Low SAN Score
I imagine so, if the conspiracy was large enough. But to my thinking the Cult of Heracles would be a small group . . . little "c" instead of BIG "C."Might they think they could expiate a whole society's sins by putting it through a great challenge?
Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World
Episode 6 (October 7, 1980): “Monsters of the Lakes”
So a while ago I was running an occult series of adventures set in the post-Civil War Reconstruction period in the United States, leading up to the Gilded Age. Native American mythology was a theme, with lots of monsters from pre-Colonial times coming back and razing hell, great god-things like the Giant Leech of Tlanus’yǐ, the Piasa, the Underwater Panther, and the Uktena.
I decided Bigfeet - Sasquatches - were the failed attempts by magicians to channel the great Wendigo/Stonecoat cannibal-spirit. But I digress.
As background - mostly for myself, I admit - I purchased a copy of Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth (2001) by Carol Rose, an excellent book for its type primarily because of its superb index which cataloged all the giants, monsters, and dragons by type, region, nationality, and so on, ever so helpfully. I made a spreadsheet and started my own index, trying to come up with my definitive list - an actual definitive definitive list is almost certainly a fool’s errand - of the god-monsters worshipped in the Americas before the coming of the white man (not that the Old World didn’t have its own ancient horrors . . . ).
I began cross-indexing between Bigfoot analogues, Bird Creatures, lumberjack-type Fearsome Critters, Giant Animals, Horned Serpents (a surprising number), Lake Monsters, Man-Eaters, and Ogres, with references to their particular Native American tribes of origin.
I stalled halfway through, I admit. The campaign finished before I finished. I’ll complete the list eventually, though (writing this may prompt me, in fact).
What I had found so far, though, were the intriguing commonalities between lake monsters, which I’ll talk more about in a moment. Clarke - or the producers of Mysterious World - found some, too. From Loch Ness to Lake Okanagan, lake monsters have a lot in common . . . if they exist.
You might anticipate Clarke’s thoughts on the matter.
Honeycombe’s Historical Opening Questions
The first thing the camera shows us is the famous Loch Ness. Honeycombe wastes no time.
“Is there really a monster in Loch Ness?”
That’s as basic as it gets, folks. It’s what we all want to know (and hope is true).
Our view of the famous lake segues into an old black-and-white film. This is also of the lake, and it shows, well, something moving under the water. Some old-fashioned camera operators are also seen, hand cranking their cameras to get them to record. “And does this film, shot in 1936, but lost until today, really show the creature?”
Then, from black-and-white, a color film, showing basically the same thing. “And does this film, shot forty-one years later, mean the monster is still lurking there today? Is that what Alex Campbell has seen more times than anyone else alive?” Campbell is an elderly Scotsman who speaks with such a heavy Scottish accent that my American ears have trouble comprehending him.
He says “something” about the loch and its monster, I presume. The tone, at least, was impressive.
“Mysteries from the files of Arthur C. Clarke . . .”
Our series host appears after coming down from his bubble in Sri Lanka. He says, “The monster of Loch Ness is so famous that it has eclipsed all its rivals.”
For a moment, I dared believe he believed. But the SF writer is just being poetic. Clarke mentions that there are fifty-odd other lakes throughout the world that supposedly have monsters in them, and before settling in on the one with Ogopogo - yeah, Ogopogo! - we get a montage of various beliefs and monsters, from Canada to Korea.
Pigs are sacrificed in Sweden to their lake monster.
Religious offerings are made to one in Korea.
There are other tidbits, including a shot of some man driving his car - one of those weird Sixties Amphicars, which are both cars and boats - into the waters of Loch Ness apparently for the purpose of chasing down Nessie. Go Nessie Go! Swim Girl Swim!!
This fun aside, Clarke’s essential skepticism bears mentioning at the start of this commentary, even though these observations I record here he makes occur later in the program:
“I have no doubt that the eyewitnesses have seen and indeed photographed something quite real. But it could have been a school of fish, the wake of a boat, sea birds, a seal . . . many possibilities have been suggested. The trouble is it’s very easy to be mistaken.”
