Home » OldThings » BSFA » The Mothman Prophecies, John A Keel

The Mothman Prophecies, John A Keel

Hodder and Stoughton, 2002, 336pp, £6.99. ISBN:0 340 82446 8

Originally published in 1975, and in 1976 as Visitors From Space in the UK

Re-released to coincide with the film by Mark ‘Arlington Road’ Pellington starring the permanently angst-ridden Richard Gere, The Mothman Prophecies comes wearing its film tie-in badge with pride. The author even manages a condescending afterword especially for this edition. The film is surprisingly decent and unexpected (as was Pellington’s previous film – obviously a man who needs to sort out the person who cuts his trailers), managing to maintain a sense of anxiety and dread – all the more compelling because the events are “Based Upon A True Story”, in this case Keel’s 1975 book. By depicting contemporary events but referring to occurrences in (mainly) the 1960’s, the film carefully introduces a layer of license with the work, distancing it from the source text. Pellington approaches the supernatural (for want of a better term) with a lighter touch than the bombastic and self-obsessed outpourings of Mr Keel. You will find precious little in the way of flying saucers, cattle mutilation and ‘ultrasonic zones of fear’ that make up the majority of the book. It’s as though the sheer number of mystery events coupled with occasional refutations constitutes a bona fide argument. In normal book-vs-film debates, aficionados usually insist that the book is the better option. What is remarkable here is how someone could make such a reasonable film, with a coherent script, identifiable characters and a genuine sense of community out of such a rambling tome. Keel’s dour descriptions, his total disregard for temporal causality and dull earnestness would be enough for most people, but he tries to treat his subject as though it’s a real page turning novel, something that just doesn’t work. Long asides and endless lists of boring people being visited by boring entities in boring places bludgeon any sense of will to live from the reader. The potential for a good read is in there somewhere but Keel does his damndest to ensure you don’t find it. Also, for those curious to see the film, he gives the climax away in a throwaway paragraph in the first chapter. Avoid.