From MUFOB New Series 9.
In recent articles in this Bulletin (1), Peter Rogerson has promoted the idea that some features of the UFO phenomenon can be seen as works of ‘naive art’, through which percipients may externalise subconscious and semi-conscious ideas and beliefs. Such a theory acknowledges the ambiguous and equivocal borderlines between real UFO experiences, exposed and admitted hoaxes, and totally fictional experiences. In each case the stimulus for the expression would be the same: a need to create an external, concrete experience in order to identify or communicate a nebulous, and in many cases almost totally non-understood, emotional or philosophical feeling. Only in deliberate works of fiction or imaginative art does this expression manifest itself in a way which is acceptable to society at large.
When these artistic visions are enacted in the form of a ‘real’ UFO experience, they are less widely accepted than the legitimate forms of artistic expression; but are still acceptable to a variety of specialist students, who will generally tend to see such events in the framework of ‘consensus’ reality. In the UFO context this usually involves a straightforward acceptance of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, or at least some external influence on the human brain. However, the hoax falls beyond the pale of even these specialist students, who see it merely as a stumbling block in the investigation of real events, to be discarded as soon as it is identified. The out-and-out work of fiction will not even be subject to any consideration by the specialists, who would dismiss it as being entirely without objective value in the real world.
If however we consider fiction, hoax, and real experience as different parts of a spectrum of experience, a new set of patterns begins to emerge. Loran Gross has pointed out the similarities between some American science fiction stories of the thirties and forties, and many of the ostensibly genuine contact stories of later years. One in particular (2) depicts a car stoppage scenario with many of the details that have become familiar from subsequent reports; yet it would be impossible that any significant proportion of the people involved in these cases could have read the story in the small circulation SF magazine where it appeared. The science fiction story is a culturally approved ‘art-form’ in which many philosophical ideas on the nature of power and energy, man’s relationship to machine etc., can be expressed and debated in a popularly understandable fashion. Due to the general cultural environment in which most potential UFO percipients live (even in fairly remote parts of the world) these concepts and ethical questions are widespread in the human psyche, in more or less coherent forms. Consequently, from time to time they will require some form of external expression from the individuals who ponder them. In cases where either the intellectual ability, or the cultural opportunities available to the person attempting this self-expression are in-adequate for this to take a generally acceptable format, it may emerge in a manner only fragmentarily understood by the ‘artist’ himself.
Some ufologists (sadly not as many as one would hope, especially in this country) are beginning to realise that ‘subjective’ UFO experiences are of equal validity to the so-called ‘objective’ cases (3). They no longer see the psychological examination of witnesses as a way of sorting out the ‘reliable’ from the ‘unreliable’ witnesses, so that they can get on with the real job of studying the hard physical evidence. However this more inclusive attitude has not yet extended to the ‘hoax’ reports, which are still treated as a nuisance, getting in the way of serious research. Yet in many cases these hoaxes may be desperate attempts to make some sense of the overwhelming barrage of emotional, intellectual, psychic and cultural impressions that are absorbed into the long-suffering human brain.
Consider the remarkable story which came out of Peru in 1965, and was reported in FSR two years later (4). A restaurant proprietress in the La Victoria district of Lima reported that “a little green man” (her literal description) with one eye in the centre of his forehead had come into her restaurant and ordered a chicken, “with plenty of red pepper and saffron”. The proprietress, Señora Dora Nakamura, claimed that despite her astonishment she managed to serve up the order, which was paid in strange coins with undecipherable hieroglyphics on them. An obvious hoax, and indeed when a local UFO investigation group tried to follow up the story they were informed that Senora Nakamura was in “delicate health” and did not wish to say any more about the matter, admitting that it was a hoax.
And that, to most UFO investigators, is that. But consider for a moment what could have prompted such a hoax. Señora Nakamura must have realised that such a claim could only have led to extreme ridicule. To willingly court such derision seems almost masochistic. On a conscious level she must have realised that the hoax would never be even half-way acceptable – the strange coins were presumably never offered in evidence. Her retreat from the consequences of her act through ill-health, whether ‘real’ or psychosomatic, suggests that she could not have intended her hoax as a joke, perhaps to publicise the quality of her chicken and green peppers (although one can perhaps visualise a successful advertising campaign based on the theme “They’ll travel light years for a Nakamura chicken dinner!”).
