Finn for that matter. It contained no violence, no sex, and only the mildest language one can imagine.

It was a book aimed at older children about UFOs. Specifically, it argued that folkloric creatures such as elves and gnomes might be aliens. It made this argument as such:

A few different people in Europe claim to have been abducted by UFOs, and they say that the aliens wore what looked like weird hats that sound kind of like the ones that gnomes wear, and some other people said that the aliens are real, real short, so maybe these are like elves or fairies or something. Oh, what’s that? No, we can’t give you the names of the people who saw these things or even which city they live in, but it’s all ever so true, and you trust us, right?

The book was every bit as well-written, well-argued and intellectually stimulating as you might imagine. It was so unbelievably trite that even to my decade-old brain it seemed absurd. In fact, the logical problems that I found in this book prepared me for seeing more sophisticated versions of the same fallacies in all manner of paranormal claims, and are part of the reason why I would eventually become rather skeptical of the UFO movement.

She stood up, walked towards me, and shook the book in my direction. “Books like this are dangerous!” She left the room, and eventually returned the book to the school library herself, not wanting me to get my hands on it again, I suppose.

The book wasn’t dangerous. At least, to me it wasn’t. It actually was rather helpful in the long run, and amusing in the short run. While I suppose it might help delude some people, I frankly have a hard time conceiving of the person gullible enough to think that this book was anything but doggerel, even amongst the pre-teen set.

What I have never been able to figure out is my mother’s reaction. Why was she so concerned about a plainly stupid book. I have a hard time believing that she was concerned about the paranormal themes of the book – she had been the one who had exposed my sisters and I to most of these ideas. Although she has since grown out of it, my mother was very much interested in New-Agey stuff during the late 70s through the 80s. She read the Seth books, introduced us to In Search Of…, did small experiments in remote viewing using my sisters and playing cards, and would routinely watch television shows about alien abductions.

She had never shown a concern about my developing similar interests, and even seemed to encourage it on occasion.

My mother would definitely describe herself as a Christian, and I suppose that she might have been concerned about the potential implication that religious figures are aliens, but the book itself never actually wandered into that territory, and instead focused on claims that critters of European Medieval folklore were the aliens.

I have asked about this incident several times in the 25 or so years since it happened. My mother says that she has no recollection of it, and I suppose that it really isn’t important in the scheme of things. But it’s one of those odd episodes of my life that I have always wondered about.


Shawn K. said...

Oh boy. I had one of those conversation with my mum what seems like once a week about everything from science fiction to fantasy to roleplaying game books to ... so much.

Nothing gets me crankier now than someone getting on me about my reading choices. :)

Anthroslug said...

This was especially funny in context because, in addition to being the person who introduced me to paranormal stuff, she also encouraged me to read science fiction, fantasy, and play role playing games.

I'd never have figured your mother for one of those who'd get worked up over these things.