What Do You Think of John Keel?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 19th, 2008

John Keel

John A. Keel was a significant author of works in Forteana, cryptozoology, and ufology in the 1960s and 1970s. His Strange Creatures from Time and Space and The Mothman Prophecies, as well as his numerous articles in magazines, influenced other writers, researchers, and the general public.

After the Mothman book-inspired movie appeared in 2002, interest in Keel resurfaced, briefly. His declining health, few public lectures, and then heart attack, created less attention to Keel than might have been expected.

I was wondering how Cryptomundians consider his impact, legacy, and import today? What place do you think Keel with have in future histories of cryptozoology vs ufology? Are there some in the new generation of cryptozoologists who don’t even know Keel?

Just pondering such matters this morning, for some reason.

John Keel Loren Coleman

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

22 Responses to “What Do You Think of John Keel?”

  1. jerrywayne responds:

    Kind host,

    Since you asked….

    I think the writings of folks like John Keel and Nick Redfern are detrimental to cryptozoology as a science, because of their quasi-mystical character.

  2. connor responds:

    I think John Keel is great for both crypto and ufo fields. I like that he is not a “true believer” I.E. ufos are aliens from space, Loch Ness has a dinosaur living in it. The man has some original ideas that to me anyway make sense. If nothing else his writings have caused me to rethink my positions on some subjects. Did not realize he is having health problems. Sorry to hear that.

    One thing I have wondered about him is the afterword in The Mothman Prophecies. This was written by him in August 2001. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the sightings that summer of mothman and what happened on September 11th of that year.

  3. cryptidsrus responds:

    KEEL was once described by JEROME CLARK as being more akin to a “demonologist” than a UFO hunter or cryptozoologist. I think that says a lot about his “influence”.

    Certainly his theories revolve around phenomenon that is usually rejected by the mainstream UFO-CRYPTOZOOLOGY community. He is willing to go places which other people will leave alone or otherwise scoff at.

    Traces of his ideology can be found in the beliefs and works of DAVID (“REPTOID”) ICKE and STUART SWERDLOW, along with JEROME CLARK, JACQUES VALLEE, and R.J. STEWART, among others.

    He cannot be easily classified as being in one field. He basically is a mixture of all of them. Without him, UFOLOGY And CRYPTOZOOLOGY would be an infinitely less interesting and boring place.

    Could you thinking about him all of a sudden be a premonition of something, Loren???

    Very Keelian.

  4. MattBille responds:

    I have never met Keel, and Loren, you have said he is a good man, dedicated to his causes and altogether a stand-up guy. I have no reason to doubt that.

    As far as his impact on cryptozoology, I don’t think it’s great. Maybe I started with the wrong book. The trouble is that, after reading Our Haunted Planet, with its lack of sources and factually incorrect statements like “friction disappears in space,” I’ve never been able to take him that seriously as a chronicler of factual events. I don’t doubt his intellect – he once wrote a superb article about why we need to believe in monsters – but I’ve never felt secure using his works such as Strange Creatures from Time and Space as source material.

    It may be that his earlier works with crypto elements, like Jadoo, had more impact at their time. But I always thought him to be of more interest in the paranormal/psychic/metaphysical world than in cryptozoology, with its emphasis (at least, its proper emphasis) on sound evidence and the scientific method.

    I am sorry to hear his health is poor, and I wish him well.

  5. Cryptid Hunt21 responds:

    Good to see researchers on the Mothman!

  6. HOOSIERHUNTER responds:

    John Keel will be remembered as one of the foremost investigators of the unexplained. He certainly was important in my early readings which shaped my interest in cryptozoology as well as many other types of mysteries. I appreciated his humour and the research he put into his writing. I remember my favorite quote from him: “Mankind is like a broken record, repeating the same refrain over and over.” How true! The mysteries are there and some have been well known in the past, but then collective amnesia sets in due to natural or societal upheavals and a new generation (or civilization) must start the search all over again. I thank Mr. Keel for helping to open my eyes to look beyond the small bubble of understanding we have.