It seems scarcely imaginable what inner conflicts, what agonies of a confused mind, what mental struggles could force a person to perpetrate such an enormity. Yet in a more skilled, perhaps more educated, individual with a greater capacity for conscious self expression, could they not have emerged as a powerful surrealist painting or poem? Are they not the same inner forces which, in a different type of personality produce a bizarre UFO contact report, perhaps not much less absurd than Dora Nakamura’s hoax; but which, because it is believed in literally by the percipient, is accepted as a legitimate object of investigation by ufologists?
There is a need therefore for some serious and detailed study of hoaxers, on a level with the sensitive and carefully monitored investigations that are at last beginning with the so-called ‘subjective’ percipients.
If the reaction of most students of our subject towards hoaxes is simply to unmask then discard them, it is inevitable that their reaction to out-and-out fiction is even simpler. They just do not regard it as any part at all of the material they are studying. Yet, if our model of the percipient and hoaxer externalising, with varying degrees of conscious control, a confusing welter of internal feelings and imagery is valid, then the artist and writer, producing overtly ‘imaginative’ fiction from the same internal stimuli, is manifestly part of the same phenomenon, and worthy of similar study.
Up to now the study of artistic fiction (5) has been through a series of somewhat conventionalised critical attitudes – ‘fine art’ criticism, Eng. Lit., etc. As most artistic enterprise is designed to fall within the framework of one or other of these critical apparati, the result is something of a closed-shop, and potentially valuable alternative analytical structures are seldom utilised. It is, for instance, only quite recently that art has been subjected to any sort of political analysis. So, just as it is now generally accepted that art and literature are influenced by, and in some cases entirely derived from, their political and social background, we moat recognise that much of the material which up to now has summarily been dismissed as ‘fiction’ is evolved from the same ‘cultural primeval soup’ as our UFO reports and hoaxes. This is perhaps most evident in the field of folklore and mythology, which are increasingly intensively studied to reveal many of the archetypes which structure the UFO experience. This sort of inclusive approach is more readily accepted with myth and folklore, as they are obviously the crystallisation of a collectivity of experience, dream, and impression. What is not so easy to accept is that the artistic vision of one person can, as in the case of the SF story unearthed by Loran Gross, be equally valid as an expression of a collective mythic experience.
Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter comments that whenever questioned about a point of detail in any of his works, he would answer as ‘translator’ of a corpus of mythological writings, rather than as author of a work of fiction
Yet how else can we explain the fascination that a writer like J. R. R. Tolkien has for so many people? Here a writer of great talent has created a vast, mythical world in a series of compulsively readable works of avowed fiction. Yet is his achievement so different, except in the manner of its execution, from someone like Adamski, who feeling the same urges for sub-creation produces as potentially great a vision in a series of botched-up, half believed in hoaxes, eventually getting drawn into his own creation to the point of incorporating it into his conscious world-view, and losing sight of its fictional origins? In a fascinating account of a conversation with Tolkien, his biographer Humphrey Carpenter (6) comments that whenever questioned about a point of detail in any of his works, the author would answer in his self-created rôle as ‘translator’ of a corpus of mythological writings, rather than as author of a work of fiction. Yet here there is obviously no question of ‘hoaxing’ as there was when Adamski replied to questions in the role of ‘reporter’ rather than ‘author’. A person like Tolkien, with a secure intellectual foundation in the consensus world view could regard his involvement in his own sub-creation as a literary joke (albeit one of considerable significant to himself); Adamski, without such a secure world-view, could easily be drawn irretrievably into a Magonia of his own making.
