I love folklore, so naturally, I also love cryptids, since they're basically the scary story versions of modern folklore. Which is precisely what I enjoyed about The United States of Cryptids, a new book from author JW Ocker. Ocker is an experienced travel writer, with books like A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (where he moved his family to Salem, MA for the spooky season), as well as an established fiction writer with scary novels like Twelve Nights at Rotter House — and he finds a delightful way to marry these interests with The United States of Cryptids.
Here's the official blurb:
Welcome to the United States of Cryptids, where mysterious monsters lurk in the dark forests, deep lakes, and sticky swamps of all fifty states. From the infamous Jersey Devil to the obscure Snallygaster, travel writer and chronicler of the strange J. W. Ocker not only uncovers the bizarre stories of these creatures but investigates the ways in which communities have embraced and celebrated their local cryptids. Readers will learn about:
The Mothman of West Virginia, a hybrid monster blamed for a deadly bridge collapse in 1967;
The Batsquatch of Washington, a winged bigfoot that is said to have emerged from the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980;
The Lizard Man of South Carolina, a reptilian mutant that attacked a teenager in the summer of 1988;
The Pope Lick Monster of Kentucky, a goat-man that lures people to their deaths on a train trestle bridge in Louisville;
The Nain Rouge of Detroit, a fierce red goblin that has been spotted before every major city disaster;
and many more!
Whether you believe in bigfoot or not, this fully illustrated compendium is a fun, frightening, fascinating tour through American folklore and history, exploring not just the stories we tell about monsters but also what stories of monsters say about us.
If that left you thinking something along the lines of, "So isn't this essentially a sourcebook?" you'd be mostly correct. The United States of Cryptids is, largely, a book comprised of short (3-4 page) segments about cryptids from across the country. That alone would be fun, if a little redundant. What Ocker cleverly does, however, is turn the book into a road trip. Rather than having some anonymous, authoritative voice, Ocker presents these entries as himself, telling the story of each of these cryptids as he learned them himself. The book follows a loose geographic structure, breaking the nation down into regions, as Ocker relates the things he learned upon visiting the supposed home of each featured cryptid. The narrative "plot," as it were, isn't overwhelming; the first person narrator doesn't come to any grand epiphanies or share their personal struggles. But it still presents a thru-line that helps carry the story along. Ocker is neither confirming nor debunking the existence of any of these cryptids — he's just telling you what he knows about them, and how he came to know that, leaving the reader to make their own decisions about the veracity of the creepy creature tales. And isn't that precisely what we want from cryptids anyway?
Also, the book design, including the illustrations and interludes, is just really delightful.
The United States of Cryptids: A Tour of American Myths and Monsters [JW Ocker / Quirk Books]