Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Cursed Objects: Strange But True Stories of the World's Most Infamous Items by J.W. Ocker


Quirk Books is one of my go-tos for weird entertainment, so when I saw that CURSED OBJECTS was on sale in the Kindle Store, I naturally had to buy it. Joke's on me! This book is apparently cursed and it's bad news bears for you if you pirated your copy, according to the author. After all, you were WARNED.

This is a collection of cursed objects and their histories. Most of them are pretty famous, like the Hope Diamond, Ötzi the Iceman, the Dybbuk box from eBay, Annabelle the Doll, and the like, but there were some that were new to me, like the taboo Maori treasures that pregnant and menstruating women were initially soft-banned from seeing pending a curse apocalypse of doom and I-told-you-so, and something called the Silvianus ring, which, LEGEND has it, inspired the One Ring from LotR. Gollum not included.

I thought this book was pretty fun and it was clear that the author was having a great time (you gotta love a passion project), but this fell a little short for me for several reasons. First, when they say that it's "illustrated" they mean with little drawings. There are no photographs. I'm not sure if it was too expensive to buy the rights to repost the photographs or if maybe taking photographs of cursed items felt like it was pushing your karmic chances (probably true), but either way, it made me feel like I was being deprived of part of the experience of looking at the cursed abyss and having it look back before I run screaming from the room because the abyss is a DOLL.

Second, this kind of feels like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Nonfiction Edition. I feel like I would have been wowed by these if I were a preteen or younger (which is maybe the target age for this book?) but as an adult and a believer in SCIENCE, it was mostly an exercise in credulity. Curses, as the author even points out at the end of the book, become a kind of ourboros of their own lore: once you set the idea of a curse in motion, confirmation bias takes effect and people start to only remember incidents that conform to the idea of their being a curse in the first place. I also wondered if part of the reason so many British and American people thought their (stolen) Egyptian and Indian treasures were cursed was a sort of projected feeling of cognitive dissonance over colonist guilt for stealing cultural artifacts. I mean, you have these items that are of serious cultural and ceremonial import and you are taking them and I'm sure, deep down, that made people feel a bit funny. And maybe "it's cursed!" was easier to swallow than "I am a jerk who is thieving the cultural vaults of other countries!"

Anyway, this was a fun, quick read-- Quirk rarely disappoints-- but not a keeper. Still, why tempt fate? I'm steering well clear of any cursed boxes, dolls, or totems I find on eBay, THANKS.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

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