And he demonstrates this with a unique situation that might only occur in Sri Lanka or its environs. Clarke shows us a picture of a long-necked beastie swimming through the water, and it looks for all the world like the Loch Ness Monster of legend. And then he tells us that this is the photograph of an Asian elephant . . . apparently, the elephants of Sri Lanka like to go swimming, and when they raise their trunks out of the water, and their backs are seen surfacing behind, they look like sea serpents. Clarke’s point is that despite the many, many photographs and film footages shown in this program - and there are a lot shown here - and despite the nearly one hundred years of stories concerning the Loch Ness Monster in particular, it’s probably bunk.
He does not believe. He says he does not believe.
Honeycombe takes exception, almost angrily, certainly satirically.
After the observations above with the elephant, our unseen narrator begins the next section saying, “But for all that, for half a century the lure of Loch Ness has inspired men to hunt . . .”
I can almost see the producers of the program wincing at the words of their host in Sri Lanka, and then ordering Honeycombe to work around him. If the show becomes an ongoing, subtle war of tone and innuendo between Clarke and Honeycombe, I will be all over that.
“Monsters of the Lakes” is mostly about two monsters of the lakes, Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan and Nessie in Loch Ness. There is mention of others - the montage above I referenced - and some commonalities, as I hinted about before, are referenced. Of the various lake monsters from around the world, none apparently are near the equator, at least as referenced in this program. Lake monsters are apparently sub-tropical, temperate beasties. They also have four limbs - this is confirmed, so to speak, by a man named Frank Rieger whose boat rode beside Ogopogo, he claims, for a good twenty minutes or so, giving him and his adult son Jim lots of times to make observations (but, alas, no photographs). The descriptions of lake monsters - the show’s descriptions suggest a single, unknown species - appear uniform: long neck, four limbs, long tail . . . basically, a plesiosaur.
One of the typically murky photographs from underwater show something that looks like a plesiosaur. If you squint.
The most amusing segment of the program concerns a similar witness account made by three Catholic priests sitting in a boat and fishing in Lough Ree, in Scotland. It’s hilarious, especially when Fr. Matthew Burke testifies that he said, “What the hell is that?”
Another goes, “It appears something in the nature of a large serpent,” in Irish brogue.
I fell off my chair.
Tall tale or not - and the archetypal witness testimony from not one, not two, but three priests - it makes a great fish story.
Clarke’s Words of Wisdom
“Frankly,” Clarke says, establishing the last word in the program, though, “I am much more skeptical of lake monsters than of sea monsters. Because lakes, after all, are fairly small bodies of water with plenty of eyewitnesses around them, and if these creatures come up to breathe, then why aren’t they seen more often?”
I may give Clarke static for being such a stick-in-the-mud; but the man has a sense of humor, as established previously. I can cut him a break for that (and because I more or less agree with him, in this instance). He ends the program with a Godzilla joke, of all things.
A Godzilla joke!
“If even the Japanese can’t catch them, can they really exist?”
Clarke’s Words of Wisdom would hold true if a) the lake monsters were air-breathers and b) a natural, living species. If lake monsters were wholly aquatic, like some species of giant eel, for instance, they might be harder to see, especially in the pea-soup waters of Loch Ness.
But, of course, the real fun from the rpg angle is the idea the while the lake monsters do bear similarities between them, they are not natural creatures at all. While one could go all Doctor Who, Zygons, and the Skarasen here, I prefer a more supernatural, magical, occult motif.
Certain lakes throughout the world are haunted by ghostly presences. Their forms are generally serpentine, often with horns. Sometimes they manifest four legs. But they are spirits, not flesh, and ancient peoples worshipped them, as much from fear for their own safety as religious awe.
To use a lake, the lake serpent had to be appeased. Otherwise, it rose from the depths and devoured the primitive rafts and the seaside villages.
And then other peoples came; and the religions changed; and the old beliefs were forgotten. And for a time the lake monsters were apparently fine with that. Maybe they had gone to sleep; maybe some ancient magician had used a comprehensive spell to calm them. But, “[t]hat is not dead which can eternal lie . . . and with strange aeons even death may die.”
In this scenario/campaign frame, the Great Old Ones are not Cthulhu, Hastur, or Yog-Sothoth.
Their names are Ogopogo, Gaasyendietha, Mishipeshu . . . and Nessie.