"There was no mistake. The leathery wings, the little horns, the barbed tail - all were there. The most terrible of all legends had come to life, out of the unknown past. Yet now it stood smiling, in ebon majesty, with the sunlight gleaming upon its tremendous body, and with a human child resting trustfully on either arm."
- Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End, 1953
The Mothman Prophecies is a 1975 book by John Keel. The book relates Keel's accounts of his investigation into the reported sightings of a large, winged creature called Mothman in the vicinity of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, during 1966 and 1967. It combines these accounts with some of his theories about UFOs and various phenomena. He ultimately connects the strange sightings as possibly an omen or premonition to the collapse of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River on December 15th 1967. Thus putting the "Prophecies" in "The Mothman Prophecies".
John Keel's unsettling account of what he encountered in Point Pleasant has long been regarded as a classic in the literature of the unexplained. The book is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into more than thirteen languages. It also loosely inspired the 2002 film of the same name.
The Book's Description:
The back of the book, on later copies, lists the following description:
"West Virginia, 1966. For thirteen months the town of Point Pleasant is gripped by a real-life nightmare culminating in a tragedy that makes headlines around the world. Strange occurrences and sightings, including a bizarre winged apparition that becomes known as the Mothman, trouble this ordinary American community. Mysterious lights are seen moving across the sky. Domestic animals are found slaughtered and mutilated. And journalist John Keel, arriving to investigate the freakish events, soon finds himself an integral part of an eerie and unfathomable mystery."
The Mothman Prophecies was dedicated “To Mary Hyre and the People of West Virginia.” An earlier, longer draft from back when the working title was still The Year of the Garuda, goes as follows:
On a starlit hilltop in West Virginia Mary Hyre asked: “What does all this mean? What should I write about it?” “It’s too soon to write about it,” I replied. “Nobody would believe you anyway.” “Well, maybe someday we’ll know. And maybe someday somebody will be ready to believe it.” For Mary Hyre, who asked many of the questions in this book but left us before we had the answers.
There are 19 chapters in The Mothman Prophecies with an afterword chapter included in later editions of the book.
1. Beelzebub Visits West Virginia
"Fingers of lightning tore holes in the black skies as an angry cloudburst drenched the surrealistic landscape." That sentence is the first line of The Mothman Prophecies. The opening chapter introduces the reader to the town of Point Pleasant as John Keel journeys into it. Keel comments on the locals perception of him as a stranger and this is what the chapter's title refers to. It has many foreshadowing elements.
2. The Creep Who Came in from the Cold
3. The Flutter of Black Wings
This chapter details large bird creature sightings around the world.
4. Take the Train
Chapter four delves into the topic of strange lights in the sky. It not only covers sightings of unidentified flying object but also gives commentary on the social and cultural phenomenon of UFO. John Keel also introduces the reader to his concept of "Ultraterrestrials" and asserts that "Belief is the enemy".
The title of this chapter is derived from a remark made by an attendee to a scientific convention held in 1966. He said "So many airline pilots report seeing them [UFO], that's why I take the train".
5. The Cold Who Came Down in the Rain
This chapter is where Keel covers the most Mothman sightings. It begins with introducing the reader to The TNT Area then tells the story of many Mothman sightings. Keel says "Altogether, more than one hundred adults would see this winged impossibility in 1966-67." Chapter six tells of the following sightings:
- Scarberry and Mallette's Mothman Sighting
- Marcella Bennett's Mothman sighting
- Paul Yoder and Benjamin Enochs' Mothman Sighting
- Brenda Jones' Mothman Sighting
- Elderly Businessman's Mothman Sighting
- A November 24th 1966 Mothman sighting
- Tom Ury's Mothman sighting
- Marvin Shock's sighting
- Ruth Foster's Mothman sighting
- Shelia Cain's Mothman Sighting
7. The Night of the Bleeding Ear
In chapter seven, John Keel details an experience he and a group of Mothman witnesses had near the old abandoned North power plant at the TNT area. Connie carpenter saw red eyes, then the rest of the group saw a figure while Keel was inside the building and Connie's ear began bleeding after she heard a loud metallic sound.
The chapter's title seems to be based on the 1968 film "Night of The Living Dead". This is also the chapter in which Keel ponders about strange "zones of fear" as he encounters one in the TNT area.
8. Procession of the Damned
"It was open season on the human race and so the ancient procession of the damned marched once more". This chapter details Mabel McDaniel's Mothman sighting and visits from Men In Black, including Connie Carpenter's MIB encounter.
9. "Wake Up Down There!"
Chapter nine covers the subject of anomalous phone calls. The chapter title is a quotation attributed to a strange voice reportedly heard interrupting people's phone calls. This chapter also covers more UFO sightings such as the bloodmobile that was said to be chased.
10. Purple Lights and April Foolishness
In this chapter, Keel tells of his personal experiences witnessing strange lights in the sky while on a West Virginia hilltop with Mary Hyre in April of 1967.
11. If This is Wednesday, It Must Be a Venusian
John Keel continues to share his stories of witnessing odd things in the sky while on a hilltop and he then tells of a pattern he had noticed emerging in UFO reports happening most often on a Wednesday. He called this The Wednesday Phenomenon and that is what the chapter title refers to.
12. Games Nonpeople Play
Chapter twelve delves back into Indrid Cold, UFOs, strange calls and more weird things people claim to see. The focus of this chapter, as shown by the chapter title, is on the beings that people claim to encounter and the overall affect these experiences seem to have on people.
13. Phantom Photographers
This chapter tells of strange Men In Black types that took photos and then seemed to disappear without a trace.
14. Sideways in Time
Keel continues to comment on Woodrow Derenberger's story along with other UFO sightings. He mentions Woodrow's ideas about distortion of time.
15. Misery on the Mount
Chapter fifteen is about an area in New York where several UFO sightings are said to have occurred.
16. Paranoiacs Are Made, Not Born
This chapter focuses on the toll that studying strange phenomenon takes on the investigator. It also continues the story of the odd occurrences and sightings.
17. "Even the Bedouins Hate Their Telephone Company"
Chapter seventeen delves back into the subject of strange phone calls.
18. "Something Awful Is Going to Happen..."
John Keel details Virginia Thomas's Mothman Sighting as well as her nightmares. Mary Hyre was also having bad dreams and the chapter title refers to a direct quote from her. The chapter ends as John Keel hears the announcement on television that The Silver Bridge has collapsed.
19. "Where the Birds Gather..."
Chapter nineteen deals with the aftermath of The Silver Bridge Collapse and Keel's time in Point Pleasant. The book winds down to a close, ending with the final words "If there is a universal mind, must it be sane?"
An afterword chapter was included in later editions of The Mothman Prophecies. There are different afterwords depending on the version of the book.
The 1991 reprint included a seven page afterword written on July 10th 1991. The afterword gave updates on some of the figures and themes presented throughout the book. He said "I learned a great deal in Point Pleasant, West Virginia about myself and about the psychic environment in which I live. I have tried to pass some of this along to readers like you. I wish there were more of you."
The 2002 reprint that coincided with the film included a four page afterword. The afterword was written in 2001 and had some of Keel's thoughts on the upcoming film. He said "Now it is Hollywood's turn and they have managed to squeeze the basic truths into their film. Not an easy task. But the truth is always the most difficult thing to sell."
Sources: The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel (1975) http://www.johnkeel.com/?p=764 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mothman_Prophecies