Gifts for the Geek | Day 24: Monte Reel’s ‘Between Man and Beast’

Gifts for the Geek | Day 24: Monte Reel’s ‘Between Man and Beast’

Gifts for the Geek continues with Monte Reel’s Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm.

Okay, I know that when we talk about geeky gifts we usually think of gadgets, games, cosplay, comic books, and science fiction/fantasy novels, and this a work of natural history, but hear me out as I try to convince you that Monte Reel’s Between Man and Beast might be the perfect gift for the adventure-loving geek in your life.

I love monsters, you probably love monsters. We all love monsters. Monster-lovers sometimes regret that mythical critters like dragons aren’t real, and sometimes we fail to remember that our own world is chock-a-block full of freaky beasts that would blow our minds if we read about them in a fantasy novel. Example: The gorilla. Yes, the gorilla.

You see, at one time not too long ago – the 19th century, to be exact – most of the western world’s scientific establishment heard reports of wild, hairy men in the jungles of Africa and with what I imagine to be a tsk-tsk noise and a puff on their pipes, dismissed them all as fabulous tales from “superstitious” indigenous peoples. Surely this “monster” was as mythical as a fairy tale ogre. (”Yes, yes. Here, here, my good man. Do pass the brandy…“)

Things continued as thus until the French explorer and anthropologist Paul du Chaillu set out in search of the mythical gorilla – and found it. It wasn’t a walk in the park, either: Du Chaillu and his crew (sounds like a zydeco band, incidentally, but I digress) had to brave cannibals, venomous snakes and other dangerous animals, negotiate with tribal kings, and weather the harsh environment. Eventually, they found (and shot, but them’s the breaks) their gorillas and brought the skins back to Europe. What happened afterward set the scientific establishment and popular culture as a whole on fire. This newfangled evolution concept might be true, and if so, where did the gorilla fit in? Even more frightening for some: What did this mean for humanity?

In short, were this a work of fiction featuring the search for an unknown monster – say, Bigfoot -  we’d probably describe this as a pulpy adventure tale or even Steampunk, but it’s not: This is real history. History with cannibals, semi-legendary monsters, snakes, and angry religious and political leaders dealing with a discover that sets their world upside down.

Scientists and explorers are super-geeky faves, and quests for monsters (even when they turn out to be shy, mostly peaceful “monsters”) are the bread and butter of the fantasy and science fiction world. Surprise the geek in your life with this unbelievable true “fantasy” tale!

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