Book Review: Lake Monster Mysteries

Book Review: Lake Monster Mysteries
By Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell
2006, University Press of Kentucky

LM book

How many good books about the world of lake monsters are out there? If you discount the plethora of Loch Ness books, not many. One with a skeptical tone was absolutely needed.

This book is not lengthy – I wanted more. Much of what is contained is not new information – it is a compilation of previous research articles and experiments along with commentary on reference to previous works. The reference list was a little short (but again, how many good books are there?)

I thought the overall flow of the book was disjointed. It was slightly confusing at some points to figure out who was writing (when using the first person). I wish it had more coherence.

Wait, it gets better. I did get a smattering of new information out of this and more importantly, I developed a clearer perspective on lake monsters.

For example, it resonated with me that the popularity of lake monsters in thousands of lakes worldwide doesn’t bolster the idea of their reality, it actually works against it. How can we have missed so many huge unknown critters around us?

Also, this book exposed several inaccuracies in lake monster lore. Reader beware that cryptozoology books and articles frequently repeat stories taken from past books, inaccuracies and all. The prime one is that explorer Samuel de Champlain was the initial documenter of Champ, famous denizen of Lake Champlain. The authors make a case that this is untrue based on Champlain’s own records. (Champlain on the lake that bears his name.) Perhaps it’s just easier to assume an author used the primary sources than to access them ourselves to check. In addition, we should all be wary about using Native American stories or folklore as “evidence” of the zoological reality of these creatures. Stories and folklore fulfill a different purpose in our culture and aren’t your best bet if you are looking for an accurate representation of the way the world works.

I have enjoyed several of Mr. Nickell’s books and articles. I’ve always liked reading his first hand accounts of undercover investigations of psychic phenomena. I can say nothing negative about Mr. Radford, the managing editor for Skeptical Inquirer. I’ve read lots of his work and generally agreed with his assessments. I have heard him speak in person and seen his comments about other cryptozoological stories. He frequently comments on Cryptomundo . His contributions are very fair, never rude or impolite, and he gives me the impression that he wishes, like I do, that unknown cryptids really do exist. Unfortunately, the more we look for them and find no evidence that they are really there, our hope dims.

But, let’s not get all sad about it. Witnesses have experienced something and finding out what they experienced is an important endeavor.

The authors have made genuine attempts to study the sightings. I can’t recall that it has been done to this degree ever before. Who else wades into the cold lake carrying scale markers and mock-up monsters?

There have been many attempts to find the animals responsible for the sightings and gather new observations but that method skips over the obvious and fundamental questions regarding what the observer actually saw. It’s a sticky situation because it means you may have to eventually reveal that the observer was mistaken in their interpretation.

No one likes to be told they’re wrong. But, we make honest mistakes ALL THE TIME. We all fail to comprehend how easy it is for our brains to fill in the details that our senses don’t adequately capture. To err is human. It doesn’t make you less of a person.

It might make you less of a person if you deliberately exaggerate or hijack an observation so that it benefits you financially. This book makes a very valid point that lake monsters are good for business. We don’t live in a Scooby Doo world where a monster scares people away – visitors will flock to a location to catch a glimpse for themselves. Therefore, our monsters are happily kept alive by newspapers and tourist bureaus. There is a growing trend to “find” monsters in man-made lakes!

Again, all is not negative. Lake monsters are loads of fun and are a genuine part of our culture. I hope they pique our curiosity, instill a sense of the importance of nature and protecting our environment, and exercise our critical thinking skills. I can’t help but adore them – real or imaginary. So, I’m happy to give this book a permanent place in my library.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Lake Monster Mysteries

  1. Greetings Sharon,
    This is a favorite subject of mine, it is next to impossible to investgate sightings of this nature. All good intentions aside,If you happen to see a deer cross a high way . what are the chances you can return to that spot and investigate the creature. Its very slim. Animals don’t make appointments to meet investigators.
    For lake creatures its even harder.I suspect a lot are huge eels or sturgeon. but who knows. What is certain ,they are not reptiles or mammels. breathing would make them more apparent. they are either fish or amphibian. Some amphibians have gills and do not have to breath although they do at times. a giant axolotl. The amphibian that dosn’t grow up maybe. I keep thinking of the ones mentioned as having a mane like a horse. could that be the external gills of an amphibian, something to think about 🙂

  2. Part of the problem with many water monster sightings is that most are actually so bad that you cannot tell what they might be. On a flat statistical extractraction of Heuvelmans’ In The Wake of Sea Serpents, OVER 70% of his listed sightings are not diagnositic of his types of creatures, and that is not even disputing his categories. On a rough estimate based on my tally of North American reports, that percentage could easily be 90% of the reports.
    On the other hand, the skeptical stance is so strict that “ordinary” things such as seals and sharks that wander into freshwater can also be discounted as well simply on the grounds that they are reported as water monsters. I recently posted to a blog that mentioned a small freshwater hammerheaded shark found dead deep inland in North America and added the comment that there are other reported hammerheaded sharks in freshwater but that the reports are simply discounted out of hand.
    A big problem that clouds the issue is that some people put all freshwater monsters into one category. Eberhart does this in Mysterious Creatures, his encyclopedic review of cryptids, and it is a wrong and misleading thing to do. Cryptid fishes are no doubt quite numerous and basically non-controversial, but reports of them as “water monsters” draw fire on that reason alone. Champlain did report what sounds like a cryptid fish in Lake Champlain, and that counts as a water monster–it just is not the same thing that most people are calling Champ these days. Loren Coleman suggests that many sightings in North America are relic Ice-Age giant beavers, Castoriodes, and these would be amphibious. This is one category kowm to be reported in man-made lakes, annulling the validity of that argument.
    I have seen Joe Nickell’s comments on cryptozoology before. While I agree with him on many other endeavors, the man’s biology in itself is actually weak and what he says along those lines should be taken with a grain of salt.

  3. I favor the giant eel theory but I can’t give good reasons why – it just feels right (so unscientific) 🙄

    I didn’t address sea serpents here because it wasn’t part of the book. But I think a bit differently about those. It is seems rather reasonable to have missed something in the ocean.

    I also thought the “Bangles fallacy” was a hoot. Never heard of it before but it’s one of those things I’ll file away in memory hopefully to use it one day…

    Thanks for the comments, all.

  4. please help me, i’ve searched every web site i can and i cant find anything about a “monster” in Lake Lavon, in Wylie near Dallas Texas but I dont see why not there was a group of friends and I at the lake on a normaly populated picnic area and since it was dark we decided not to go swimming but 3 of us wanted to dip our feets in the water and right as we reached our knees we saw this MASSIVE MONSTER LOOKING THING pop its head out of the water and then its body followed it looked just like a sea serpent but this is a man made lake, how could it be? I KNOW its something because all 3 of us saw it and screamed and ran out of the water at the same time and WE KNOW WHAT WE SAW and we weren’t drunk or on drugs or anything completly sober so there is no question that we saw something but i really really really would like to know what it is i havent been back in that lake since 🙁

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