Many people well-versed in the topics of parapsychology, hauntings, and weird mysteries will cite the legend of Gef, the so-called talking mongoose as one of the weirdest.
At its simplest:
The Irving family, living in an isolated house on the Isle of Man (UK), experienced many years of interaction with what they believed was a conversant entity that resembled a small furry mammal beginning in September of 1931. The creature, who acted to both vex and help the family, became a worldwide story and was investigated by two of the world’s foremost researchers of poltergeists, until he eventually disappeared for good several years later.
At its most complex, well, I couldn’t do it justice. No one knows what really happened. Some suggestions over the decades include: spirit, demon, poltergeist, tulpa, fairies or other folklore creatures. Or it was the result of a talented ventriloquist, split personality disorder, psychic projection, or witchcraft. But maybe it was a concocted hoax, a mass delusion, or maybe an actual talking mongoose. We’ll never really find out.
While Gef sounds inventive, there was one antecedent: the Epworth poltergeist of 1716 in the UK. This episode was very much the typical poltergeist – with violent knocking, noises, and the usual bad manners of an evil entity – there is mention that a furry creature was seen associated with the thing that the family called “Old Jeffrey”.
There are only two definitive reference sources to read about Gef, The Talking Mongoose: Christopher Josiffe’s 2017 book Gef! The Strange Tale of an Extra-Special Talking Mongoose and Harry Price and R.S. Lambert’s The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap (1936). Josiffe’s book is the overall historical chronology, with some tangents. Price’s book describes his and Lambert’s visit to investigate the phenomenon which, by then, had been in the tabloids. This book doesn’t not really reach a conclusion as they did not really experience anything that could be declared substantive to a conclusion. Nandor Fodor, another parapsychologist, also visited the Irvings after Price and, again, did not find Gef in a talkative mood.
The Fodor story is now a movie starring Simon Pegg and Minnie Driver, with Christopher Lloyd as a very miscast Harry Price (who was British, not American). The film “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose” was highly anticipated by many of my generation, as we had been amazed by the Gef story. What a tale! A talking, singing, vulgar mongoose that would mention current events and make jokes. That’s amazing. But in the end, it’s nothing more than a story – an experience that the family shared. The photos, fur sample, and paw prints were duds – not amounting to any evidence. Gef was a true trickster of the legendary kind.
The film was a disappointment, primarily because you could not depict such a convoluted, incredible tale in the span of 90 minutes and make it compelling. There is too much nuance involved. If we can say anything that is undeniable about the scenario is that it arose directly because of the members of the Irving family – Mr. Irving, a rather controlling ex-business man who took up a difficult new life in a new place, Mrs Irving, a striking woman who had ties to the Isle of Man but may have been considered psychic, and most importantly, Voirrey, their daughter. The Irvings had her late in life and she grew up isolated, with animals but few friends. Voirrey became the focus of whatever Gef was. He frightened her and he befriended her.
Gef manifested like a poltergeist, started off as knocking and then learning to speak. Gef was contradictory, inconsistent in his behavior, and never was pinned down. Was he based on a real animal? Was this a true haunting? Or was it Voirrey being a ventriloquist, as shown in the movie. The latter thread in the movie was most irritating to me. While the idea that Voirrey was manufacturing the voice of Gef was brought up in the contemporary accounts, it seems like a “swamp gas” excuse – convenient but implausible – that people accept because it’s an easy way to dismiss a complex problem.
The film has a few of Gef’s key bits of history but overall, it’s entirely fictionalized. Nandor Fodor was a real person (Pegg did a fine job) who certainly struggled with the Gef issue, just not as shown on screen. It’s always a shame to see historical events cut up and remixed with extra made-up bits thrown in to make it more palatable. Gef is not an easy thing to swallow. It’s not really fodder for film.
Attention to the story, which has been growing for decades, will likely result in a slew of new takes on the tale. I’m not pleased about that. Legends grow and accrete bits that are added by the tellers. Those who hear of it later in its life assume those accreted bits are true. I don’t think we can extract any more truth from the Gef story. I don’t think we will ever figure it out. We’ll never know more even as much more will be provided. It’s very much like the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film or the Jack the Ripper investigations. The original evidence can only be scrutinized so much. The resolution is just too low.
We shall never know much more of Gef.
Gef on Gef:
“I know who I am but I shan’t tell you. I am a freak. I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you’d faint, you’d be petrified, mummified, turned into stone or a pillar of salt.”
“I’ll split the atom! I am the fifth dimension! I am the eighth wonder of the world!”
“You’ll put me in a bottle if you catch me.”
The story of Gef (blog by Clifford Malcolm Willett)
The Strange Story of Gef The Talking Mongoose – Mental Floss
Stay tuned to Squaring the Strange podcast where I will be visiting to talk about Gef, the man-animal and the movie.