Note: This post originally appeared on tobinelliott.com
This is the first in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.
One of the first books I’m conscious of reading, in fact, it may have been the first “adult” book I read cover to cover, was Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?
Let’s address the elephant in the blog right now: No, this is not a good book (despite that absolutely cool late 60s style of cover with the bold lettering…goddamn I loved those covers). In fact, it’s quite terrible .
And that’s part of why it was so influential for me.
The book was released in 1968 and it picked up a pretty decent buzz almost immediately, from what my memory can dredge up. I likely read it somewhere around 1969 or 1970, making me about seven years old. This was likely the best target market von Däniken could have wished for. Young, malleable, naive and wanting oh so desperately to believe. I had that whole Fox Mulder “I want to believe” schtick down decades before he put that poster up in his basement office of the FBI.
And besides, how cool is the name Erich von Däniken? Hell, the man even has an übër-cöol umlaut in his last name.
Sidenote: I always thought Umlaüt would be the best name for a metal band. End of sidenote.
Being that young, and being absolutely fascinated with anything that had anything to do with space–and really, why not? I was living in a world that had made it to the moon, but had not yet added footprints into that dusty satellite’s surface as yet. Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet buggered up what are some of man’s most iconic words: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Of course, he meant one small step for a man, but hey, give the guy a bit of slack…he was the first of us to set foot on something other than our own planet.
On the other hand, according to von Däniken, Armstrong and the rest of mankind were quite behind those who had, millenia earlier, visited our planet. If you buy into his theories (which I absolutely, wholeheartedly did), then some of our most amazing ancient structures, such as the pyramids and the Easter Island heads were put there by ancient aliens viewed as gods. He saw astronauts and spacecraft in ancient drawings. He saw a lot of stuff that could be explained by extraterrestrials in religion as well.
Reading (and believing) this book led me down years of reading and countless books on the various strange perceived mysteries of our world. UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, alien abductions, conspiracy theories…the fire was sparked from this book.
But another fire, one much more significant and long-lasting was as well. Not long after I’d devoured this book, my mother met, and eventually married a very intelligent man named Bob. You know that expression, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear? That’s exactly what happened here.
As I said, I bought the whole Chariots of the Gods stuff hook, line and sinker. Bob, on the other hand, thought it was all bullshit. So, I challenged him to refute some of the things I’d read. And he did. This common guy, with no stunning education or degrees behind his name, was able, mostly with common sense or a little deductive reasoning, to pretty much shoot holes through everything my beloved von Däniken had proposed.
I can’t remember much of the discussion anymore, but I remember that moment of deflation, of hearing what Bob said and knowing he was right. But I also remember stubbornly holding on to any bit of ancient alien visitation theory I could, even while it slipped away like sand through my fingers.
One of the best examples of Bob’s counterarguments–and bear in mind I’ll have to make this up because the book is long gone now–went something like this:
Von Däniken said something along the lines of, if you take the height of the great pyramids of Egypt and multiply them by some number, it will come out to the exact distance of the Earth from the sun, something the Egyptians could never have known.
I gotta tell you, at the time, that one rocked my socks.
Then Bob came along and, with his thick Scottish brogue, flapped a dismissive hand and said, “”That’s nae even worth refutin’!” I couldn’t understand why, even when he said, “You can do anything with math!” I still didn’t get it.
So he grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and proceeded to show me how, with the right multiplier, the height of our house, the height of the Empire State Building, or even my height could equal the distance from the Earth to the sun.
Well no shit.
How did this book change my life?
Today, I do believe there is life on other planets in other galaxies. Statistically, it’s ridiculous to believe otherwise. And while I love any story, novel or movie that deals with aliens on our world (the aforementioned X-Files is a personal favourite), I do not believe they have come to visit us as yet. Because I’ve learned a healthy skepticism from being sucked in by von Däniken and his ridiculous theories and by what Bob taught me to consider afterward.
It changed my life because it opened my eyes to all the snake oil salesmen this world offers up and how easily gullibility can be defeated with a little bit of logical thought.
Thanks Erich. Thanks Bob.