Book Review: National Geographic Guide to the World’s Supernatural Places

National Geographic Guide to the World’s Supernatural Places, published in 2014, is one of twenty non-fiction books written by Sarah Bartlett. Based in London, Bartlett is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 2, has a Diploma in Psychological Astrology, and spent three years studying a range of fields including astrology and mythology.

In the book, Bartlett goes beyond identifying infamous haunted hotspots and tales of supernatural beings. It is clear she has done in-depth research in order to present all the facts to the reader – history of each; cross-references to various sources; and other literature that has been written due to each. Along with illustrations and photographs, this creates a convincing believability to each haunted location and the story behind the story.

At the beginning of the book, Bartlett gives a thorough introduction to the history of supernatural sightings. Her research has gone back thousands of years, from ancient times to modern-day, she provides continuing evidence of civilisations believing in the supernatural. This is critical to the book, as many of the ancient monuments mentioned in the book, their original purpose has been lost. Categorised by type of supernatural occurrence, the book then breaks each into geographic locations for easy reference.

One thing that struck me was her use of dramatic language to convey the grim and mystery when reading it – some of the stories gave me goosebumps. Every word leaves me on tenterhooks, terrified but wanting to finish reading, for example, ‘a bloodsucking woman will sniff you out and disembowel you’. Even with the use of dramatic language, the writing is tight and is direct. This makes it faster, and easier to read.

Reading this book gave me the notion that there must be a reason for a supernatural being to exist – there is always a back story. The why and how of how a person became supernatural or came to be. It brought a clearer perspective of the how and why of Gabriel and Jamie, who are two different supernatural beings – gargoyle and werewolf. For Gabriel, his back story needed to be focused and clear. He has been alive for millennia, but age is not an indicator as to the why he acts the way he does. Spending time working on his story, I was able to find the reason why he acts the way he does and gave him a ‘how he came to be’ story.

The back story is important for depth to a character but just as important as how it is told. In this book, Bartlett keeps it short and sharp; just enough detail to inform the reader not bore them. I went back to my own writing and rewrote the entire back story scenes, for instance, the book was going to start with Gran’s back story, her sighting, but from reading this book, it is now in chapter six, with snippets placed throughout interactions between Danielle and Gran.

Bartlett, S. (2014). National Geographic guide to the world’s supernatural places. Washington DC, USA: National Geographic Partners, LLC.

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