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The monster

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This isn’t a movie review, not least because the movie in question hasn’t been released or even finished yet. But it is a review of sorts about the fact that it is being made – or thought of.

Planned for release next year, The Legendary Bear Lake Monster – A Major Motion Picture is, its producers said, “Like a mix of The Goonies and Jaws, this action-adventure feature film will captivate audiences of all ages.” And maybe it will. The monster has been the subject of … something, discussion at least, for a long time.

I researched the Monster for a book called Idaho Myths and Legends, and found the larger story seemed worth telling in print as well as (now) visually.

It started more than 150 years ago, not long after Mormons dispatched by Brigham Young had begun to settle the area around the large Bear Lake, which is split between Idaho and Utah. At that time the settlement seemed a little remote from the more established communities in Utah, and local interest in persuading people to look north was growing.

One day in 1868 a startling letter appeared in the Deseret News at Salt Lake, over the signature of Joseph Rich, the leader of the Bear Lake pioneers and settlers. It declared there was a monster in the lake: “now it seems this water devil, as the Indians called it, has again made an appearance. A number of our white settlers declare they have seen it with their own eyes. This Bear Lake Monster, as they now call it, is causing a great deal of excitement up here.”

Newspaper articles around the region kept the tale alive for years. It seemed to fade after a quarter-century or so, when in 1894 Rich admitted that the story was “a first-class lie” intended to stoke interest in the area for visitors and settlers.

That might have ended it. But it didn’t. In 1907 a person submitted a letter to a paper in Logan, Utah, saying he had been camping by the lake and was attacked by the monster, and his horse injured. There were reports, by children, about monster sightings in 1937 and 1946. In 2002 the operator of a local boating business (who did, to be sure, have an interest in tourism) said he saw the monster, or something that looked like it might be.

There’s been plenty of artwork and merchandising over the years, and even songs, like the folk tune from a century ago that began: “Climb a tree, quick, here comes the Bear Lake Monster; with Joseph C. Rich astride, acting as sponsor.”

And the story goes on.

One of the movie makers remarked, “If we’ve done our job right, audiences will walk away with a taste of the magic of Bear Lake and a belief in a world in which the legendary monster exists.”

Fair enough, and a worthy goal for an entertainment vehicle.

Our problem today is that, in the realm of politics and economics and managing the real world around it, we seem all too eager to believe and even embrace Bear Lake Monster tales.

There’s a lot of disinformation about these days, and the motivation behind much of it is far less well-intentioned than Rich’s was. Too much of what’s spread around now fosters hate and violence, while Rich was only aiming for interest and curiosity. Fantasies have become a weapon of choice in attacking our systems of health, education, elections, environmental protection and more.

And as we know, these fantasies can have real staying power, long past the point when they should have been dismissed, by one and all, as lunatic. Sometimes, the fictional monster can become so all-enveloping it can consume us.

The final kicker?

Bear Lake really is a pretty spot, and plenty of tourists and recreationists come there regularly and enjoy it.

In the real world of tourism and settlement, the monster turned out not to be needed.
 

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