Friday, April 19, 2013

Reading About Reading: Demoniacs and Things Under the Bed

Josephine Livingstone's "When Nuns Puked Nails" reviews the book The Devil Within by Brian Levack. The book examines the phenomenon of demonic possession, concentrating on the act's heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries. Her review was published on Prospect magazine's blog.

Livingstone manages to get in a little more literary critique into a book review than most of us are used to, thanks to Prospect allowing for more muscular writing than mainstream media makes room for these days.

Not having read Devil Within, we have no basis for debate with Livingstone, but it's clear she enjoyed the book and her review makes us want to read it. Especially this portion of her review:
"Popular apocalyptic thought—the strong suspicion that the final battle between good and evil was under way—made possession seem reasonable, even expected. The devil (or his attendant demons) taking control of your body was like the forces of evil saving seats at the cinema by putting coats on them."

And she points out that much of the Catholic procedure of exorcism at that time followed what amounted to a script, with even the possessed (usually a woman) knowing their role in the event.

On a similar topic, Peter Stanford reviewed Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan, for The Telegraph. Stanford never uses the term "fortean" but he's nearly there regarding his admiration for Kaplan's approach to answering the question: Why do we want to believe in monsters?

Kaplan, at least per Stanford, doesn't pass judgment on any of the believers, nor does he insist that the psychological or scientific "answers" are the only truth. If that's not in the spirit of Charles Fort, then let's fold up the internets and go home.

Kaplan's book shot to number one with a silver bullet on The Typing Monkey's reading list.