Screenwriter Mark O’Connell is the founder of the UFO blog High Strangeness, and he posted this week an odd blog post that revealed a bit of French ufologist Jacques Vallée’s concerns about managing his reputation in the UFO field. It’s interesting to me to see that while Vallée has never responded to the substantive criticisms of faulty historiography and flawed comprehension of the ancient and medieval literature he uses to support his outlandish speculation about messengers of deception and interdimensional intelligences, he has more than enough time to make sure that books UFO fans are likely to read portray him in a positive light.
Part of Vallée’s personal mythology is that he served as the inspiration for the French ufologist Claude Lacombe (François Truffaut) in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s clear that 40 years later, this relic of another time remains extremely important to Vallée. O’Connell, however, discovered that the late J. Allen Hynek had fingered a much more important French scientist as the real inspiration for the character: Dr. Claude Poher, an astrophysicist and engineer who worked with NASA and founded France’s Groupe d’Etude des Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non identifies (Group for the Study of Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena), the country’s UFO reporting agency, at the same time that Close Encounters was filming.
According to O’Connell, Vallée saw a blog post O’Connell had made teasing the revelation and sent him a message objecting to O’Connell’s book. According to O’Connell:
The story I thought I was going to tell in this follow-up post was about how Dr. Vallee contacted me last summer to tell me how upset he was that I put that quote in my book, and I was going to tell how he had just contacted me over the holidays, just as upset, and that he had cc'd a prominent journalist both times which made me wonder whether this whole thing was going to end up in print somewhere.
O’Connell, however, was overcome with respect for Vallée and therefore wrote something very different. Vallée was actually even more upset that O’Connell’s book The Close Encounters Man (2017) might have actually been sponsored by Hynek’s old organization, the Center for UFO Studies. “Turned out he really was concerned that my book was being used as a vehicle for CUFOS to take pot-shots at him, and he seemed very grateful that I had cleared that up,” O’Connell said.
Vallée and Hynek used to work together, originally in Hynek’s “Invisible College,” which became CUFOS, and even coauthored a book in the 1970s. Hynek willed his occult and paranormal library to Vallée upon his death, and Vallée still showed off Hynek’s copies of books like The Secret Teachings of All Ages as recently as when Jeffery J. Kipal visited in writing his Authors of the Impossible (2011). Vallée had already soured on CUFOS during the 1980s (or such is the impression I gleaned from his Forbidden Science), and apparently he has a deep fear that the head of CUFOs for the past thirty years, Dr. Mark Rodeghier, is planning to humiliate him. Personally, I’d be more concerned about the atrocious scholarship and slipshod logic upon which Vallée builds his castles in the air, but that’s just me. We all know that ufologists tend not to look closely.
Instead, I am consistently amazed at how events from thirty, forty, or fifty years ago continue to shape the field of ufology in ways both large and small. They say that there is nothing new under the sun, but I have trouble wrapping my head around the idea that the same people who were feuding and squabbling before I was even born are still at it today.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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