Academics, as a rule, focus on books by other academics. Theirs is a specialized vocabulary with specific goals (tenure, then an Ivy League position). It’s easy to see, sometimes, why they distrust books by those of us outside the academy. We aren’t as constrained, and can say some speculative stuff. I just finished Evil Archaeology: Demons, Possessions, and Sinister Relics, by Heather Lynn. Now, most academics I know won’t take seriously a book where the author is cited by “Ph.D.” on the cover. That’s a sure sign of trying to impress a lay readership. This book is clearly heartfelt, and personal, but it does raise a host of questions regarding sources and details. I found myself wondering where the author found out so much about Pazuzu when I, who hold a doctorate in ancient West Asian studies, had such trouble locating sources. Then I checked the bibliography.
Even academics have been known to cut a corner or two, now and then. For my last book I didn’t have access to a university library so I had to make do with what I could get my hands on. (JSTOR is not cheap for individuals, in case you’re wondering. If you teach and you get free access from your library, you don’t know how lucky you are!) So it is with my present research. I muddle along, often buying used copies of the books I need, sometimes from eBay. Researchers can be driven that way. Lynn’s book covers a lot of territory, and not all of it seems related to demons. Little of it covers archaeology in any detail. But then, it’s not intended for academic readers. I learned a thing or two. I also distrust a thing or two she claim (having once been in the academy), but there’s no doubt she’s trying to do a service in this book.
Demons cut a wide swath. Lynn discusses bits and pieces from here and there, and at times her treatment is rather a gallimaufry of anecdotes. There are interviews, personal experiences, and urban legends. It does seem hard to believe that scientists worldwide are studying demons in order to explain illnesses, though. For me, finding a new book on demons just when I was finishing my draft on the same topic, it was imperative to read what she had to say. It’s clear she’s seen some of the same movies I have. I like to think that, as an inbetweener I can still read academese as well as regular writing. You always find interesting things there in the middle.