When we examine Tolkien’s world it is temptingly easy to see the parallels with Magonia. His concept of the Valar, for instance, as demiurgical entities which, from their land of Valinor, oversee the actions of men and the other beings of Middle-Earth with an occasional nudge and a shove and a word of advice, echoes not only the Norns and the Fataof Northern and Classical mythology, but also the benevolent space brothers of the contactees. The Valar live in a remote other-world, now “removed from the circles of this world” and reached only by mysterious ships crewed by the Elves, tall and beautiful immortals. Yet in the remote past of Tolkien First Age, Valinor was in more direct contact with mortal lands, its inhabitants taking a more direct (and sometimes disastrous) part in its affairs. Can we see here a working of the same archetypal themes that in other hands have resulted in the Ancient Astronaut myth? The Old Gods that have left us as the result of the breaking of a great taboo. In Tolkien’s case this is the attempted invasion of the Blessed Realm by the men of Numenor/Atlantis. But does it matter too much whether this universally felt myth is expressed in a great work of imaginative fiction, or as a message from an apparently real spaceman, or as a lucrative hoax in some paperback pot-boiler. It is certainly the same ore that is being mined, and it is capable of being refined and fashioned into a Faberge Egg or an old tin can!
Yet we must realise that a great deal of the background to Tolkien’s work is drawn quite directly and consciously from a commonly-held store of mythical imagery. His most recently published work, The Silmarillion, (7) outlines the creation and remote history of the world in which the later stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place. In a way it is the mythology of his mythological world. Like the great legends it echoes, The Silmarillion is a collection of stories, They are nor necessarily consecutive or consistent in style and content; they are sometimes repetitive. There is not the formal literary or narrative structure of his two earlier published works, and this has aroused the wrath of the critics in the literary journals who insist on treating Tolkien’s prose and verse with the conventions of the ‘English Literature’ syllabus. The folklorists and ufologists, of course, regard it as ‘just fiction’ and will have nothing to do with it.
Tolkien’s consciously created myth-world, like the contactee’s Magonia, and the hoaxer’s imaginary universe, is fundamentally neo-Manichean, with the vast opposing forces of the Valar and Morgoth/Sauron; neither capable of being totally destroyed. The peoples of Middle-Earth are largely deprived of ultimate control over their destinies, having to throw in their fate with whichever of the Cosmic Forces they choose to align themselves. The hopelessness of individuals in the face of such forces is a recurrent theme in contactee lore, forming the raison d’être for such borderline sects as the Aetherius Society, and has a strong appeal to ufologists such as Gordon Creighton, who explicitly see mankind as ‘belonging’ to one side or other in the eternal battle. Tolkien’s Christian background and one suspects, his fundamentally hopeful character, prompted him to give the ‘good’ forces the advantage in the struggle. But it is only a very slight advantage, and the evil of The Enemy may break through at any moment. In the darker and more insecure world of the contactee and the hoaxer the advantage is not always so clear. The eternal battle, as revealed for instance in the books of John Keel, is for them a terrifying cliff-hanger where, like Middle-Earth’s hobbits, mankind can only sit and await its destiny.
It is often claimed when examining details of a reported UFO experience that the percipient must be genuine, as he is apparently able to give details, similar to those occurring in other reports, but which have never been given wide media coverage. In reports on percipients the observation is often made that the alleged witness had never read any books on UFOs, and was totally unacquainted with the literature of the subject. These facts are adduced as evidence that the experience was ‘real’. On reflection though, why should it be so readily assumed that a hoaxer is incapable of making-up – perhaps ‘creating’ is a better word? – a coherent mythology from the store of cultural and psychological archetypes that we are surrounded with from birth? The difference between hoaxer and genuine contactee may be very slight. Indeed, it could be argued that the hoaxer, through having to some degree the ability to consciously manipulate elements of myth, is of a higher intellectual stature than the genuine percipient who find them so disturbing and confusing that he is only capable of manipulating them on a subconscious level.
Jung has suggested (8) that it is in the more unimaginative personality that the subconscious, unable to break through the ‘cool judgement’ and ‘critical reason’ of the conscious mind is forced to produce a vivid external projection of its contents before they will be taken note of. It is precisely because percipients of these ‘projections’ are noted for their ‘solid common-sense’ that they are taken quite literally by those ufologists determined to find some external stimulus for the phenomenon. It is those more imaginative and creative people who are able to tap directly the contents of their subconscious mind, externalising its revelations in the form of deliberately produced fiction or hoax, who are ignored or vilified by the ufological establishment. We must recognise that it is essential for any understanding of the UFO phenomenon to examine not only the ‘genuine’ reports, which are just one manifestation of this collection of archetypes, but also the other ways in which these constants emerge … be it as hoax, or in the hands of a skilled artist as a work of art.
