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Hairr, John. Monsters of North Carolina: Mysterious Creatures of the Tar Heel State. Stackpole Books, 2013.
The Gallinipper (Lillington, NC writer and popular historian John Hairr confidently tells us in Monsters of North Carolina) does not really exist. Neither does the Ro-tay-yo of Tuscarora legend nor the U’la’gu’ of Cherokee myth (and cringeworthy Saturday night Syfy flicks). Mosquitoes and yellow jackets don’t really get all that big, and aren’t really all that dangerous.
Monsters of North Carolina is part of a series (by different authors) that covers monster stories from different states. This is more of a cryptozoological study of North Carolina than one that tells ghost stories. There are some spirits in there, as well as folk tales about Bigfoot and ridiculously large and mythical creatures, but it’s mostly about how weird the wildlife can get here in NC. And it can get pretty weird. So, it’s somewhat misleading in that respect. The “monsters” in this book are considerably more solid than most of the rest of the entries this month.
On the plus side, Hairr gives lots of facts and figures, researches the background of these tall tales, and even cites his sources. So, there’s that and that’s not small in the telling of popular campfire tales, where you often can’t get a confirmed date for events in the story, even down to the right century.
Some of the chapters are more tedious than others. Hairr gives lots of examples, but they aren’t always in a coherent order and his storytelling voice can get dry. It took me a good, long while to work through the first chapter on Bigfoot, largely because I don’t really care about Bigfoot. The chapter on insects was also dull. The Gallinipper should be a funny and rousing tale, but for some reason (maybe Hairr’s skepticism), it didn’t catch fire.
A lot better are the chapters on cougars, escaped zoo and circus animals, and snakes, which make rural North Carolina nights sound perilous indeed! You’re probably thinking of exotic snakes like boas and anacondas. But they can’t survive long this far north (not yet, anyway). Nope, we are mostly talking about rattlesnakes. Really, really, really big rattlesnakes.
Also, lake monsters. And I don’t just mean the killer fish.
I think my favorite chapter was the one on coastal sea monsters. With the Gulf Stream and the Continental Shelf right off the Outer Banks, leading to unexplored deeps, a whole lot of weird goes swimming past our shores. My biggest problem with it was that it was the last one and it was too short. Hairr does some fine speculation about possible species, even for the stranger tales.
I also appreciated the long and detailed bibliography he provides at the end. It makes my research so much easier. Wish more writers did that (side-eyeing you, Nancy Roberts).
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