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YET MORE MOWING DEVIL - 05/10/2006

A further response to our ‘Mowing Devil’ article some months back, this time from ‘Fortean Times’ editor BOB RICKARD...


I just read your piece on the puzzle of seemingly different versions of the 1678 original ‘Mowing Devil’ (I too have made the mistake, somewhere, of giving the date as 1687).

Firstly, let me clarify what seems to be two different claims – from Paul Sieveking and myself - to have 'discovered' the pamphlet. Paul and I were both working for the German publishing company Bowker Saur at the time, and both employed on preparing the microfilm version of the British Library Catalogue. It is to Paul's credit that, while sub-editing the sheets we were preparing, he noticed the entry for the original pamphlet and drew it to my attention. Neither of us knew, at that time, of any other interest in it, published or not. Sometime later, I went to the BL and - as you did -
was given access to the original book. Like you I was thrilled to hold it, adding to the frisson of reading an original account in its original form or a remarkable anomalous event. To my astonishment, the request I put in for a photocopy of the title page was granted.

At that time, I had a process camera (taking up most of the lounge) and made a copy (as precisely as I could) for reproduction in the Winter 1989 issue of Fortean Times (FT53 contained an anthology of articles about different aspects of the crop circle phenomenon.) Now, at that time, too, I was a little concerned about people copying material out of FT and wanted to track a significant image... so when I prepared the pamphlet title page image, I put a light dot tone over it (using Letraset, I think). I regret doing this now as I never had time to follow it up and especially if what I did there contributed to the current impression that there are different versions.

When my article from FT53 was reproduced in Ralph Noyes's book ‘The Crop Circle Enigma’ (1990), I was surprised to see that the illustration on p63 was a cropped version of the one I published in FT, complete with the dot tone overlay. Ralph, or whoever did the artwork, had cut away all the typography to leave only the rectangle containing the devil woodcut.

You are right about the ease with which people pick up an illustration these days and copy it freely and often across publications and the internet. This copying of copies has a degrading effect on the images, as I discovered in my work on the notorious 'photos of Jesus' picture claims (which I'm still researching, but now with David Clarke). This degrading takes a specific form - it drops out the middle greys and fine detail, pushing them to black in one direction and white in the other. Inevitably the consequence for early period illustrations, either woodcuts or engravings, is to make some lines thicker and some thinner. The process is compounded further when the image is printed conventionally using ink; where the thick lines cluster then fills in some areas black and where the thin lines separated tends to clear to white space.

You can see where this is leading. I suggest that the different pictures you have with your article are all derived from the original and not separate creations. Over time the copying and recopying in branching genealogy has created what looks like different images. I've looked at the configurations of the fallen wheat, the flames and the devil's eye, and they all seem to conform pretty much to the original with the proviso that the lines and black areas have thickened and filled in due to the copying and printing effect. I suggest this shows most clearly how what you call the 'big eye' of the original became the 'little eye' of the impostors.

Once again, if any of this misconstruction was down to me, I apologise. Despite trying to research the genealogy of different versions of images myself, I never foresaw that as a consequence of something I published.

Thanks for caring enough to draw our attention to the matter and for your article.

BOB RICKARD

*

ANDY THOMAS REPLIES:

Though I appreciate Bob’s hypothesis as to why there seem to be different versions of the Mowing Devil, there is no question in my mind, on close inspection, that they ARE actual redrawings, not just mutated copies. Like-for-like comparison reveals that, though subtle (or not so subtle in the 1913 version), all the lines are clearly in completely different positions, not just thicker or slightly divergent.

But the extra details Bob gives here are nonetheless welcome, and we appreciate the input.

The Mowing Devil - original version
The Mowing Devil - original version

 

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