  7. Double Naught Spy responds:

    Whatever one thinks of Keel, or his impact on cryptozoology, he must be credited as one of the first ufologists to have the courage to present the bizarre side of UFO encounters. It is no longer a secret that ufologists kept the weirdest crap to themselves for fear of being written off as lunatics with absurd stories, even though they went ahead and investigated and recorded the creepy parts. Keel was right out front with it and did not flinch. Before Mothman, UFOs were spaceships from other planets, carrying generally friendly people, human and otherwise. The only weirdos and monsters and freaky happenings associated with UFOs in the public mind were firmly in the flaky fringes, outside of “respectable” research. Keel threw open the door on true weirdness, almost singlehandedly.

    And boy, is it weird!

  8. eireman responds:

    Within the realm of unrecognized biological enigmas, there seems to be two distinct subsets. There are the cryptozoologists who see many of our “folk-monsters” as nothing more fantastic than intriguing, as-yet-discovered species, awaiting the recognition of science. There are also those one might term, for want of a better word, parazoologists. These individuals see the many mythic creatures of lore and testimony as something supernatural and above our plane of reality. I think Keel dwells among the latter. For that, I cannot take him seriously in a cryptozoological fashion. For myself, and surely many of you, we are on the quest for flesh and blood creatures that, once identified, will increase our understanding of the natural world and our place in it. We neither look to the underworld nor UFO’s for the answers behind such mysteries as Loch Ness, Bigfoot, or even if Thylacines still roam the Outback.

  9. corrick responds:

    I have utter contempt for Keel. He collected a few useful anecdotes about Mothman 40 years ago. Big deal. Makes Jon-Erik Beckjord seem like Carl Sagan.
    Just my personal opinion naturally.

  10. coelacanth1938 responds:

    In the man’s defense, Fortean investigators are mostly on their own. Right now we here enjoy the relative luxury of the Internet. But Keel was like Robinson Crusoe stuck on an island trying to build himself a little hut of sanity.

  11. xyzzy responds:

    I think it’s important to remember that Keel was primarily a journalist, storyteller, and presenter of weird stuff, not a scientist. I greatly enjoy his work, but the lack of citations (yes, and his scientific inaccuracy) does irritate me. He is not alone in his lack of scientific precision; Jenny Randles suffers from the same problem. When reading their books I often think, “I wish they’d let me check it before it was published.” The only one of the greats of the 50’s and 60’s (American greats at least) who had good citations was Vincent Gaddis. Every source was cited, and once, when I couldn’t find the reference, he photocopied the document and sent it to me.

    What I really like about Keel is his ability to capture the zeitgeist. When people want to know what the 60s were really like I tell them to avoid Time Magazine and read Keel’s “Mothman Propheies” and Vallee’s “Forbidden Science”.

    Also, I think Keel had UFOs figured 40 years ago out in his “Operation Trojan Horse,” but that has little to do with whether or not he was a good cryptozoologist. My guess is that he wasn’t and that the fact wouldn’t bother him at all.

  12. rl_esteves responds:

    I began my reading on these subjects back in 1972 at age 9 with John Keel and Ivan Sanderson works. As time went on I discovered Loren Coleman, Jerome Clark, the Bords, Heuvelmans, Vallee and others. At one time I owned every book ever written by Keel and I still from time to time pull out his works just for the pleasure of reading them. If he is not the best I’ve read, he’s definitely a tie for the best.

  13. HOOSIERHUNTER responds:

    eireman: I really like your term “parazoology”. Would you mind if I borrowed it for a book I’m working on about local happenings? I think its the best descriptive term of that branch of investigation I’ve seen. I’d even give credit if I knew your name!

  14. Tatzelwurm responds:

    I always thought Keel was more of a UFOologist or something like that than a cryptozoologist.

  15. Va-Bigfoot responds:

    I spoke with Mr. Keel a few years ago concerning the Sasquatch/Bigfoot creatures. He was sure they are some type of paranormal entity. He also said not to waste my time researching them as I will never come to a logical conclusion. I seriously thought about his recommendations, but I really enjoy the cat and mouse chase, even if it leads to other dimensions.


