Lib Hum 3190 002
November 30, 2018
Abduction Narratives and Beings from the “Otherworld”
The alien abduction narrative has found influence in mid twentieth century cinema and pulp but established its own sequence of events— consistent across hundreds of reports—so consistent that those reports built the foundation of what would become the tropes of alien abduction storytelling in popular media from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The sheer frequency and uniformity of the reports begs the question: Is this phenomenon really just any other urban legend, or do they possibly embody some inherent, human concern? The stories may be stylized according to contemporary surroundings but upon closer study speak to timeless anxieties and desires. The fear of being taken and the desire to see new worlds is not a trend that grew out of a cultural void but one that took root in an earlier tradition of storytelling. From studying early medieval literature about faeries—and how it developed into something so different that the fae as they once operated nearly faded from the view of the popular—one can find a continued evolution, or an outright re-emergence of the fae through stories of close encounters with aliens. Upon close inspection of shared story-telling characteristics it will become clear that alien and fairy abduction narratives lie on a continuum of curiosity about the beyond and the non-human and that at the heart of the matter is cultural and personal dissatisfaction.
In Thomas E. Bullard’s essay, “UFO Abduction Reports: The Supernatural Kidnap Narrative Returns in Technological Guise” from 1989 on the alien abduction as a folkloric phenomenon, he outlines the sequence of events reported in many or all reports of alien abductions as: “Capture”, “Examination”, “Conference”, “Tour”, “Otherworldly Journey”, “Theophany”, “Return”, and lastly “Aftermath” (Bullard 153). Essentially, capture involves a person in the middle of an ordinary activity, out of nowhere being seized by a group of aliens and taken onto a UFO (unidentified flying object). Examination generally involves a mental and physical study and can involve collecting biological samples, inserting brain chips and in many reports a preoccupation with reproductive organs. The conference is a conversation that is somehow had with the beings, some reports say telepathically, and especially with the leader who, unlike the others that generally seem unwelcoming and frightful, seems to many abductees, to have a kind nature and genuine care for the abductee. The tour is then given of the spacecraft and the abductee is transported to a far off world, which they typically report as a wondrous and bountiful place or according to other reports, as an apocalyptic wasteland, or in the third type of report: as a wasteland on the surface but a preserved civilization underground. Theophany only occurs in some cases and is said to be “an encounter with a divine being” (153). The abductee is then returned to earth; the beings in some cases leave guidance about how the abductee ought to conduct the remainder of his or her life. The abductee is then returned to ordinary reality, where they were captured or the abductee’s home or bed, and in some cases requiring the restoration of full consciousness and removal of memory of the event (in the cases where the experience is rediscovered by hypnosis).
The “Capture” and “Return” events are often reported to cause a kind of time lapse where the time of the entire abduction seems to be entirely lost to memory, or if retained in memory is nonetheless irreconcilable with ordinary time, as the abductee often reports having been returned to not only the same place, but the same time as capture. A similar phenomenon takes place in a much older narrative tradition, that is, the Irish tales of the Aos Sí, the people of the Sidhe (the burial mounds discovered in Ireland by the Celtic peoples, belonging to an unknown group of ancient peoples). In many Irish tales of the fae a mortal person spends a short time on a mysterious isle and upon returning to the ordinary world finds that hundreds of years have passed and all the people he or she once knew are long gone, or in the case of one tale, The Voyage of Bran: “The man leaps from them out of the coracle. As soon as he touched the earth of Ireland, forthwith he was a heap of ashes, as though he had been in the earth for many hundred years” (p.32, l.65) so much time has passed that upon return his own mortality has caught up with him. Bullard describes this time-lapse narrative device as “distortion of the temporal continuum” (Bullard 160). At first glance the moral seems fairly simple: beware the trickery and lure of what lies beyond or you will miss what you already have. Looking at the time-lapse device according to both traditions, it is hard to miss the lure—even to the writers and moralists— of the ability to distort time, which is in every sense of the term a magical power and could grant some beings an escape from the earthly shackles to the linear temporal continuum. Might the time-lapse device reveal not just a fear but a wonder and even desire to be free from the limits of time, and consequently, mortality? From one perspective, many of those old Irish heroes loose family and friends but gain a Godlike status.
