Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Jersey Devil

Here's a fascinating article about a piece of folklore that has genuine staying power. The Jersey Devil said to haunt the Pine Barrens of New Jersey has been sort-of around for far longer than Nessie (who was first reported in the Thirties and then given a retrospective, thoroughly bogus 'history'). There's something comical about the idea of a monster, of course - when you're not alone in a forest or indeed sitting at home in the dark.

Apparently it was in 1909 that the old legend gained new life from a series of rather Fortean news items, and the Jersey Devil has been going great guns ever since.
The papers called the beast a "Woozlebug" and a "Jabberwock" as it tore across the Jersey countryside. The Times of Trenton printed cartoon panels showing the devil floating over a drunk waking from a bender.
The legend of the Jersey Devil is central the excellent, low-budget film The Last Broadcast, which I've watched several times. It's a remarkable 1998 precursor to The Blair Witch Project, and I'm putting that politely. The found-footage approach is in fact used with more intelligence in the earlier film, mixed as it is with a faux-documentary by an intense auteur-ish figure.

A few years earlier The X-Files had tackled the subject more directly, but in a way that annoyed quite a few fans of the legend. In the episode actually entitled 'The Jersey Devil' almost all of the folklore related to the story is jettisoned in a script by series producer Chris Carter. Instead we get a story of wild men in the woods and some arglebargle about evolution, which undercuts to some extent the rather good scenes involving confrontations with the mysterious entity.

The very name Pine Barrens could not improved upon by any horror writer. It's fascinating to reflect that the Devil might have been invented simply to discredit a controversial Quaker preacher, but that's showbiz. 

Oh, and it's sometimes called the Leeds Devil, but for anyone who lives in Northern England that is distinctly un-spooky. 


James Everington said...

Have you read Robert Dunbar's novel about the Jersey Devil, "The Pines"? Think it was his debut...

valdemar said...

I haven't, thanks for the tip!