  16. Adrienne2012 responds:

    I would like to say that John Keel has influenced me to search for answers about unexplainable events and to believe in the truth. He has helped many people believe in things that are happening all around us despite the fact that we may not ever see them. He was part of one of the most strange and facinating events ever to take place. It is important for people to understand that cryptozoology and UFOs ect.. are both unexplainable phenemona. Granted finding a new species of bird or lizard is not unexplainable but much of cryptozoology is. I believed John Keel understands that and because he may not be just a cryptozoologist dosn’t mean there is not a connection between it and unexplainable events. I feel very strongly about a connection between these things and it is important to acknowledge that. The world needs to know the truth and he played a major role in doing so. I am saddened he is ill and I hope he does understand what he accomplished by sharing what he knows with the public

  17. eireman responds:

    HoosierHunter, feel free to use the term. I’m not sure if I have coined it here or not. It may exist already. It seemed a good way to distinguish between the two disciplines.

  18. peterbernard responds:

    John Keel taught me the meaning of the word “agnosticism” when I was twelve reading his books and has had a much deeper impact on my life than almost any other writer or artist. He’s far more important than any of the “nuts and bolts” UFO or crypto researchers I’ve ever read, no offense. He’s one of the most interesting men of the 20th and 21st centuries. I’ve been told he coined the term “Men in Black” which is why the agents in the comic book and movie are named J and K (Keel’s initials). Also, Speilberg won’t admit it, but he met with Keel for days before doing the first Indiana Jones movie and I have little doubt that Keel’s Jadoo period was partial inspiration for the Indy character. I know Speilberg has said differently, I’m not arguing that point, I’m asserting that Keel has had a huge but hidden impact on our culture and how we think about UFOs and cryptids as a people.

  19. hlw responds:

    The highest praise I can give John Keel is that he always made me think. In a field where writers copy each others work as a way of life, John Keel was always a breath of fresh air. Thank you John Keel for being you.

  20. BMNunnelly responds:

    When considering the works of Keel, in a cryptozoological framework, his impact has been negiligible. Some would say even detrimental. Without doubt Loren has been the “Worlds Foremost Cryptozoologist” and done more to bring the fledgling science, or ‘pseudo-science’ (whichever you prefer) of cryptozoology out into the open than any one man in history.

    But Keel isn’t a cryptozoologist. He’s a fortean investigator – BIG difference. I know because I’ve been accused by some of being both. Forteans aren’t bound by the strictly scientific paradigms most ‘cryptozoologists’ adhere to when looking into accounts of anomalous phenomena. In my own experience as a fortean investigator, I found that only when one looks objectively at the entire Fortean phenomena puzzle can one begin to make some sense of any single piece of it. For example, most Bigfoot researchers focus solely on the hairy humanoid’ data, completely oblivious (often by choice) that this is merely a single aspect of the larger “Beastman’ mystery. We have apemen but we also have dogmen, catmen, mothmen, owlmen, wolfmen, batmen, birdmen, fishmen, frogmen, lizardmen, etc. It’s so much easier to focus blindly on a single phenomenon rather than looking at the whole picture. After all, how does a die-hard, modern-day ‘cryptozoologist’ hope to explain a 7 ft tall, hairy humanoid creature with wings, no head, and glowing eyes in its chest, capable of attaining flight ‘without flapping its wings’ and reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles an hour while emitting a beeping noise? Giant owl? Sandhill crane?

    These are the types of things which fortean investigators frequently find themselves faced with. As such John Keel, at least in my own eyes, ranks only just below Charles Fort in the importance of his work – and surely deserves the title of “Greatest Modern-Day Fortean Investigator”.

    I wish him well.

  21. galactus_westerberg responds:

    Let’s call a spade a spade, boys and girls. Keel, and his kith and kin, put the “crypto” in “crytozoology”. Without him, what you’re doing here is just “zoology”.

    His ideas are what make this field special.

  22. johnstownmonster responds:

    Keel was interesting. Although I definitely do sympathize with those who found his ideas less than “productive,” I do always want to see room in the field for these more “conceptual” approaches. I really do think they add texture to the discussion and frankly, who knows, they may even have a shred of validity at the end of the day.

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