Sightings of large, unidentified black cats across the United Kingdom are not at all uncommon. In fact, quite the opposite. Collectively, and across the decades, the nation appears to be positively overflowing with such creatures. They provoke media sensationalism, public interest and concern, and the occasional dismissive comment from government departments. They have become known as Alien Big Cats, or ABCs. Most cryptozoologists suggest the animals are escapees from private menageries, circuses, and the descendants of animals that, back in 1976, were let loose into the wilds of the country after the U.K. government changed the laws surrounding the keeping of wild animals. Their memorable names include the Beast of Bodmin, the Surrey Puma, the Chase Panther, the Warrington Lion, and the Beast of Exmoor. Whenever and wherever they are seen, savage mutilations and killings are the norm.
Not everyone is quite so sure that the ABCs are what they appear to be, however. Top of the list is Merrily Harpur, the author of Mystery Big Cats – which happens to be one of my favorite books. It’s definitely in my Top Ten. Merrily takes the view that the Alien Big Cats may well have supernatural origins, and she just might be right. Encounters with the ABCs very often occur in graveyards, in cemeteries, in the vicinity of stone circles, in ancient burial grounds, and at sites of archaeological and historical significance. Even in Crop Circles. Here are my words on Merrily’s book: This is a publication that is all things: informative, insightful, thought-provoking, and written by someone who has a keen appreciation, awareness and knowledge of her subject matter; as well as a fine understanding of British folklore, history, mythology, and the complex mysteries inherent in the conundrum that has come to be known as the British Big Cat. Mystery Big Cats is essential reading for anyone wanting to develop a good understanding of the subject, and what may very possibly lie at its heart.
The idea that the U.K.’s Big Cats are all escapees from private zoos and traveling circuses, is very much an article of faith. Indeed, Merrily reveals how, upon rigorous scrutiny, and as a catch-all theory, the scenario quickly falls down. So what are these mysterious beasts then, and where did they come from? Theories pertaining to indigenous Big Cats are discussed by Merrily, as are the parallels (and differences) between the Big Cats and the Phantom Black Dogs of British folklore. Although some students of the phenomenon have made a connection between the two – with the Big Cat being seen as the modern day equivalent of the Black Dog – the evidence is highly controversial, and the similarities tenuous. Nevertheless, people are clearly seeing something. And Merrily makes this very obvious, too. It is to the reader’s advantage that Merrily is a skilled writer – the result of which is that even though the book relates the details of numerous Big Cat encounters spanning countless decades, her style is neither boring nor repetitive.
And this is made all the more apparent when she digs deep into problematic issues surrounding (A) physical evidence for the presence of flesh-and-blood creatures in our midst; (B) photographic and film-based data; (C) the intriguing ability of the beasts to avoid capture or killing; and (D) why, curiously, so many of these animals are – time and again – seen near specific locations. So, what is it that people are seeing? Well, this is where Merrily’s research really comes to the fore. It would not be fair of me to reveal to those that wish to read Mystery Big Cats for themselves all of the intricacies of Merrily’s theory. I can say, however, that this book will likely polarize readers into one of two camps: those that see merit in the theory, and those that are determined to look elsewhere. I’m definitely in the first camp. I will also say that Merrily’s theories move into the world of ancient British folklore, and the nature of what reality is (or is not!), how we perceive that same reality, and what the presence of the Big Cats really means to us as a species. This is a truly excellent piece of work that does not shy away from controversy – and, to me, that is a good thing. Merrily has produced a first-class piece of work that will enlighten, entertain, and lead to much musing and pondering with respect to her conclusions.
Merrily suggests that the ABCs are very likely Daimons. They are supernatural entities that can be malevolent, helpful, manipulative, trickster-like, and even deadly, depending on their type. Eudemons are generally friendly, while cacodemons should be avoided at all costs, lest one wishes to see one’s life ruined. Entities that act as intermediaries between the world of man and the domain of the gods, the Daimons are shape-shifters that can manifest in multiple forms. Merrily adds: “If ABCs are a variety of native British daimon, they have emerged into a landscape brimful of these intermediate beings: pixies, gnomes, boggarts, Herne the Hunter, elves, lake monsters,’white ladies,’ wyrms, and so on”