John A. Keel, My Hero

At a former workplace we were at one time inundated by moths of a curious size. Standing outside with a work colleague surveying the potential business on a Sunday afternoon, he looks at the moth thoughtfully before parsing his lips to speak. “Have you seen The Mothman Prophecies?” he asks. “It’s really creepy and it’s based on a true story.” I admit that I have not seen this movie. I don’t really think much of it until another work colleague poses the same question and description almost verbatim. I am intrigued. I don’t particularly know anything about this movie, but the expression on my workmates’ faces as they talk about it spurs me to learn more. Eventually I borrow the movie from a local DVD store. It is creepy and it is – apparently – based on a true story. What is this story?

I imported a paperback copy of The Mothman Prophecies with a white movie tie-in cover from the United States. That poor paperback became batted as I thumbed my way through it, first at home and then interstate while on holiday. It was fascinating and disturbing. The flying humanoid terrorising residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, circa 1966-1967 had apparently existed. But it was only the tip of the iceberg. There were even more sinister and oddball things covered in the book that the movie didn’t even make reference to. But even more than that it introduced me to John A. Keel, the author, who was thoughtful and intelligent. He had a deliciously wicked sense of humour. He had a rich sense of voice on the written page. He seemed to genuinely have a lot of respect and compassion for people, especially people who had unusual experiences (people who were frequently ridiculed and dismissed by others). The simple truth was that before reading The Mothman Prophecies I thought paranormal subjects were purely the domain of wide-eyed crackpot ‘true believers.’ Keel’s book was a refreshing revelation.

But more than anything the book excited me and instilled this strong feeling within me that I was doing something wrong. I mean why would anyone answer phones for a living when you could be sitting on far off hills watching strange meandering lights (UFOs), interviewing people and writing incredible books?!

I located a copy of Keel’s first book, Jadoo, in Sydney and had it shipped to me. Keel had been fascinated with ‘sleight of hand’ magic tricks from a young age, and Jadoo is his foray into the Orient and the Middle East to find ‘real’ magic. The things he details on his travels are truly fascinating, from the black market trade for mummies in Egypt to an invitation to live with bonafide devil worshipers, elaborate trickery with snakes, and even individuals who have themselves entombed only to come out unscathed. As I read of far off lands and ancient mystical practices I also learnt much more about Keel himself. I took great comfort in the knowledge that he too feared the blank page. I learnt about his Keel’s parents and home, his desire to write, how he had changed his name. I clung to each page as he struggled to sell articles of his adventures to magazines and as he systematically sold off his camera equipment just to make ends meet.

I was completely in awe of this man and as I ordered another of his books and it would arrive I would abandon the one I had been reading in favour of the new title (eventually going back to finish all the books). Soon I had multiple copies of many of his books, different editions. I snapped up cheap books whenever I encountered them, determined to share them with friends. The Eighth Tower (also published as The Cosmic Question), UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Disneyland Of The Gods, Our Haunted Planet, The Complete Guide To Mysterious Beings (also published as Strange Creatures From Time and Space), The Fickle Finger Of Fate (Keel’s lone piece of published fiction). I even discovered in my research a collection of short stories for school students that included one by Keel about the Great Houdini.

I was able to track down some recordings of talks he had given at FORTEAN events and these only endeared me to him further.

March 25, 1930 – July 3, 2009

4 comments… add one
  • John

    This film clip, and most of those on the web, are of Keel speaking at various FortFests for the International Fortean Organization, an organization dear to his heart, so be sure to credit it correctly.

  • Thank you for making this about John, not about events, organizations, or even too much about his death.

    This posting of yours here and your other one on your reaction to his death truly convey the warmth, intrigue, and affection that my old research buddy and friend was able to inspire in people ~ through his writings, his personality, and the combination of those two that would result in the stories he spun.

    Many of his old associates from the 1960s celebrated when John was able to break into the “Hollywood” scene, not so much for the little money as a writer that he got out of it, but more as a final acknowledgment of his far-reaching impact in popular culture. The movie, his books, and his articles will live on, long beyond his life.

    It was great to read your good words from Australia. That you would understand, on some level, how many of us so close to him have been feeling about the passing of John A. Keel on July 3, 2009 was enlightening.

    Thank you.
    ~ Loren

  • John,

    Thanks for the information.

  • Loren,

    Thank you for providing the information about Keel’s life and death. Cryptomundo has been an important point of reference for many people, including myself, and for that I am quite thankful. I was quite disappointed that the mass media didn’t cover Keel’s passing more extensively, but by the same token I am grateful for the Internet’s capacity to create communities of interest that share information and experiences.

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