Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained: A Guide to the Mysterious, the Paranormal, and the Supernatural (review)
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 29, 2008
- pp. 77-78
- Additional Information
Reviews77 Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained: A Guide to the Mysterious, the Paranormal, and the Supernatural. 2007. Una McGovern, ed. Edinburgh : Chambers Harrap. Pp. vii + 760 t: 1he Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained (hereafter CDU) is one of those happy, corpulent books you keep ready on your shelf and pull down to use to make sense of oddities you are wondering about at the very moment. Who was Edward J. Ruppelt? The first head of Project Blue Book. What is gyromancy? Divination by walking in circles. CDU is clear, wideranging , user friendly, well-designed, and, simply, nice to hold in your (two) hand(s). I do hope the slight irony of CDUs title is not only my perception. Imagine a 700-page compendium of all we do not know for sure. What a book of knowledge! Hence unexplained is the operative word: we know something about these things — e.g., UFOs over the Hudson Valley — and so they have entered the realm of the possibly legitimate. But they have thus far escaped determinate and conclusive inquiry. (I hesitate to say stientific inquiry, given what we are dealing with here.) This is a book, really, of the not-yet-canonized and still-for-many-people-undismissed. The book of things that won't go away. The encyclopedia of the (un) debunked. What titles these would have been! CDU is organized alphabetically and so is a "dictionary" of sorts. It is better seen as an encyclopedia, since there are no antonyms or synonyms, no usage, not much, well . . . dictionary stuff. Not that there really could be, given the subject. Coverage is quite good, although it must have been hard for the compilers to draw the line on what went in and what did not, given the enormity of the unexplained. Settling on a mere 1 ,300 or so entries was surely a feat in itself . It has, as headwords, all the things you would expect: Bigfoot, RosweU, mind reading, Madame Blavatsky, magic (an extensive and well-done section) , Fountain of Youth, philosopher's stone, Golem, Halloween, men in black, Friday the 13th, Erich von Däniken, crop circles, etc. It also has many entries for beings and phenomena you had probably never known about: pig-faced ladies (an apparently common phenomenon "in several European countries," p. 531), skunk ape (or nape. North American Ape, a crytptid or bigfoot-like creature — they are everywhere !) , daione sidhe ("remains of the divine fairy race of Ireland," p. 155) , and Daniel Home (the last name ironically rhyming with that of great skeptic David Hume: the former was a real psychic in the 19th century, not as yet debunked). The surprises far outnumber the expectations in my case. There is clearly more unexplained than I thought, though I see that two of physics' Dictionaries:Journal ofthe Dictionary Society ofNorth America 29 (2008), 77—78. 78Reviews mysteries, dark matter and the Higgs Boson, are not entries, no doubt because this book focuses on the paranormal — a charge occasionally leveled at dark matter and the Higgs Boson! But plasma vortex is in there, as an explanation of crop circles. CDU has some very fine features. The range of entries is impressive: not just phenomena and odd beings, but also major personae in the mysterious , theories, and societies. Thus the Fox sisters (famous levitators), Dianetics, and the Theosophical Society are headwords. Each entry is followed by a short definition or summary of what the entry is and means: e.g., John Dee is summarized as "the greatest scientific and occult mind of the Elizabethan era" (p. 158). The articles themselves are extremely well written, clear and cogent. The editorial staff deserves high praise for this result. Internal cross-referencing is slim but efficient. There is useful and not overdone deployment of see and some article-final see abo, but not much, probably because there is not much intrinsic cohesion to the field to be captured. Illustrations, in color mosdy, are well placed and helpful. Their resolution is good, especially for the older reproductions. There is a remarkable psychic surgery illustration (p. 555) as well as a good picture of a Satanic baptism (p. 118). CDt/hasanice feature for in-depth...