September 06, 2008

Daniel Defoe and the Loch Ness Monster

I've always followed the Loch Ness Monster story avidly. Therefore, I finally watched The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep this weekend:When a lonely young boy named Angus discovers a large, mysterious egg along the shores of Loch Ness, no one is prepared for what lies within. He soon discovers that the strange, mischievous hatchling inside is none other than The Water Horse, the loch's most mysterious and fabled creature! But with the Water Horse growing ten times its size every day, Angus finds it increasingly difficult to keep his new friend a secret.It's a Disneyfied version of the legend in which the baby creature runs through the house knocking things over and the boy rides on the adult creature's back. In other words, Water Horse is about like any funny-animal movie featuring a dog, pig, or more exotic animal.

A brief critique

Even as a work of fiction, The Water Horse gets several things terribly wrong:

  • Several times the creature doubles or triples in length literally overnight.

  • Loch Ness is shown as crystal-clear when actually it's opaque with peat particles.

  • People survive several swims in the loch as if the water is temperate. Actually, it's icy cold year-round and would kill unprotected swimmers in minutes.

  • Loch Ness is shown as being just over a small rise from the ocean. Actually, it's many miles from the ocean.

  • The presense of British soldiers firing giant cannons into the loch is a complete fraud. Moreover, the loch is so huge that they'd never get close to hitting the creature.

  • But the movie does get a few things right:

  • The creature is an amalgam of all the "best guesses" of its appearance. It's anatomically plausible.

  • The creature is supposedly the only one of its species, which would explain the lack of bodies or bones found in the loch.

  • A photographer places a fake "monster" in the loch to create the famous Wilson photograph. This is about how Wilson created his fake photo also.

  • The Water Horse has some nice scenery and CGI effects. (Given how overcast Loch Ness usually is, I presume the scenery is also a CGI effect.) But it's mediocre compared to such classics as Lassie, Babe, or The Black Stallion. Rob's rating: a generous 7.0 of 10.

    Why it's relevant

    I bring up the movie here because of an interesting coincidence. In Nessie lore, the Glasgow Evening News in 1896 claimed there were centuries of sightings. Some of the sightings were allegedly mentioned in Daniel Defoe's three-volume A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-1726).

    I haven't seen that book, but Ronald Binns, author of The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, has. Binns says Defoe traveled the length of Loch Ness but didn't report any sightings or rumors of sightings. The Glasgow Evening News was wrong.

    But while searching for a name for his creature, the boy in The Water Horse spots a copy of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe in his shed. He decides to name the creature Crusoe--I guess because it's lost and alone like the title character.

    So Defoe was a seeker of knowledge about Great Britain. He also wrote about Crusoe's adventures with Indians and other non-Western people. Defoe wasn't a source for the Loch Ness legend, but was a source for the savage Indian stereotype.

    As a child, I loved Robinson Crusoe and the Loch Ness well as ancient civilizations, UFOs, and other mysteries. Now I'm following in Defoe's footsteps, sort of. Seeking knowledge...writing about Indians and other non-Western people...and dispelling Defoe's Native stereotypes. That's a whole conflux of coincidences.

    P.S. I used to think the evidence was pretty good that there was something to the Loch Ness mystery. But Binn makes a persuasive case to the contrary, alas. Most of the sightings and photographs are mistakes or phonies, he believes.

    1 comment:

    writerfella said...

    Writerfella here --
    STILL celebratin', but --
    Daniel Defoe has yet another distinction: he wrote one of the earliest 'science fiction' novels, THE PLAGUE YEAR, and actually created an archetype for later disaster/doomsday/catastrophe works that followed. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS does come to mind. The man highly was advanced for his era, a genuine futurist and visionary...
    All Best
    Russ Bates