Some of you actually believe in the in-the-flesh existence of beasts like the Loch Ness monster, Chupacabra, Bigfoot, the Monster of Lake Champlain, Mokele-mbembe, and the Yeti. I’m addressing you and have a message. Folklore is just folklore.
What 16th century sailor wouldn’t be terrified by a real whale, octopus, or shark? Spinning the yarn, he’d express his terror and surprise others by making those real animals into something larger than life. They would become enormous, bloodthirsty, and altogether “prehistoric” creatures, rising up from the depths from what seemed like an endless Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. But that doesn’t mean those creatures actually WERE hundreds of feet long and could destroy boats or devour sailors in one bite.
What 19th century explorer wouldn’t be scared white by a large, moving creature in the depths of the African Congo? In a dark and altogether alien world, the slightest snap of a twig or squawk from the branches could conjure anything the fearful imagination suggested at that moment. What explorer wouldn’t mistake a massive hippopotamus or Congo elephant for something thought to be dead for eons?
It’s very interesting to study the reactions of people when the unknown thrusts beyond their comfort zone of experience. It’s worth studying the way fear and wonder interact to create the wild diversity of folklore that our world has known.
By all means, study the countless dimensions of folklore. A better understanding of our past and present selves is beneficial beyond measure. But please don’t spend your time and money on trying to prove the existence of the made-up beasts in the stories. There is no plesiosaur in Loch Ness, no Apatosaurus in the Congo, and no hairy upright apes in Canada besides bearded men. What does exist is the circumstance behind the story. And circumstances, past and present, have no shortage of magical possibilities.