Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures

By Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell. 2006. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. 208 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8131-2394-3 (hard cover).

Reviewed by Phil Fitzsimmons, University of Wollongong, Australia

[Review length: 533 words • Review posted on July 12, 2007]

As the name suggests, the book Lake Monster Mysteries is grounded in cryptozoology and as such is one that deals with the legendary creatures that supposedly inhabit the lakes and lochs across the globe. The possibility that a broad spectrum of creatures exists in these bodies of water is dealt with through interview, reportage, and document analysis. The case-study approach includes a focus on the more well known leviathan forms such as the Loch Ness Monster and the lesser known examples such as those inhabiting the depths in bodies of water in Turkey and South America.

In more specific terms, as stated in the introduction to this book, the purpose of the text is to provide an account of serious investigation as opposed to a collection of “enticing and amusing” narratives that characterizes other books dealing with this topic. On page eight of this section, the authors claim that the book is unique in this respect, as it demonstrates a “much needed scientific rigour and scholarship to a field better known for its wild, unsubstantiated claims than its careful examination of the facts.” It is in this facet that the book falls short.

The text is comprehensive in that it deals with numerous creatures on a global scale on a case-by-case basis, and it utilizes a mostly rigorous qualitative approach in its data collection. However, while the individual case studies of “close encounters” with these creatures are described in relative detail and the first-hand data as provided by apparent observers and photographers are clearly spelt out in a well constructed report format that carefully weaves in emic and etic descriptors, overall it fails to meet the intent of scientific rigor. The occasional comment by the authors clearly reveals a lack of understanding of the paradigm they chose to use. A case in point is the authors’ claim on page one hundred and sixty four that if data-collection details of all first-hand sightings could occur, then the research would be statistically and scientifically valid. This is not the ontological purpose or epistemological function of case-study investigations, or indeed of qualitative research.

The lack of understanding of how to collect, unpack, and make sense of observational and reportage data is further revealed in the findings and conclusions at the end of each section and in the concluding chapters of this book. After providing examples of interviews, document analysis, and photographic evidence, the analysis and conclusions fall into the category of “stating the obvious” or a recount of the observational methods employed. What is needed, as suggested in a fleeting remark by the authors, is a focused analysis on the psychological reasons as to why these reports of mysterious creatures have surfaced and continue to do so across time and cultures. There is no attempt to compare, contrast, or explain in any depth the transtextual narratives the authors utilized or the data they unearthed. Description in the guise of analysis is a trap that continues to haunt this form of investigation. Thus, while having the best intentions and coming tantalizingly close to their purpose, the authors have simply recreated a set of “enticing and amusing” narratives that have a paratextual and archetextual similarity to The X Files.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2010. Last revised June 21, 2010.