The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. By Ronald Binns. Zoilus Press, London, UK, 2017. ISBN 9781999735906. 222 pp. Paperback, £12.
With his new book, The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded, Ronald Binns takes another bow as the man who cast the net and drew up from the depths the ultimate truth about the fabled creature, Nessie.
Binns is himself a distinctive creature: He began as a believer—once a member of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau—but evolved into the author of what I have called the definitive, skeptical book on the subject.
In that book, The Loch Ness Mystery Solved (1983), Binns did what no one had troubled to do in the previous half-century of monster history: He pored over the 1933 files of the Inverness Courier and illuminated the earliest sightings of that monster-inaugurating year. His search revealed not only “that there had always been a local skeptic counter narrative” but also that there had been no sightings for the previous half century. Moreover, one Alex Campbell had been responsible for virtually inventing the monster—the first to publicize it, continuously hype it, and, eventually, claim to have been an eyewitness on no fewer than eighteen occasions (Binns 2017, pp. 10–11, 36–37). But Binns was only getting started.
He does not consider Reloaded a sequel to Solved. Emphasizing that his “view of the monster has not changed since 1983” (p. vi), he has produced neither a rewrite nor a sequel. Instead, he has absorbed the new information that has come to light—for example, that the famous 1934 image of Nessie known as “the surgeon’s photograph” was a hoax using a small model—and so has updated and added to the classic cases.
Of course he can say “I told you so” in the 1934 case since he had anticipated the solution—even having produced his own fake photo using a model of about the same size. “This turns out to have been an amazingly percipient piece of guesswork,” writes Binns (66), but I think of it as real detective work by one with an excellent eye and judgment.
In Reloaded, Binns analyzes at length—and deconstructs—the classic Nessie sightings. In doing so, he frequently refers to what Rupert T. Gould (in his The Loch Ness Monster and Others, 1976, 112–113) called “expectant attention”—that is, the tendency of people to be misled by their own expectations. Binns insists (repeating it nearly verbatim later), that “the sincerity of eye-witnesses is very rarely in doubt” (28, 136) and that they are unshakeable in their conviction as to what they have seen—however mistaken that may be. For instance, he also wisely calls attention to the issue of brevity, stating, “It’s questionable whether a momentary sighting really allows an objective assessment of size and shape” of something seen (126). Then there is “the problem of transmission: who is telling the story and how are they telling it?” (124–125). These are valuable observations from one who has investigated so many cases.
Left in Binns’s wake (so to speak) is “not one phenomenon but a wide variety, especially boats’ wakes, birds and otters” (13) as he had determined in 1983. In addition to a great variety of such phenomena there were also outright hoaxes—notably fauxtographic ones. That is not to say that the identification in every case is conclusive—far from it—but, invariably, competing hypotheses are all more credible than the notion of a large, hitherto unknown creature.
He not only looks at the individual sightings but at the entire Loch Ness phenomenon itself—which he regards not as a hoax (as some have done) but as a myth in the true sense of the term (202). With his 1983 book, he had realized how appropriate was the word Solved. Now he says (15):
The story has continued but the songs remain the same. At heart the Loch Ness monster is a sociological, not a zoological phenomenon. Others have reiterated and refined my case against the monster, but the reality was that after 1983 the search for a Loch Ness Monster was finished. Continuing the great Nessie hunt was an exercise in futility. There is no species of large unknown animal in the Loch but the possibility that there just might be continues to enthrall a small number for whom eye-witness evidence outweighs all other considerations.
What Lawrence David Kusche did for the Bermuda Triangle in 1975, Ronald Binns did for the Loch Ness monster in 1983: He solved the “mystery.” And with his thoroughgoing new book, The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded, it stands even more fully solved. It is a myth out of water, left flopping on a beach of the imagining, gulping air.