In Alien Heat: The Warminster Mystery Revisited
Steve Dewey & John Ries (San Antonio, TX: Anomalist Books, 2005).
Surprisingly readable and compelling. Not a narrative chronology of Warminster, but it steps back to take various stabs from various directions at the phenomenon. Cumulatively, these seem to prove fatal. The authors’ final conclusion homes in on the idea that Warminster was a form of ‘mass hysteria’, whipped up by an initial genuine mystery (unexplained sounds), but then colliding with the zeitgeist and environmental factors, focused and disseminated through a central figure who came to take on an almost messianic function, albeit perhaps unwittingly: Arthur Shuttlewood.
At the conclusion, I wasn’t quite convinced that ‘mass hysteria’ really does justice to the type of experiences people had. What does ‘mass hysteria’ really tell us, as an explanatory term, about why normally rational people begin to interpret what were probably ordinary experiences in an extraordinary way? I don’t disagree with their thesis, but I didn’t feel the authors really got into the heads and hearts of the people who had the experiences. Even Shuttlewood remains a complete enigma at the end.
A very satisfying read, though, and generally very well argued. Loved it!