[I’ve been negligent with these posts since Halloween season, but it’s time to get back on track…]
Today we know a lot more about our world than we used to, but if we were to go back in time and live through a less learned age, we would be amazed by the stories that await us. Tales of creatures that sit at the very edge of our imagination, living things that defy logic and monsters that inspire wonder. Our hearts want to believe while our heads are ready to move on. Instead what we tend to feel is a mixture of deep curiosity and primal fear. And if the tales of the past are any indication, there’s a good reason why.
In the latest episode of the hit podcast series Lore, Aaron Mahnke ventures back to early times, when technology was much less prevalent and the gaps in humanity’s knowledge of the surrounding world were much larger. Accordingly, volumes like Pliny the Elder’s encyclopedic Natural History and medieval illuminated bestiaries were often filled not with verifiable classifications but instances of cryptozoological creativity. In such books, one would be able to find a menagerie of incredible specimens, from the basilisk and the dragon to the kraken and the mermaid. Lest we simply dismiss the ancient bestiary as “a time capsule of our gullibility” as a species, though, Mahnke regales us with tales of human encounter suggesting that these mythic creatures could have a basis in reality. He also reminds us that our state of knowledge in the modern age of Google might not be as complete as we would like to think, noting, in a mind-boggling example, how over 90% of ocean life is still a mystery to us.
Episode 130 epitomizes the nature of lore (and Lore): it arises in that liminal space between superstition and science, fancy and fact. The various anecdotes concerning shadowy, marvelous figures that Mahnke shares here clearly make “In Plain Sight” as entertaining an episode to listen to as paging through a bestiary proved for medieval readers.