Whitley Strieber’s Communion was, for me, my introduction to the bizarre world of alien contact. I remember walking into a bookstore one day years ago and seeing this face staring back at me:
I found it profoundly unsettling. Something about it was difficult for me to look at. Then, when I saw “A True Story”, I was thoroughly confused. How could anything involving that face be a true story?
On the surface, this book is about acclaimed sci-fi and horror writer Whitley Strieber’s experiences with what he called “the visitors.” They are today known more popularly as the Grays. This book, published in 1987, was largely responsible for propelling the notion of alien abduction, with its anal probes and bug-eyed doctors, into the mainstream.
I had heard of alien abduction before, via a movie called The UFO Incident
, starring James Earl Jones as Barney Hill. I was similarly disturbed by that film, but I set that one aside as just a movie. But this book, with that face on the cover…
…I couldn’t ignore it. I had to delve into this world.
Strieber eloquently describes how world-shaking his contact experience was, and makes it all vividly real and yet also dreamlike. It’s like a David Lynch movie that makes little sense at first, but sticks with you all the same, and seems to have a simmering logic underneath the high strangeness.
It’s that aspect of the meaning being hidden underneath the surface instead of out in the open that led me to be initially disappointed with this book when I first read it all those years ago. I greatly preferred books that were more descriptive of actual events, such as the Budd Hopkins offerings Missing Time
But now, I see that this book has a lot more to say than just descriptions of events. Strieber admits his own confusion at the experience, and says that he is not certain who the “visitors”, as he calls them, are. He acknowledges extraterrestrials as a possibility, but seems to favor the theory that they are some sort of earthly intelligence that changes form in order to communicate with us.
I was struck upon rereading the book at how closely it parallels what I am attempting to do with They Rode the Flying Saucers…demonstrate that this phenomenon says more about us, culturally and psychologically, than the visitors ever say about themselves. While this book gives some hints and ventures slightly into the events that transpired, it focuses much more on what it could possibly mean.
And that’s what makes this much more a story of contact–not abduction. The title of the book suggests communication, an attempt to join with humanity. An attempt at contact could appear as abduction without cause if the message is not received. The purpose of this book seems to be to make an attempt to determine what that message really is.
Spoiler: He never figures it out.
Something seems to be going on, something that is tantalizingly just out of our grasp, and it changes with the ages, as if trying to adjust to our way of understanding. In the middle ages, people spoke of being taken by fairies and goblins. Before the turn of the 20th century, people described seeing airships dropping literal anchors. After we became a more technical society, these morphed into flying saucers. At first, these beings were beautiful humans from planets we knew. Then they became more alien, in more ways than one.
This is a great simplification, but gets to what I mean when I say that this experience seems to be telling us something about ourselves, and whether that message originates from outer space, on this planet, or from within our own minds is irrelevant. I think it is a valid point of study for any scientists or sociologists brave enough to take it on.
As for Strieber, while he seems to consider his story one of attempted contact, he would bristle at being called a Contactee:
There is no real intellectual difference between the haughty psychiatrist or physicist and his refusal to accept the truth, and the nervous “contactee” eager to see the phenomenon as a dimensionless cartoon of space friends.
I think his point is that there is a happy middle ground in which the truth lies. I would argue, however, that to ignore the haughty psychiatrist OR the nervous contactee is to ignore portions of the truth as well, because we have met the truth and it is us (to paraphrase Walt Kelly
). Whether or not you accept Whitley Strieber’s stories, or those of the Contactees, I think they tell us something interesting and profound about ourselves.