Review of the Book
The Min Min Light
The Visitor Who Never Arrives
What does a barn owl have in common with mysterious lights with names like Min Min, Will o’ the Wisp, and Jack o’ Lantern? Much. This
non-fiction gives a simple explanation for a phenomenon that, for centuries, has frightened and intrigued people around the world:
The occasionally bioluminescent
barn owl Tyto Alba.
Min Min it’s commonly called in Australia, the home of the author, F. F. Silcock. It’s not just the aborigines who’ve been terrified
at wandering lights that seem possessed of intelligence: Many people have run away or hidden from them, for legends explain them spiritually;
they’re said to cause death.
In Great Britain, where they’re called Will o’ the Wisp or Jack o’ Lantern, old tales also abound: People who follow the lights are
said to become trapped in a marsh or lost. But the book gives a reasonable explanation for what was once con-sidered either unexplainable
How could all those ghost-lights be caused by barn owls? Some of them, some of the time, have some kind of bioluminescence
that they can control. That’s the conclusion reached in this book, and the eyewitness testimonies fill many of its pages. Long
before finishing this book, I came to the same conclusion as the author did, and I was delighted with the
book; I recommend it to anyone interested in birds or in the strange low-flying lights seen in many parts of the world.
Reviewed by Jonathan Whitcomb
F. F. Silcock
The reviewer, Jonathan Whitcomb, has studied the ropen light of Papua New Guinea, finding those lights to differ from Min Mins in
several important ways (much higher altitude; different flight characteristics, speed, and destinations). The ropen is thought to
be a living pterosaur.
Page 1: “ . . . The light made a good long shift, making a low curve . . . What was strange was that when it took those curving shifts
it went against the wind and then gradually floated back to the old place.” (J. Allan, Liverpool Plains, Australia, 1860)
Page 47: “. . . insects were swarming around the light. I must have been watching for at least a minute when the light began decreasing
in strength and . . . I saw inside it the shape of a bird.”
Page 48: “ . . . They crept to within ten metres of the tree and flashed the beam of a powerful torch onto the light. The light extinguished
and a ‘large brown bird’ flew up.”
Page 50: “ . . . the light came down and settled into the canopy of one tree. . . . the light shut off and sitting where it had been
was a white owl. . .”
Page 52: “The two lights rose . . . they were heading straight for us . . . someone . . . kept the spotlight aimed as the lights came
down upon us. . . . the spotlight was thrown backwards and the light illuminated two great wings . . . Then they swept away into the
darkness. . . . someone exclaimed . . . ‘It was a bloody great owl.’” (New South Wales)