Over at Alex on SF I’ve added my review of the H. G. Wells classic tale of body horror The Island of Doctor Moreau. I start off by saying how this is a book that I took on board at an early age and that I’ve regularly come back to. On this most recent re-reading, however, I found I’d been getting something wrong. When he comes back from his first excursion about the island, the narrator Prendick is trying to get Montgomery to explain what it is he (Prendick) encountered in the jungle:
“Montgomery,” said I, “what was that thing that came after me. Was it a beast, or was it a man?”
“If you don’t sleep tonight,” he said, “you’ll be off your head tomorrow.”
I stood up in front of him. “What was that thing that came after me?” I asked.
He looked me squarely in the eyes and twisted his mouth askew. His eyes, which had seemed animated a minute before, went dull. “From your account,” said he, “I’m thinking it was a bogle.”
I felt a gust of intense irritation that passed as quickly as it came. I flung myself into the chair again and pressed my hands on my forehead.
The first time I read this, and on every subsequent reading up until now, I’d always thought “bogle” a made-up word or pet-name that Montgomery used to refer to a particular type of Beast Man. His answer then registers as nonsense to Prendick, who collapses in exasperation. He’s just never going to get a straight answer out of Monty.
I was reading the Penguin Classics edition this time though and saw “bogle” tagged with an endnote, which informed me that bogle refers to “a phantom or creature of one’s own imagining.” So bogle wasn’t just a nonsense word.
Consulting a dictionary, I found bogle defined as a goblin or specter. The Oxford English Dictionary has “a phantom; a goblin; an undefined creature conjured up by superstitious dread.” Meanwhile, Wikipedia has this to say:
A bogle, boggle, or bogill is a Northumbrian and Scots term for a ghost or folkloric being, used for a variety of related folkloric creatures including Shellycoats, Barghests, Brags, the Hedley Kow and even giants such as those associated with Cobb’s Causeway (also known as “ettins”, “yetuns” or “yotuns” in Northumberland and “Etenes”, “Yttins” or “Ytenes” in the South and South West). They are reputed to live for the simple purpose of perplexing mankind, rather than seriously harming or serving them.
I guess the Penguin note is correct in how Montgomery is using the word (“you were just seeing things”) but I was interested in knowing that it was a word Prendick would have understood, and that Prendick’s exasperation derives from being told that he’d only imagined seeing the bogeyman.