The Strange Tale of an Extra Special Talking Mongoose

Download (2)Bee Wilson at the LRB:

‘He does not feed like a mongoose,’ James Irving said of the talking mongoose that had taken up residence – or so it was said – in his remote Isle of Man farmhouse in the early 1930s. Irving told psychic investigators that his family had tried the mongoose – who went by the name of ‘Gef’ – on bread and milk, only to have their food rejected. Slowly and patiently, the Irvings found a repertoire of things that Gef would consent to eat. Before they went to bed at night, they would set out tidbits of bananas and oranges, chocolate and biscuits, sausage and bacon – ‘he always leaves the fat part.’ In the morning, the mongoose chatted to them through the wainscotting in his clear high-pitched voice about which of the items he had eaten.

For several years in the 1930s the case of this Manx mongoose – who was said to speak in a range of foreign languages including ‘Hindustani’, as well as singing, whistling, coughing ‘in a human manner’, swearing, dancing and attending political meetings – was discussed across Britain. As a fantastical beast, he was a contemporary of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, who was first supposedly photographed in 1933, although his fame was shorter-lived. Sometimes he called himself an ‘earthbound spirit’ and sometimes a ‘marsh mongoose’. When he first arrived at the Irving house in 1931, he was said to be a malevolent presence, a kind of ‘man-weasel’ who frightened the family with satanic laughter. Over the months, however, the Irvings warmed to some of Gef’s ways, and he became a pet of sorts, who amused the family with his gossip and jokes. He was less eager to share these witticisms with outsiders who came to the house to check him out. He didn’t like to speak to people who doubted him and punished them with silence and insults or threatened to blast them away with a shotgun.

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