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Tales from the crypt on WSU Libraries’ Paranormal Page

By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries

PULLMAN, Wash. – Even the aborigines of Australia’s Tanami Desert claim to have seen UFOs.

A researcher then with the University of Pretoria wrote of the Warlpiri people and their beliefs regarding close encounters in a 2007 article in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Eirik Saethre’s paper is one of the wonderful oddities to be found in Washington State University Libraries’ Paranormal Page (http://libguides.wsulibs.wsu.edu/content.php?pid=328983).

Jane-Scales-550
Jane Scales

Anyone with a yen for something to do other than egging houses or chaperoning costumed and sugar-amped kids door to door this Halloween can’t go wrong with a little trip through the virtual stacks – and imaginative musings – of electronic projects librarian Jane Scales. She started the Paranormal Page because the topic is of interest to students – both academically and as part of popular culture.

“It may seem strange that the paranormal would be considered part of academia, but it actually makes a lot of sense,” she said. “Professors sometimes use examples of false science, urban myths or superstition to help students understand the necessity for critical thinking. Anthropology, history and folklore are academic areas of study that sometimes consider the role of legends as well.”

The Paranormal Page is broad in scope and content, Scales said. Readers can find resources about vampires, zombies, UFOs and more, organized by books, film, television and websites.

“The page is a lot of fun and has been popular because there are a lot of summaries and descriptions,” she said. “Even if you don’t have something particular in mind, there’s no doubt you’ll find something interesting.”

UFOs in the outback

Anthropologist Saethre worked with the Warlpiri in Australia’s Northern Territory in the late 1990s, researching health, sickness and treatment in the remote community. As a side note, he learned that the indigenous people were familiar with and discussed their own sightings of UFOs, something of a local phenomenon in their region.

“Although the sightings were always brief and the inhabitants were never seen, Warlpiri people asserted that UFOs were spaceships piloted by extraterrestrial beings. The aliens were thought to search for and procure water from the desert,” Saethre wrote. “Furthermore, while UFOs were capable of abducting humans, aboriginal residents emphasized that these victims were exclusively non-aboriginal.”

Asked to explain why non-aboriginals were most likely to be snatched by space travelers, the Warlpiris told him that “the aliens were able to recognize aboriginal people as belonging in the area. (One interviewee) stated that yapa, a word that refers to both Warlpiri and other aboriginal people, were not abducted because, ‘They know us. This is our land.’”

Stop me before I kill!

A bloodier British invasion of sorts, Hammer Films spawned the rebirth of gothic horror in the 1950s-60s with classics like “The Quatermass Xperiment,” “The Curse of Frankenstein” and “Horror of Dracula.” They also helped to catapult British actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing into the international spotlight.

The Paranormal Page has a collection of Hammer Film shorts, which includes 1960’s “Stop Me Before I Kill!” The film starts with a car accident involving London racecar driver Alan Colby and his wife, Denise, just after their wedding.

The accident leaves Colby with a serious head injury – and the inexplicable urge to strangle his wife, which first emerges while the couple is celebrating their belated honeymoon in the south of France a year later.

While there, the Colbys meet French psychiatrist David Prade, who owns a nearby villa. Colby dislikes Prade immediately; but ever the gracious host, Prade invites the Colbys for dinner with other guests. (Favorite line in the film comes during this meal: “Give him a moment. A man is always embarrassed after anger,” says Baroness de la Vaillon to stop Denise from running after Colby when he punches Prade in the jaw.)

As Colby starts to unravel and returns to London with Denise, Prade also goes to London and works to treat Colby before he acts on his obsession.

Hysterical in both senses of the word, the main characters of “Stop Me Before I Kill!” are haunted by internal demons and laughable gender stereotypes. Prade’s psychiatric treatment of Colby, while supposedly cutting-edge for the time, is positively archaic today.

Without spoiling anything, never trust the psychiatrist who has owned 12 cats yet isn’t afraid to sacrifice one of them for his own twisted purpose.

Our vampires, ourselves

Nina Auerbach’s 1995 book, “Our Vampires, Ourselves,” examines vampires not as the bloodsuckers of our nightmares but the barometers of our times and politics.

Auerbach is the John Welsh Centennial Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. But from her introduction, it’s clear that she’s also a vampire champion, loving vampires from the time she was a teen in the 1950s watching 1930s horror movies with her best friend:

“Vampires were supposed to menace women, but to me at least, they promised protection against a destiny of girdles, spike heels and approval…” she wrote. “To the jaded eye, all vampires seem alike, but they are wonderful in their versatility. Some come to life in moonlight, others are killed by the sun; some pierce with their eyes, others with fangs; some are reactionary, others are rebels; but all are disturbingly close to the mortals they prey on.”

For her book, Auerbach tracked vampires in literature and film in the 19th and 20th centuries, covering the creations of writers from Lord Byron to Stephen King and Anne Rice, to show how the creatures of the night evolved along with the world’s culture and leadership.

One question remains, though. Since “Our Vampires, Ourselves” preceded the “Twilight” series, who knows what Auerbach would have made of Edward Cullen, or what his existence says about our 21st-century selves?

 

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