The World of the Mysterious (5)

I said last time that I would take Cliff Barackman, James “Bobo” Fay, Ranae Holland and Matt Moneymaker back into history and legend, to see if I could find any creatures, perhaps based on Bigfoot, mentioned over the course of the last 5,000 years or so.  I spoke of Enkidu, and Moses’ Twelve Spies in the land of  Canaan. I also rejected Goliath, and I described Grendel who, although I thought he was possibly not as dangerous as he has been portrayed, I thought was not necessarily armless.

This time, I would like to touch upon the story of Jean Grin, a subject which I have explored before. It all took place in early 19th century France  in the wonderfully picturesque and unspoilt region of Lozère, which is here:

This time the situation is a little more complex in that Jean Grin was, supposedly, a historical figure who was active as recently as 1800. He lived in a mountain ravine, in a crude cottage of stone with what is now a collapsed roof, surrounded by pine trees and dry scrubland. Inside, against the very rock itself, there is the oven where he roasted children to eat. Outside are several piles of stones covered with soil, supposedly the burial places of his victims:

Jean Grin was living here because of his inability to get along with his neighbours. They called him an ogre, and considered him an ambiguous being, “mi-homme mi-bête”, half way between animal and man. Soon after his arrival in the ravine, he seemed increasingly to take on the attributes of a savage, brutal, wild person that no social norms could restrain:

Young shepherds and shepherdesses began to disappear in the surrounding region. At the time, in a neighbouring area, there had been severe problems with some kind of mystery animal, either a very large wolf or a canid of an unknown species. It had been termed the “Beast of Veyreau” or “La Bête de Veyreau” and I have already written about it:

Whatever the killer in Lozère was, it only attacked weak people or children. In just six months, from June-December 1799,  three victims were killed and eaten.

Physically, Jean Grin was by now dreadful to look at. He supposedly wore just animal skins and he could run extremely fast across the countryside and up and down slopes:In the dark, his eyes gleamed bright, shining red and you could see him coming from far away. Jean Grin too has been given the attributes of a Bigfoot. Memories from centuries ago have been added to his story. He had luminous red eyes.  He possessed prodigious speed both going up and coming down mountainsides. He had an appearance generally thought to be “mi-homme mi-bête”. In addition, photographs show that he lived in exactly the same kind of dry, rocky environment where Bigfoot lives nowadays in the Sierra Nevada of California:

It is my contention though, that the story of Jean Grin is obviously much, much older than a mere 200 years. Indeed, I think that quite a complex process has therefore come about here.

Firstly, the people had a dim memory from centuries previously of Bigfoot type creatures in the forest and in the mountains. Secondly, there was an eccentric and unpopular man called Jean Grin who lived in the area. He was big and ugly. Thirdly, an unknown animal,  the “Beast of Veyreau”, was attacking, killing and eating the young children who were left on their own to guard the flocks of sheep.

And what has happened is that these three elements, of Bigfoot, of gory deaths and of weird loners have all been melded together to give us the present legend. There are no Bigfoots in France nowadays, but in the centuries when the east of the country, in particular, was covered in extensive thick forest, I think there were, and recent enough for memories to linger on.

Next time, England’s Bigfoot.

 

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17 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, Film & TV, France, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

17 responses to “The World of the Mysterious (5)

  1. More frightening than French farmers blocking Calais!

  2. Mutations in Nature happen all the time, the most extreme don’t survive. But what if once or twice a century – one did?

    • In bird watching it is now thought that hybrids are evolutionary experiments to see if Nature can create something better than what is there at the moment. When enough hybridisation experiments have been carried out, the resulting bird populations are called a “hybrid swarm”. This currently exists with gulls in western states such as California where hybrids occur with Glaucous-winged Gull, Western Gull and one or two others. The next stage is when second and third generation hybirds occur, when a hybrid GWG X WG and a pure GWG breed together. And so on. Gulls breed every year so Nature’s experiments can be quicker than we might think!
      In the north east of the USA and Canada there are one or two well known hybrids such as Nelson’s Gull .
      This is well illustrated at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybridisation_in_gulls
      It just goes to show that evolution is still going on, as somebody a lot cleverer than us tries to make birds and animals even more suited to their environments.

  3. I think your hobby of researching monster legends is fun. Your theory the French monster is a combination of three factors is quite probable. Looking forward to more, John.

    • Thank you for your encouraging words. I’ve always been interested in the unusual and the mysterious and the frightening. I think it all comes from being allowed to watch Charles Laughton in the Hunchback of Notre Dame when I was only seven or eight. I’d only just recovered from that shock when Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee started making films!

  4. Fascinating , Jean Grin’s life must have been a very lonely one.

    • Yes, it must. Even nowadays we make the mistake of thinking that beautiful people have beautiful souls and ugly people have ugly minds. We really should not be so shallow!

  5. Jean Grin is probably turning over in his grave at his notoriety.

    • Spinning! I’d never thought of the idea that Jean Grin might have had a grave. HIs traditional death, which I didn’t mention was that….
      “This mysterious being, man or beast, was trapped in his own lair by angry women who, armed with forks and sticks, dragged him to the neighbouring hamlet where he was burnt alive in a furnace heated to a white hot temperature. And the popular belief was that:
      “When Jean Grin died, his skin was leaping about, so he must have been the devil.”
      (I do like a story with careful scientific analysis)

  6. C F Waller

    A fascinating story. I had never heard of Jean Grin. I always fancied the idea of living in deepest rural France but maybe the suburbs are safer.

    • I don’t think that the suburbs of Paris are particularly safe from what I have read. There are some areas apparently where the police will not go unless they are in huge numbers. I remember being told by a student of French some ten years ago that when she had done her year abroad, in Paris, she didn’t like the atmosphere. She always thought that a riot was going to kick off in the next ten minutes! Didn’t like the place at all!

  7. Did anyone ever think about ‘opening’ the graves of the children to establish their validity? Surely that may have given rise to almost certain evidence of part of this tale. The idea of three aspects coming together to form one fits well with me. Compelling reading John.

    • Given the strength of the Church back in those days, I don’t think that anybody would ever have thought of opening up those graves. In any case, I don’t think that they would have found a great deal. The reality was that the children, probably bones included, had been eaten by the Beast of Veyreau and these apparent graves near Jean Grin’s cottage were just part of the gossip made up about him.

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