Dr Gregory L Reece’s fascinating book,
Creatures of the Night, is an enjoyably macabre stroll through the misty swamps of folklore where myth and religion are intertwined. Why do we create monsters and why is there such a
desire and appetite for the darker side of the human soul? Whereas one reader may dismiss the concept of lycanthropes or vampires the point of Reece’s exhaustively researched study is to
highlight how that same reader may partly or wholly accept the concept of ghosts or demons.
Why would one fantastical concept seem more acceptable than another? Can we scoff at Arthur Conan Doyle for believing in the existence of fairies when the notion of demonic possession may still
frighten a large percentage of the global population?
Unsurprisingly, the unifying theme here is religion and how its reliance on fear in the past has ingrained itself on our nightmares as well as our culture.
Reece dissects folklore in five comprehensive chapters. My only criticism is that these could have been broken down further. However, he follows an intricate line of argument through each one and
what makes this book enjoyable is Reece’s personal involvement with the material. Even with a wealth of facts gathered to document the sinister birth of supernatural entities that will have
given us all cause to wake screaming at some point in our lives, the author’s evident passion for the subject matter is an ideal illustration of our fascination for stories that are as
ancient as they are unlikely.
As well as presenting us with the facts, he regales us with his own childhood memories of books and movies and tells us how his own local folklore impacted on his young impressionable mind. The
ghost of Condie Cunnigham, a girl who combusted in the dormitory of his local University of Montevallo and is purported to still haunt the location, keeps making her ghostly presence known
throughout the book. A perfect example of how an unlikely tale can inveigle its way permanently into the psyche of a scholar.
The book is chock full of quotes and passages from books old and new and it is refreshing that Reece chooses more obscure literary and film references rather than the obvious ones.
What is clear is that the monsters that entertain as well as terrify us are all a reflection of not only our own evolution but from their specific period in time. But some transcend era and
throughout history ghosts seem to be the ultimate coping mechanism.
We know that vampires sprang from the pen of Bram Stoker and are nowadays alive and well and living dead at the centre of teen culture. The idea of a creature that sleeps during the day and emerges
at night to drain the blood of the living has been officially declared to be folklore by the rational majority.
How long will it be before the devil joins them on the list? Reece entertainingly proves we still have some way to go in terms of exorcising superstition and legend from the 21st
Stewart King is the author of X Factor
Zombie Massacre, published by Endeavour Press.
Creatures of the Night by Dr Geoffrey L. Reece is published by IB Tauris £10.99
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.