Ley, Willy

In 1941, the young scientist and scholar Willy Ley, German-born and educated, wrote his first book in the field of popular science, initiating a lifelong exploration of cryptozoological matters. (His other passion, about which he wrote and was internationally famous, especially after escaping from Nazi Germany, was rocketry and space travel.) The book was an adventure story about his own first love, paleontology, but also included his thoughts on “living fossils.” Called The Lungfish and the Unicorn: An Excursion into Romantic Zoology, it reached a relatively small but immensely delighted coterie of readers. Ley’s talent for conveying wonder, curiosity, and humour was evident from the beginning.

Ley wrote other books on what he called “romantic zoology,” his early way to convey one aspect of what would become known as cryptozoology. In 1948 his first book was revised and expanded into The Lungfish, the Dodo and the Unicorn: An Excursion into Romantic Zoology. Later, Dragons in Amber: Further Adventures of a Romantic Naturalist (1951), about survivors from antiquity, animals and plants with wanderlust, and vanished flora and fauna, appeared. Salamanders and Other Wonders (1955), about other unique animals and plants, expressed his thoughts on other cryptids. Finally, his compilation volume, Exotic Zoology (1959), gathered all that he had written before on Yeti, Mokele-mbembe, and Sea Serpents.

As Ley was writing before Bernard Heuvelmans had published on similar topics, Ley’s books are viewed today as popular classics and he is seen as one of the great “popularizers” of the late 1940s and early 1950s of the soon-to-be new science of cryptozoology.



The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark

Ley, Willy (1906–1969) Although the term cryptozoology had yet to be coined when he was alive, German scientist Willy Ley helped popularize the serious consideration of mysterious beasts, such as the unicorn. Calling his discipline “romantic zoology” Ley argued that instead of dismissing stories of mysterious beasts without investigating them, scientists should study such accounts and try to find out whether a real animal might have been at their source. His widely read books include The Lungfish and the Unicorn: An Excursion into Romantic Zoology (1941), Dragons in Amber: Further Adventures of a Romantic Naturalist (1951), Salamanders and Other Wonders (1955), and Exotic Zoology (1959).


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The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning

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