My deadline for finalizing my Legends of the Pyramids manuscript is December 1, which means that I need to devote extra time over the next two weeks to getting my submission put together. So, today, I will only briefly remark that this year is the centennial of Charles Fort’s Book of the Damned, a seminal work in the world of the bizarre, fringe, and pseudoscientific. In honor of the anniversary, Micah Hanks published an article this week celebrating Fort’s unreadable, gibberish style (“oddly poetic”) and describing “one of my absolute favorite passages” (emphasis in original) in Fort’s book. That he has a favorite passage in Fort, and that it is a list of red rains culminating in a bizarre non sequitur about a “super-dragon” crashing into a comet and bleeding all over the Earth probably says more about Hanks than it does about Fort.
Hanks’s article, like most of his oeuvre, is superficial, one-sided, and ultimately pointless. However, it’s worth considering a couple of facts about Fort that Hanks left out of his evaluation. Hanks describes Fort as the “father of ufology” because of his interest in things in the sky, but that wasn’t all. He also promoted the ancient astronaut theory, describing one of the first versions of the so-called “prison planet” hypothesis in which humans are an experiment or pet of space aliens. “If other worlds have ever in the past had relations with this earth, they were attempted positivizations: to extend themselves, by colonies, upon this earth; to convert, or assimilate, indigenous inhabitants of this earth.” Although Fort was not the first ancient astronaut theorist—the Theosophists beat him to it by decades—he did occasionally anticipate Ancient Aliens in ways that demonstrate later writers’ clear reliance on him:
If I say I conceive of another world that is now in secret communication with certain esoteric inhabitants of this earth, I say I conceive of still other worlds that are trying to establish communication with all the inhabitants of this earth. I fit my notions to the data I find. That is supposed to be the right and logical and scientific thing to do; but it is no way to approximate to form, system, organization. Then I think I conceive of other worlds and vast structures that pass us by, within a few miles, without the slightest desire to communicate, quite as tramp vessels pass many islands without particularizing one from another. Then I think I have data of a vast construction that has often come to this earth, dipped into an ocean, submerged there a while, then going away—Why? I'm not absolutely sure. How would an Eskimo explain a vessel, sending ashore for coal, which is plentiful upon some Arctic beaches, though of unknown use to the natives, then sailing away, with no interest in the natives?
The influence of Theosophy’s vision of esoteric communication between enlightened humans and the spirit beings inhabiting the Moon, Mars, and Venus should be obvious, even if Fort’s staccato logorrhea makes the underlying meaning less clear than it should be.
It should be obvious, too, that all of these claims have appeared on Ancient Aliens. H. P. Lovecraft read The Book of the Damned, and there is a rather direct line of influence, which follows from Fort to Lovecraft and then from Lovecraft to Jacques Bergier’s and Louis Pauwels’s The Morning of the Magicians, which adopted the claims originally via Lovecraft and then directly by returning Fort, and from that book to Erich von Däniken and Ancient Aliens, a show based on von Däniken.
It’s also worth noting that Fort’s books weren’t as unique as Hanks imagines them. The genre of collecting weird, strange, or unusual anecdotes for the amusement of readers is an old one. Aelian wrote his Various Histories on that model thousands of years ago, and an entire field of medieval literature contained nothing but these types of collections. Religious writers of the early modern period were fond of compiling anthologies of stories of divine miracles, signs and wonders, and demonic activity. Fort’s books fall neatly into that genre, transforming it only in that he followed the early twentieth century failure of faith in replacing a divine explanation for the unusual with a shrug, speculation about semi-divine aliens, and an anger at scientific materialism.
In other words, he was a History Channel host before there was a History Channel.
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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