Friday, November 13, 2015

Page 98: The Devil’s Hoofmarks

I first read the story of “The Devil’s Hoofmarks” when I was around nine years old, thanks to my Scholastic Books purchase of Strange but True: 22 Amazing Stories (1973). Alongside accounts of the Loch Ness Monster, a woman who survived falling from an airplane, and the inexplicable parallels between assassinated presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, was a terrifying account of the Devil’s Hoofmarks. It was perfect for a child whose brain-candy consisted Hammer horror films and weekly episodes of In Search Of

Perhaps my earliest exposure to urban legends:
Strange but True: 22 Amazing Stories (Scholastic Books, 1973).
In The Billionth Monkey, folklore professor Niels Belanger gives an accurate summary of the tale of the mysterious trail of single-file hoof prints that stretched for scores and scores of miles through the snowy Devon countryside in February 1855, touching off local fear that Satan himself had visited the town.  Making this part of Belanger’s backstory (recall on page 16 that I describe his accent as “a mix of West Country and London”) allowed me to interject an exaggerated version of something from my own childhood, and it also supported the fact that he is a British scholar of American folklore. And bonus: This urban legend gave me another #DevilReference.

The 2014 horror film Dark Was the Night is based very loosely upon this legend. In recent years we’ve seen a glut of movies “based on a true story” where “based on” is a crass marketing ploy that really means “bears very little actual resemblance to” or “almost entirely fiction.” Examples include The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), An American Haunting (2006), Them (2007), Black Water (2007), The Strangers (2008), The Haunting in Connecticut (2009), Fourth Kind (2009), The Possession (2012), The Conjuring (2013), etc. To me it’s such a cliché that I automatically doubt any movie that claims to be “based on actual events.” Which is why I jokingly describe The Billionth Monkey as being “Based on actual fictional events.” Moreover, in The Billionth Monkey, the “fictional events” are all real urban legends. :)

For a great, thorough investigation of the Devil’s Hoofmarks, see Mike Dash’s  paper “The Devil’s Hoofmarks: Source Material on the Great Devon Mystery of 1855,” which originally appeared in Fortean Studies 1 (1994) and 3 (1996).

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