Saturday, 14 March 2015

Peter Costello's In Search of Lake Monsters






This year saw the republishing of Peter Costello’s classic 1974 work, “In Search of Lake Monsters”. I have recently purchased the Kindle edition and now share my thoughts on a book that was influential in my early years of cryptozoology. 

Back in those days as a teenager, I would probably have not classed myself as a cryptozoologist (if I had even heard of the term). However, my enthusiasm for the subject of freshwater cryptids was evident enough, and Costello’s book was ready and timely grist for the mill.

The new edition includes an introduction by Loren Coleman, who interviewed Peter back in 2013. Peter Costello (pictured below) tells us that, like many, he was influenced by the 1960 Dinsdale film as well as the works of Bernard Heuvelmans. 




Indeed, Dinsdale had written his own book eight years before on aquatic cryptids, variously called “The Leviathans” and “Monster Hunt”. But, having been spurred on by these men, Peter wrote the first book exclusively devoted to freshwater monsters.

Heuvelmans especially encouraged Costello to complete the work, and even stood back from the hundred page essay he had prepared on the Loch Ness Monster (now there is a piece I would love to read). In fact, Heuvelmans wrote a preface for the French edition of “In Search of Lake Monsters” and this is usefully included in this new edition as well.




Costello and Heuvelmans shared the same idea that a long necked variant of the pinniped swam the oceans of the world, and in Loch Ness as well. Building on Oudeman’s Megophias megophias, Heuvelmans decided on the taxonomy of Megalotaria longicollis for this variant of sea serpent. It was during this enthusiastic era, that Nessie aficionados also went Latin with Nessiteras rhombobteryx

I was never a fan of the mammal theory. I just expected such an air breathing creature to be visible far more often – especially in the relative confines of Loch Ness. What Peter Costello himself believes now is not clearly stated in the new book. He merely satisfies himself to be classed as a retired cryptozoologist. I myself emailed him back in October 2014 as part of my research on a certain subject and I got the impression he was a bit more sanguine about certain aspects of the phenomenon.




I still have the paperback edition from the 1970s and recently added the hardback edition as the paperback is beginning to show its age. In the case of the new edition, I completed the set by purchasing the digital version. I have been slowly building up a digital library of cryptid books, but this is a trickle rather than a flow. I would love to see the publishers (Anomalist Books), continue this theme with other classic works such as the works of Gould, Whyte, Dinsdale and so on.

That is a long term aspiration, but the advantage of a digital book to a researcher such as myself, is the convenience of multiple books on one device, the cut and paste capability for short quotes and the ease of searching for key texts which are not always in the index.


 

As to the book itself, clearly forty years has elapsed and had its effect. Some of the pictures he lauds have passed into hoaxdom, such as the Surgeon’s Photo. The unease he had concerning Frank Searle was confirmed shortly after. Other lake monster stories, such as the Lake Khaiyr of Siberia have proven fraudulent. As to specific eyewitness accounts, these will continue to be argued over as no researcher was there to see what was claimed.

The section devoted to the Loch Ness Monster is large, over a third of the book. That is fine with me as Nessie is the lake monster par excellence. Peter starts at Loch Ness and widens the search out to other Highland lochs and beyond into North America, Europe and so on as Mhorag, the Pooka, Ogopogo, Manipogo, Champ, Nahuelito, Bunyip, Skrimsl, Waitoreke and the Storsjo animal get the treatment. Not surprisingly, Antartica is the only continent with no lake cryptid tradition, mainly due to the absence of lakes.




All that aside. For me personally, the force of the book’s argument remains. I may not agree with his identification of the various animals described, but that there is a case to be answered rather than rejected remains.

23 comments:

  1. there is one one on ebay for a tenner. Might add it to my collection. :)

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    1. "Old School", book in hand person?

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  2. Couple of the covers show the sheer fantasy at play.

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    1. Book covers sell books.

