My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Below you will find an assortment of highlights from The Book of the Damned pulled from the clipping file of my Kindle. Convenient, that. You can find the same super-version of the book as the one I read for free on Amazon. I’m still not sure if it’s a best-of, Charles Fort’s collected works, or what… There seems to be at least some content which doesn’t match up with the text found on his four books as found separately.
Anyway, back to the quotes:
The data of the damned. I have gone into the outer darkness of scientific and philosophical transactions and proceedings, ultra-respectable, but covered with the dust of disregard. I have descended into journalism. I have come back with the quasi-souls of lost data. They will march.
The power that has said to all these things that they are damned, is Dogmatic Science.
All sciences begin with attempts to define. Nothing ever has been defined. Because there is nothing to define. Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. He was never able to tell what he meant by a “species.” It is not possible to define. Nothing has ever been finally found out. Because there is nothing final to find out. It’s like looking for a needle that no one ever lost in a haystack that never was—
The novel is a challenge to vulgarization: write something that looks new to you: someone will point out that the thrice-accursed Greeks said it long ago.
It may be that in the whole nineteenth century no event more important than this occurred. In La Nature, 1887, and in L’Année Scientifique, 1887, this occurrence is noted. It is mentioned in one of the summer numbers of Nature, 1887. Fassig lists a paper upon it in the Annuaire de Soc. Met., 1887. Not a word of discussion. Not a subsequent mention can I find. Our own expression: What matters it how we, the French Academy, or the Salvation Army may explain? A disk of worked stone fell from the sky, at Tarbes, France, June 20, 1887.
My notion of astronomic accuracy: Who could not be a prize marksman, if only his hits be recorded?
But what would a deep-sea fish learn even if a steel plate of a wrecked vessel above him should drop and bump him on the nose? Our submergence in a sea of conventionality of almost impenetrable density. Sometimes I’m a savage who has found something on the beach of his island. Sometimes I’m a deep-sea fish with a sore nose.
Charles Fort was a trailblazer. What we call today paranormal or occult, together with all the relevant scientific investigations, in a few words what we’d expect from Mulder and Scully, to a large extent we owe to him. Here’s a guy who lived in the ’20s and researched old copies of Scientific American, Nature and other such periodicals and magazines, looking for the damned, the unexplainable, the excluded. For what good is science, if it only chooses to include to its dogma what it can explain, sweeping under the carpet all that can be used to challenge its grand theories?
Giant, village-sized wheels submerged in the middle of the ocean; periodic rains of fish, frogs in various states of decay and of a gelatinous mass of unknown origin; falling stone discs, as in the quote above; meteors; lights in the sky moving in formation (reported in the 19th century); footprints of impossible creatures; giant hailstones; cannonballs entombed in solid rock, and that’s just a sample.
Reading about these mysterious exclusions was a delight. I love everything that challenges my way of seeing the world and allows me to contemplate alternative explanations for life, the universe and everything. To be fair, some of Fort’s favourite theories were down-right bizarre, such as his insistence on imagining a realm above our own from which all the falling creatures and materials originated – what our own surface world would be, conceptually, for the “deep-sea fish with the sore nose”, as in the last extract I quoted above. The existence of such a place sounds no less ridiculous now than it did in the 1920s, but I think Fort’s point was that his arbitrary explanations were just as good as the official ones offered by the scientific dogma of the time, which our present, widely-accepted, matter-of-fact world theories of today mirror. To be sure, a part – I don’t know how significant – of the excluded, would be possible to include today, but I’m sure that many of the phenomena Fort goes through in his Book of the Damned would be just as inexplicable today as they were in the centuries past.
There are two reasons this book isn’t getting five stars from me. The first one is that it’s twice as long as I think it should have been. I felt that Fort at certain points was simply repeating himself. It’s also possible he was just saying the same thing in a different, more difficult to understand way, and this is precisely the second reason this isn’t getting five stars. Fort’s language and style was very hit or miss. To give you an idea, the quotes I’ve included in this review are some of the easiest parts to understand from the whole book. Others love it. Myself, I can’t say I hate it, but I’m not sure it’s as successful a writing technique as Fort must have hoped for it to be.
The same hit-or-miss-ness is applicable to the book as a whole. I thought it was tremendously interesting and a significant publication that should be studied further and give inspiration to present-day Charles Forts, but I don’t believe the style is for everyone. Why don’t you find out for yourself if it’s right for you, though? It’s free!