Let us look for a moment at one way in which the ephemeral borderline between fiction and genuine experience has been crossed. In 1914 the author Arthur Machen wrote a short story called The Bowmen. In it he described how British troops in the retreat from Mons were joined by the ghostly forms of St George and the bowman of Agincourt, who helped them hold out against the German advance. After this story was published in the London Evening News rumours circulated that soldiers involved in the action at Mons had indeed seen not only bowmen, but cavalry, the figures of saints and angels, and knights in armour fighting alongside them. At first Machen thought that these stories were the result of his original tale. However a book published later (9) gave eyewitness accounts of incidents which had apparently been reported before Machen’s story was published.
In an incident such as this there are a number of interpretations which may be put on the facts. Firstly, it is not unnatural that the soldiers of a retreating army would be comforted by the thought of a ‘Heavenly Host’ guarding them. English soldiers would be particularly responsive to such patriotic imagery as St George, Agincourt, etc. Amid the horrors of the First World War the desire for such spiritual intercession would be so strong in the minds of soldiers that, unable to find expression in any more ‘rational’ way, it was projected externally in the form of a memorable vision. Machen, more remote from the grim reality, and as a writer possessing an acceptable way of expressing these deep emotional responses, creates an equally memorable ‘fiction’ from the same set of stimuli.
Yet this itself may be an oversimplification. It would appear that prior to the publication of Machen’s story there were no generally circulating rumours of such spiritual intervention. Indeed, a year after the original story was published it had become so popular that Machen issued it as a booklet, adding a note that the believed that the subsequent rumours were a result of his story. The book mentioned above was an attempt to refute this. Are we to conclude then that the reports made by soldiers after publication of The Bowmen were hoaxes? It seems unlikely that soldiers who had suffered through those harrowing events would wish to lie about it in such a way. Perhaps we should consider the possibility of a retrospectively induced memory, in which people, finding their unarticulated wishes and dreams expressed in such a direct and moving way as Machen’s story, take it to themselves and are impelled quite genuinely to remember events that never took place?
Could it then be that with the continuing diffusion of the UFO myth throughout society, many people are finding it a suitable medium for the expression of their own personal hopes and fears, and are also ‘remembering’ with every degree of verisimilitude events which never took place?
Just as, in the First World War, what now seem the rather naive patriotic visions of Arthur Machen helped crystallise a mood of the time; so perhaps today does Tolkien’s more troubled cosmic vision express today’s zeitgeist, and delves those hidden realms that in the minds of UFO percipients bring forth a gallery of elvish, orcish and dwarvish entities that still stalk a troubled and divided Middle-Earth. Tolkien’s works are a beautiful and skilfully wrought evocation of the dreams, fears and hopes of man. It is here that the answer to the UFO mystery lies. A writer like Tolkien can study and understand these things, and use them to create a great and haunting work of ‘fiction’; yet fiction which is true enough to find a greater response in the hearts and minds of the public than that of almost any other writer this century.
“A Panorama of Ufological Visions”, MUFOB New Series 3, page 11; ‘Doves are Just Middle-Class Pigeons”, MUFOB New Series 7, page 3.
GROSS, Loren. Charles Fort, the Fortean Society and UFOs. Privately published, 1976.
A welcome exception to this general rule is Randle and Warrington’s study of the “Garry” case.
Flying Saucer Review, 11, 6, page 32.
I use the word ‘fiction’ to include all forms of imaginative art, as well as just literature, including poetry, symbolist and abstract painting, music and song, non-realist drama, etc.
CARPENTER, Humphrey. J. R. R. Tolkien, A Biography. George Allen and Unwin, 1977.
TOLKIEN, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. George Allen and Unwin, 1977.
JUNG, C G. Flying Saucers. Routledge Kegan Paul, 1977.
BEGBIE, Harold. On the Side of the Angels – A Reply to Arthur Machen, Hodder & Stoughton, 1915.
Originally published in MUFOB New Series 9, Winter 1977-8