My friend, Ryan Parker, to whom I defer to all things pop culture, wrote this about Jeffrey J. Kripal’s book, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal:
Now I’ve never taken psychedelic drugs of any kind, but I would imagine that being on them is just a heightened sense of what it’s like to read Kripal’s book. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something as informative and challenging as this.
I agree. Kripal’s book is no walk in the park. It is dense, confusing, and, if you can stick with it, rewarding.
First of all, it’s a beautiful book. This is a book to buy, not a book for your Kindle.
Secondly, it’s a book that requires a commitment. If you’re not one who trucks in the lingo of comics and such, then you’ll have to be patient. You’ll pick up on the lingo as the book progresses.
And thirdly, there’s lots here to agree with and not agree with. Unlike many academic books, Kripal doesn’t couch his claims in a million qualifications. He says what he means and believes, and you can definitely argue with his theses.
That being said, here are my two major take-away from the book:
1) For millennia, human beings looked to the Earth for the genesis of our species. In ancient Greece and Rome, it was atop Mt. Olympus, but in many other cultures it was down and in. The Lakota people of South Dakota, with whom I’ve lived, considered our species to have emerged from Wind Cave in the Black Hills. But then, along came science, showing that the wind that rushes out of that cave is not a demiurge, but is a change in atmospheric pressure.
Similarly, down went ideas like Hades, the lost city of Atlantis, and, let’s be honest, the Garden of Eden.
When these places of mystery became less mysterious, we started looking up and out for our mystery. And along came UFOs, superheros from other planets, and dreams of traveling at “warp speed.”
2) The late 19th century was an amazingly rich time for the human imagination. There were men trying to burrow to the center of the earth in search of a lost civilization, the very first UFO sightings, and all sorts of encounters with the paranormal that were unheard of in previous generations. In the end, the advent of modern science did not squelch humanity’s interest in the supernatural, the paranormal, and the occult, but only channeled it in new directions.
While I’m no geek, I do like me some Twilight Zone, and I’m a huge fan of science fiction. If you are, too, and you’re looking to understand where all this came from in the last century-and-a-half, take some time and invest in Kripal’s book.