The escapist impulse is an age-old desire, extending from the earliest tales of the otherworld to the present day alien abduction narrative. This impulse is acted on in the early Irish example, The Adventures of Connla The Fair, about a young man named Connla who is enamoured of a fae woman and is gifted a magical apple that is never finished and becomes the only thing he can stand to eat. By the end of the tale he chooses to abandon his father and brother: “Then Connla gave a leap into the woman’s crystal boat. The people saw him going away. Hardly could their eyes follow Connla and the maiden as they fared forth over the sea” (p.490). In this example instead of sensationalizing a mysterious land, the Sidhe, here we find a sensationalizing of the sea—in Irish myth that would be westward into the Atlantic—where it was believed magical isles of the fae lied. With the contemporary public’s notion that there is nowhere on Earth remaining to discover, despite the great majority of the deep ocean remaining unexplored, curiosity about what lies beyond has turned to literal “other-worlds” in the infinite space left to explore beyond this planet.
The tours that take place in alien abduction narratives are actually akin to the settings and vehicular transport associated with both land and sea theories regarding the fae. The theory that the fae traveled between this world and the other world through the burial mounds has a similar tunnel or portal structure that is described by some abductees reporting on the subterranean alien worlds or even the experience of being transported (often by levitation in a kind of light beam) onto the UFO, to a utopian or dystopian planet and back to the ordinary world. Looking back to Connla’s crystal boat, one cannot miss the resemblance between the crystal boat and the metallic, radiant sheen of the UFO. Such a connection is made by the very literal interpreter, Erich Von Däniken in his book “The Chariots of the Gods” regarding some biblical revelations as possibly an appearance of ancient astronauts. In these various connections between the ultra-terrestrial, the fae and the godly, and the extra-terrestrial the alien, there is a shared desire to intimately interact with relatable beings that possess magical abilities by virtue of existing outside of the limited reality humans find themselves in.
The shift towards more benevolent characterizing of otherworldly beings from the cautionary early Irish tales began when writers such as Marie De France reformulated older lays with romanticism that suited the French court. Marie De France’s work primarily addresses a romantic dissatisfaction in the feudal system. Many people found themselves in strategic marriages, ones motivated by economical, political or reproductive interests. In her tales of “Yonec” and “Lanval” the protagonists, who are lonesome people far from their respective homes, are swept off their feet and carried from their present social and literal confinement to a better place. In the story of Yonec, this leads to deaths of both of them. The message from the writer is that love in its purest form is worth the ultimate price and this is made very clear through the severe lonesomeness of her protagonists and understandable coming from one as herself, an Anglo-Norman French woman far from home serving in King Henry II’s court. Countless marriages of that age were rocky like that of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and many of the issues with these marriages can likely be traced back to assumptions about appropriate behaviour inherent to courtly love. It seems that Marie de France puts the contemporary state of romance on trial by illustrating in “Yonec” the abuse of an ogre-husband: “I am a prisoner in this tower and death alone will free me. What is this jealous old man afraid of, to keep me so securely imprisoned? He is extremely stupid and foolish, always fearing that he will be betrayed” (64), and on the other hand the lying and unfaithfulness of Guinevere in “Lanval”. In “Lanval” however Guinevere’s courting of Lanval is viewed not as a rescue but as an evil temptation. No matter how lovely or beautiful Guinevere is, she is no match for the faerie. The lover that comes to the rescue must be from the otherworld, for Lanval, like our lady in “Yonec” is failed by the courtly system and longs for a love so pure that it cannot be of this earth. The Faerieland of Marie de France’s imagination is the literal alternate reality that is so longed for by the hopeless lovers of the court. The idyllic landscape, candelabras in the hundreds, golden-glistening sheen and persons of perfect form embody the materialistic desires that represent and accompany the desires of romance, escapism and love—untainted by the realities of worldly existence— in its “truest” form. To any lonesome person in a strange land it is made brutally clear how desirable some tender love and care can be.
This romanticism is embodied across times in the beautification or superiority of non-terrestrial beings. These beings undergo a kind of deification not only in the powers they possess, but simply in the visual presence they have. In the earliest tales the beauty of the fae is something to beware, as it lures the protagonists away from the obligations of ordinary life. The French romanticism of the fae, however, created a kind of idol, a being that one very well may want to become. This desire to evolve into a higher status of being is evermore fervent in the alien abduction narrative. Thomas Bullard notes the frequent envisioning of the aliens as beings that evolved past Homo sapiens into ones with massive heads with superior mental abilities. He also notes some reports as having a kind of “Venusian” portrayal of the aliens. A kind of radiance, physical symmetry and all around superiority is unmistakably akin to the descriptions of the fae found in Marie
de France’s tales. In “Lanval” for example, the Venusian is epitomized in the central faerie character:
Her body was comely, her hips low, her neck whiter than snow on a branch; her eyes were bright and her face white, her mouth fair and her nose well-placed; her eyebrows were brown and her brow fair, and her hair curly and rather blond. A golden thread does not shine as brightly as the rays reflected in the light from her hair (80).
