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A beastly imagination: This month's Siren's Call

April 22, 2011 |  4:45 pm


The reality behind the chupacabra that attacked livestock in two Puerto Rican towns in 1995 was a far cry from what eyewitnesses thought they saw: a beast with an oblong skull (think of a cross between a Mayan god and a Ridley Scott space alien).

 But the human imagination is a powerful thing, and as two books in this month’s Siren’s Call column on myth and lore suggest -- Benjamin Radford's “Tracking the Chupacabra” and Jay M. Smith's “Monsters of the Gévaudan” -- a monster legend can grow out of the most ordinary, everyday things.

How does a story take a coyote or a wolf and transform it into a far more terrifying creature? The imagination has no problem in bridging the gap. Sometimes that mechanism is subconscious or unintended; at other times, as both books argue, it is hardly an accident. Instead, there’s a strong desire by eyewitnesses and those involved to deliver a better story if the reality doesn’t seem impressive enough. In the case of the French villagers in the Gévaudan book, they were a bit let down when their beast turned out to be just a wolf. They felt a call to duty to give the public something more sensational. Really, a large, hungry wolf on the prowl’s not sensational enough for you?

 -- Nick Owchar

Photo: Model of a chupacabra based on alleged eyewitness accounts in two Puerto Rican towns. Credit: Benjamin Radford