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December 4, 2012

Book Review - The Dead Roam The Earth by Alasdair Wickham

One of the most popular comments in horror history warns about gazing into the abyss and the abyss gazing back in to you.  It's a great line - a welcome reminder that there is a barrier between us and the spirit realm (and that it's best not to overstay your welcome) - and something I often keep in mind as I deal with horror.  But every once in a while, there's another train of thought that makes me wonder about horror stories - the one in which you start to consider that warnings in horror stories are really warnings about things in our own world. What if the abyss is reality and the things that gaze into us are already around?

That bit of speculation is the idea behind The Dead Roam The Earth: True Stories Of The Paranormal From Around The World, and British author Alasdair Wickham would surely welcome anyone with an open mind to his book's vision of this world.  But speculation is not Wickham's intention (though he does dabble in it a few times throughout the book's 296 pages) - his goal is to point out actual cases in which supernatural forces have impacted our reality.

Wickham's case for the paranormal is broken up into ten chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of horror and how it relates to the life we live. These chapters understandably cross paths - you try keeping every ghost, demon, and poltergeist separate and see how that works out - which can lead to a little bit of confusion and a little bit of repetition.  There are definitely some case studies featured in the book that grabbed my attention more than others did, but there's no saying that the same passages will work the same for each reader.

Perhaps the film's biggest flaw is that it leads with two of its most dynamic chapters. The first chapter focuses on ghosts and visitations and features some of the book's most vivid descriptions - which led to plenty of (pardon my pun) haunting images in my mind.  There were several moments during this chapter where I legitimately felt some goosebumps creeping down my spine, and it's safe to say that I tried to sleep with an eye open the next night.

While the first chapter was effective, the topic of hauntings wasn't entirely new to me. And that might have made the second chapter even more of a treat to me.  This one, entitled Creatures of the Threshold, focused on "monsters and angels" - which are two topics that I found myself most skeptical about.  I initially looked at the chapter as a potential deal breaker, thinking that if Wickham couldn't sell me on these abstract creatures then maybe the rest of the book would fail too.  So imagine my surprise when the creatures discussed in this chapter, including the Mexican "bruja" and the British "Huntsman" started to open my mind a little bit to Wickham's prose.  And the sections that recounts the West Virginia legend of the "Mothman" - which you may have seen told (poorly) in that flick with Richard Gere - might be the highlight of them all.  I was inspired to go back and watch The Mothman Prophecies again after reading this chapter, and I can confirm with no doubt that Wickham's retelling of the story blows that film out of the water.

The rest of the chapters have some highs and lows.  Sections on possession and poltergeists repeat themselves a little as the line between spirits blurs a bit. Ritual killing and witchcraft come up in a macabre chapter next and - while these three chapters were a little less interesting to me - there were still plenty of moments in which the imagery presented made me shiver. The second half of the book offers a lot of new ideas - covering topics such as military use of the occult, technology and the supernatural, and even cursed movies - and does so with a lot of intelligence.  Each of these chapters (plus the final one that warns about our potential for a shared global consciousness) take a few leaps of faith from time to time, but the ideas Wickham presents in them are rarely dull.

Littered throughout the book are text boxes that tell short accounts of hauntings or demons throughout the world, each labeled by the country of origin.  The subtitle of the book promises a global account of horror, and Wickham definitely delivers it.  All corners of the globe are covered in the book in one way or another, and even the least convincing of these case studies reminds us that there could be evil anywhere in the world - from Canada to Antarctica to the Philippines - whether we believe in it or not. 

Wickham offers plenty of information throughout the book and rarely makes his own conclusions, occasionally even putting the blame back on humanity.  The next to last chapter covers exorcism, a favorite topic of horror fans, but is surprisingly strong as it reminds us that humans can do as much damage demons in a misunderstood situation. Religion is brought up throughout the book, but this is another topic where the author passes no judgment. God has his place in the book, as does Buddha, as does any other deity you choose. Wickham seems to certainly feel that the supernatural exists in both good and evil, but is quick to point out that the truth of any matter is generally somewhere in the middle.

The Dead Roam The Earth isn't light reading, and I'm not sure if I've ever seen this much information crammed into this small a space.  But there are a lot of vivid and fantastic ideas inside the book, and anyone who's open to the idea that there's more to this world than humanity can see will surely find some good stuff here.  I'm very glad that I got a chance to read The Dead Roam The Earth, as the parts that hit home were well worth the parts that didn't.  The open minded horror fan will definitely appreciate Wickham's work here, and I certainly recommend the book to them.

The Dead Roam The Earth was provided for review by Penguin Books, and is available now at Amazon and other retailers.

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