I bought a job lot of Strand magazines a couple of years ago and have slowly been making my way through them, unearthing gems of fact, fiction and Forteana. I finally finished my persual this week, with copies from 1942 (the magazine started in 1891). In the February 1942 edition I was pleased to find a cryptozoological short story I’d never read before. It’s called ‘Incident On a Lake’ and is by John Collier, who is known for a number of classics of weird fiction, including the bizarre novel ‘His Monkey Wife’ in which a vicar marries a chimpanzee – a wonderful satire on class and race relations from the 1930s.
‘Incident On A Lake’ is an amusing story about a hen-pecked man who suddenly comes into some money in late middle age and decides to do what he’s always wanted – go travelling. His overbearing, stay-at-home wife isn’t happy with this plan but when she realises she can’t dissuade him, decides to accompany him and do her best to spoil everything so that he’ll eventually give up and buy the ‘little house in Miami’ she wants.
‘If a bird of paradise settled on a limb above her husband’s head, she was careful to let out a rasping yip and drive the interesting creature away before Mr Beasley had the chance to examine it. She told him the wrong hour for the start of the trip to the temples of Yucatan and diverted his attention from an armadillo by pretending she had something in her eye.’
She gets her comeuppance when Mr Beaseley hears about ‘a creature entirely unknown to science, of tremendous size, something like an alligator, something like a turtle, a long neck, armour-plated, and teeth like sabres’ which the locals have encountered at the head-waters of the Amazon’. He goes in search of it and Mrs Beaseley follows as usual. Going for a wash first thing in the morning, the indomitable woman finds huge footprints on the beach. She is assiduously rubbing these out so that her husband won’t see them, when the beast itself appears and scoffs her whole. Her encounter with the creature is portrayed by popular cartoonist Nicolas Bentley.
The story clearly owes something to the then emerging interest in possible dinosaur survivals (‘the last surviving Megatherium’ also makes a guest appearance), such as Mokole-Mbembe and other lake monsters, including of course our own Loch Ness Monster which had come to prominence a decade earlier. It would be interesting to know the true origin of Collier’s inspiration and how general such themes were by the 1940s. Any cryptozoologists out there have any views? I’d love to hear them.