Rating: 2 stars
I’ve literally been putting this off for over a year. I got this on audio around the end of September of 2018, intending on reading it for Halloween that year, but then life declared that it had other plans and it got swept under the rug. Ultimately, I forgot about it, so I put it off for Halloween 2019, but that holiday came and went and this remained unread. So I decided to just read it for Christmas and not let yet another year go by.
And honestly, all this anticipation maybe ruined this. Or maybe this just isn’t good.
Perhaps I’m spoiled by well-written analytical nonfiction by actual journalists, because this was low-key a bunch of crap. The content was fine–not even Aaron Mahnke could keep this girl from being intrigued by spooky stuff–but the way it was all delivered? Subpar at best.
If you Google Aaron Mahnke in an attempt to find anything resembling credentials, the only thing you’ll find is that he makes podcasts. This book itself is a compilation of one of his more popular podcasts, titled Lore. I’ve never listened to this podcast of his (I’m not very into podcasts in general) but after hearing him read the audiobook of this book with the inflection equivalent of a dead squirrel, I’m probably never going to. In regards to his ethos, there really isn’t any to be found. He just likes spooky stuff, and hey, so do I, so I can’t exactly judge the guy for that.
I can, however, judge him for having the organization skills of a seventh grader in this book. And for having the maturity level, on occasion, of that same seventh grader.
This is split largely into several sections, each focusing on a different monstrous creature, hence the title. But actually, it kind of isn’t. The first section is entirely about vampires and zombies (very connected in origin, though I’m a little confused why he neglected to mention Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend even though he mentioned George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead) and the second section is about fairies and sprites and goblins, etc. I’ll give him that. But then it deviates wildly for the rest of the book. Almost as if he started organizing them and then just got lazy.
The third section starts off being about werewolves, then talks about curses, then the wendigo. This seemed largely par for the course, but then he talks about sea monsters. I was under the impression that this section would be about humans who turn into creatures. But I guess not. We get a giant bird after this. Then, as if he suddenly remembered, he closes it off with werewolves again.
The fourth section fared about the same. It starts off with haunted dolls, then goes back to strange animals. He talks about the Jersey Devil and Spring-Heeled Jack. And then we get another giant bird. And…vision dreams about Christmas presents and also Chernobyl? (Hilariously, that one was in a subsection titled “Missing the Point” which honestly described me to a T)
Next we got ghosts and possession. Seemed to stay on track for the most part, though it did repeat a lot of the same exact information only with new examples, which was only a little mind-numbing. And then he ends the book with a half-baked, apparently feminist message about how women during the Salem witch trials were probably just “being themselves” and since that was in a strict, authoritarian male-dominated society, they were seen as witches. Which might be true, who knows?–but as the concluding statement in a 300 page folklore analysis, it makes absolutely no sense. I was expecting at least a brief conclusion, maybe a repeat of the whole “humans make crap up sometimes because they’re scared” thing he’d been spewing every other page, but I guess he just forgot that he needed to finish the book.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, Aaron Mahnke seems to be scared the readers will think he *gasp!* believes in this superstitious nonsense! *faints* He can’t go one story without inserting somewhere that he thinks the people involved were either delusional or simply lacking in modern knowledge. He also seems to think that everyone going into a book literally about folklore and cryptids, ghosts, and other paranormal creatures won’t know that they are, in fact, folklore. It was also obvious which creatures he thought were interesting, because he seemed to give them a modicum of respect. Otherwise, he spoke about them and to his audience the same way Percy Jackson speaks about the Greek Gods. Only Percy Jackson is 12 and in a middle grade fiction novel, and Aaron Mahnke wrote a nonfiction analysis of folklore, presumably for adults.
There were a few instances where I didn’t want to slap Aaron Mahnke in the face for disrespecting my favorite topics and for treating people who have different beliefs than him as idiots. But they were few and far between. At the end of things, I’m disappointed, underwhelmed, and angry. But I bet he would just say I’m actually just mad about the unknown or how deep the sea is or something, and my fear translates into the shape of his face.
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