Apparitions: Tulpas, Ghosts, Fairies, and even Stranger Things, by Malcolm Smith

Reviewed by Peter A. McCue

Malcolm Smith is an Australian with degrees in zoology. He’s the author of nine previous books, some of which have a cryptozoological theme. This volume concerns itself with apparitions, although it also touches on other types of paranormal phenomena (e.g., human levitation). Traditional books on the subject tend to focus on human apparitions, maybe throwing in a few token cases featuring pet animals and phantom objects. But a positive feature of Smith’s book is that it has a wider focus. For example, several chapters discuss reported fairy sightings.

A compilation of cases is only as good as its sources, and I have to say that I have my doubts about the reliability of some of the stories recounted in this book. For instance, Smith cites a tale conveyed to the late Catherine Crowe and published in her book The Night-Side of Nature. Her informant, a landlord in Ireland, told her of an occasion when he got chatting to a very elderly man who gave his name as Kirkpatrick, and who claimed to be 105 years old. The landlord subsequently learned that a local man with that surname had died, aged 85, 20 years previously. Of course, 85 plus 20 makes 105. Was this a ghost with a sense of humour, or was the landlord pulling Mrs. Crowe’s leg?

Although Smith is aware that telepathy may be involved in some apparitional events, I was surprised to see no mention of the British psychical researcher G. N. M. Tyrrell (1879-1952). Tyrrell’s book Apparitions (my copy was published by the SPR in 1973) is a landmark text regarding telepathic theories of apparitions. 

Unfortunately, there are presentational problems with this book. I spotted numerous typographical errors, which could have been weeded out with the help of a competent proofreader. I noticed some grammatical errors and instances of poor punctuation. In addition, I found some passages ambiguous or otherwise confusing. On the plus side, there are plenty of intriguing case reports, along with some thoughtful commentary by the author.