      I recall one edition of Holiday's "Great Orm of Loch Ness" book came out with a dinosaur like animal on the front. The trouble was Hoiday was not pushing that theory between the covers, but a dinosaur on the front was more likely to draw a potential buyer than a giant slug.

      I doubt Holiday had much influence on that choice of cover.


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    2. I also feel mysteries sell themselves. The very fact these covers sell more books shows how drawn we are to the concept of giant lake monsters. But the truth is never so skewed by desire. No amount of romanticism will ever change what Mother Nature has put in our waters.

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    3. Yes, and never underestimate what surprises Mother Nature may yet have in store.

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    4. Agreed, Glasgow Boy. But also don't over-estimate either.

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  3. Bodge from Suffolk15 March 2015 at 12:24

    Goodness me this brings back some memories just dragged my copy out (hardback) from the bookcase & I think i'll give it another read. forgotten how many good photo's it contained & of course just how many 'other' lake monsters it covers .....1974 !!! scarey

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  4. Bodge from Suffolk15 March 2015 at 12:27

    Just found a paperback copy as well !!! goodness me I must have been keen !!!

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  5. Yeah GB i like to collect the books. Not into this kindle lark. I got sum good ones thanks to ebay and amazon including constance whyte's!!! For some reason i have a soft spot for nicholas witchells lol.

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  6. This one and Tim Dinsdale's “Loch Ness Monster” (1961) served as the primers for me, learning about the LNM and other lake monsters in general. Dinsdale also devotes a good sized portion to other well known lake monsters in the Monsters Galore chapter. As timely now, as they were fifty four and forty years ago, not much has changed as far as theories go. Prerequisite and recommended reading for the budding Lake Monster aficionado.

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    1. The fact that nothing has changed for 54 years despite the huge advances in technology is concerning for us nessie believers to say the least. If she's really there why has zilch changed in all that time?

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    2. Hmmm, not sure what this has to do with Peter Costello, Tam?

      What huge advance in technology should be a game changer? I can only think of sonar and that is sparingly used at Loch Ness.



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    3. camera technology was my thinking. Loads of high quality cameras in the hands of visitors. But we get much less photos now than we did in the olden days. Dunno, making me loose faith in her a bit.

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    4. The number of photos as a proportion of reported sightings is up, but this has been covnered before. I refer you to this article and you can leave your comments there:

      http://lochnessmystery.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/concerning-mobile-phone-cameras.html

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    5. My point was that some of the ideas and theories as to the nature of reported creatures hasn't changed much since those two books were published and still holds true today. Didn't mean it as a negative or to start an off-topic tread.

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    6. Theories since 1974? Not a lot really since a lot of talking had been done since 1933 (and before for sea serpents).

      Perhaps more on the paranormal front.

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    7. I naturally exclude all the nutty paranormal stuff.

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    8. In 2015 the paranormal theories look no more nutty than the real monster theory. I've favoured a paranormal explanation for Nessie since the late 1970s because it's the only way I can reconcile the mass of sighting reports with the complete absence of genuine photos and films. A 'scientific' approach simply cannot explain this discrepancy. However much people may try.

      S.F.O.

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  7. GB - is there some way that readers can be notified of additions to old posts? Is Tam likely to bother posting on a comments list that no-one is ever going to look at unless they know it is still active?

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    1. Apparently, one can set an option to be notified of new comments, but it may involve registration.

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    2. Sorry Roland, off-topic. I just had to respond to anonymous query, as I was curious myself, about knowing when new comments have been posted on older articles. And, yes all past articles are active, because I have posted on older ones before, but you as the author/webmaster is the only one to see them as new. I don't see how that would be possible unless there was a “new comments” section on the blog listing new comments and links to past articles. But, that would be more work for you! I checked the “Notify me” box right after my previous comment to see what would happen, and all I got was an email notifying me that S.F.O. had responded to my comment. Being inquisitive and nosy to a point, we all want to know what everybody is thinking! Even on old blogs. Just a thought :-)

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  8. I liked Oliver's Army, but not read his books.

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