I can’t help but notice how big the steampunk movement is these days, what with HUGO recently gracing the Academy Awards. But despite how visually appealing many find it, how romanticized and attractive, I’ve never quite been indoctrinated. There was always something a little off…a little underwhelming. My throwback romantic era was never 1890’s Victorian city life, always country-chic Jane Austen or Anne of Green Gables.
Then I finally realized why that steamy fantasy land was never exciting to me: because as a child I had read the works of the amazing James Gurney: who masterfully and beautifully combined the brilliant British inventor/scientist type a la steampunk with, what else? Dinosaurs of course!
Every kid likes dinosaurs, and of course we always imagine a peaceful alternate reality in which humans and dinos got along, living in a gorgeous pollution-free city (or island, perhaps?). This is exactly what James Gurney imagined and illustrated so well in his Dinotopia book series, which brought to life the hidden oasis of the stalactite caves long before Planet Earth film crews traveled there.
He thought of everything: Riding teradactyls before Avatars did it, scary dinosaurs, smart dinosaurs, cute dinosaurs wearing clothes…it was the perfect children’s book to facilitate growing up with an active imagination. Now I look at all those clunky gears and goggle helmets and think, where’s the elegance? Where’s the variety? Dinotopia had water powered cities, tree houses, and canyon cities for goodness sake!
Although this is a kid’s picture book and I did read it more than a few years ago now, it is so rich in content and visual details that I’m longing to go back and revisit it. I remember how it even stoked my early interest in science, as the author included “exerpts” from the inventor’s laboratory notebook, featuring yellowing pages filled with Da Vinci-esque drawings of flying machines and dinosaur-powered contraptions. I didn’t think it could get any better. Well add uncovering the secrets of a lost civilization (including treasure) and a race against evil grasping Tyrannosaurs and I guess it does get better.
Not to mention that scientists published recently in the journal Nature that the fossil record challenges the conventionally held belief that T-Rex’s were scaly reptiles and could have looked more like giant fuzzy chickens. This was sort of like saying Pluto is not a planet. All my childhood dreams, crushed! Needless to say I needed a throwback to the good ‘ol days of my scaly dino friends in lovely Dinotopia.
I just hope a new generation of kids still gets exposed to these beautiful books, for which a love can last a a lifetime. I know I’llalways be a convert.