Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World starts with a bit of a whimper, as he observes a total eclipse of the sun. C’mon Arthur, that’s not a mystery! He later tells us that he classes this a mystery of the first kind – something that was a mystery to our ancestors but not to us.
But there’s plenty of mysteries of the second kind (those which have no definite explanation) to come over the course of this thirteen part series, even if it’s not surprising that the rational Clarke can often come up with a logical solution.
Our first proper mystery takes us to Fife in Scotland where, according to the sombre narration of Gordon Honeycombe, “it was in 1966 that a terrifying visitation came to the beach cafe where Mrs Jean Meldrum and her mother Mrs Evelyn Murdoch were working.” This sounds much more promising.
These reports often have more than a touch of humour about them, although I’m not sure whether this was intentional or simply the result of rewatching the episodes in these more cynical times. But the report of an orange ball of fire that bashes Mrs Meldrum’s chest and then vanishes, is an unusual tale to say the least. Possibly the best part of the story is when Mrs Murdoch mentions that the beach attendant, who had a wooden leg, nevertheless showed a nifty turn of speed as he beat a hasty retreat from the oncoming fireball!
Honeycombe then teases us with some of the big-hitters of the mysterious world – the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman, UFOs, Monsters of the Deep, etc. In all of these cases there is photographic and/or film evidence (which we don’t have in the case of the Fife Fireball) but how much veracity can we place in this material? And does the evidence of eye-witnesses strengthen or detract from the overall mystery?
Alex Campbell, a water bailiff in Loch Ness, claims to have seen the monster eighteen times. He’s an entertaining interviewee, especially when he gives an impression of Nessie’s breathing. Those who choose to disbelieve people like Campbell would no doubt simply claim he was lying (which is quite possible) but when you have a whole family – like the Holmes’ from Falmouth – who also claim to have seen a sea monster, it’s harder to understand why they would all agree to such a deception. And they do seem quite believable, as they bob up and down in their small boat, kitted out in identical bright yellow macs.
The giant stone balls of Costa Rica are apparently one of the world’s most intractable mysteries, although I have to confess they’ve never really registered with me. One of the joys of the internet age is that you’re only a click away from finding out whether the mystery has now been solved, but it appears not. So I guess we’ll have to wait a little longer to find the answer (if any).
The Journey Begins ends with tales of mysterious objects falling from the skies – fish, frogs, hazelnuts, broad-bean seeds. The latter annoyed the eye-witness from Southampton, who turned to his wife and said “this is bloody silly.”
Interestingly, Clarke suggests these might be mysteries of third kind (those for which there are no logical answers at all) but then hints there might be clues to a rational solution. After these strange tales, I have to confess that I was expecting some sort of answer from Clarke, but he just strolled down the beach at Sri Lanka as the credits rolled. So the great man seemed stumped on this one.