And even the maids to the central faerie character are described as superhumanly attractive: “When they arrived, they dismounted before the king and many praised them highly for their bodies, faces, and complexions. They were both more worthy than the queen had ever been” (80). The queen would have been revered by all as the most beautiful woman in all the land, so for any other maiden to be more beautiful than her there is a suggestion that they must be non-human. This is an attempt to communicate what a being looks like that any human could only hope to resemble. The two portrayals of aliens mentioned above serve as expressions of what the people of today desire to become, physically and intellectually pristine. This longing for suprematism can be found in what Bullard describes as “reproductive parasitism” (Bullard 161), where the expressed motivation behind the abductions is fostering a hybrid, superior being between the genetics of humans and aliens. This trend in alien abduction narratives can also be found in the legends of the fae, such as The Voyage of Bran, where one faerie is prophesizing the birth of his child, destined to be a legendary hero, through a mortal woman: “This shape, he on whom thou lookest/ Will come to thy parts;/ ‘Tis mine to journey to her house, / To the woman in Line-mag./ For it is Moninnan, the son of Ler, / From the chariot in the shape of a man, / Of his progeny will be a very short while/ A fair man in a body of white clay” (24). Through very literal and bodily means, both narrative traditions express a desire to see the human race evolve into a supreme, godlike form, unbounded by earthly, bodily existence.
Looking specifically at the infamous abduction case of Betty and Barney Hill— the case that some suggest inspired a chain reaction of abduction reports— one could argue that here too, a cultural dissatisfaction and longing inspired a new kind of divine intervention. One recent online article posed the thought regarding the Betty and Barney Hill case that “Aliens may have been easier to grapple with than the racism of 1960s America” (Purtill). The two were an interracial couple during the civil rights movement when discussions on racial equality were only just starting to reach full throttle. When both individuals were likely being estranged by their own community and their whole society, one can understand — as Betty is known to have already been a firm believer in extraterrestrial intelligence before the abduction report— why they may have looked up to the stars for acceptance and possibly even salvation. Many an abductee—especially those that have a theophany— after the experience discover personal or general truths and attain a new perspective on his or her role in this world and in this life, by being given the context of lying within a universe with other worlds and other beings.
The earlier, Irish variety of Faerie lore uses the non-human as a literary tool to help its audience understand its own humanity, while warning against wandering to far from the earthly and the familiar. When the fae are given the French treatment all heeding is replaced by chivalric, romantic, and reckless abandon. In this later variety, the real world is outright disdained and rescue is found in that which used to be considered the danger, the other—the fae. The portrayals of the fae continued in the escapist fashion through later English works such as Edmund Spenser’s “Faerie Queene,” the German folkloric collection of the Brothers Grimm, right through to J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.” The reckoning and the awe-inspiring arrivals of beings from other realms became somewhat lost in what— in the popular conscious— was simply child’s play, or fittingly: “fairy tales.” The allegorical power of the otherworldly arrival needed to return in a form that was suitable to the modern climate. The otherworldly being plays a crucial role in whichever era it operates in, in that it helps the public orient itself within a vaster universe. This orientation cannot be effective if it is not calibrated in respect to the concerns of that public. That which troubles the public inspires the appearance taken by the theoretical solution. The aliens, like the fae, address the anxieties and fulfill the wishes of the society they were born out of.
Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Hodder & Stoughton, 1906.
Bullard, Thomas E. “UFO Abduction Reports: The Supernatural Kidnap Narrative Returns in Technological Guise.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 102, no. 404, 1989, pp. 147–170. JSTOR, JSTOR,
Cross, Tom Peete. and Slover, Clark Harris. eds. “The Adventures of Connla the Fair.” Ancient Irish Tales. 1935; rprt. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996.
De France, Marie. “Lanval” and “Yonec,” from The Lais of Marie de France. Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Bushby, trans. New York: Penguin, 1986.
Meyer, Kuno. ed. and trans. “The Voyage of Bran son of Febal.” The Voyage of Bran son of Febal to the Land of the Living. 1895; rprt. New York: AMS, 1972.
Purtill, Corrine. "A Stressed, Sleep-deprived Couple Accidentally Invented the Modern Alien Abduction Phenomenon." Quartz, 2 July 2017, qz.com/1019806/a-stressed-sleep-deprived-couple-accidentally-invented-the-modern-alien-abduction-phenomenon/.
Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. 1590.
Von Däniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods. Berkley Publishing Group, 1980.