09/04/02
Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Dinosaurs
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

In celebrating the birthday of Edgar R. Burroughs I have chosen to skip his most well-known creation, the jungle hero Tarzan, and celebrate instead, dinosaur fiction, a genre that Burroughs contributed to with his 1916 publication of The Land That Time Forgot, a tale about a World War I submarine that follows a hidden underwater passage to the lost island of Capsak--a land inhabited by ferocious dinosaurs.

Burroughs was not the first to pen fictional adventures about dinosaurs. In the late 1800s, with Darwin's Theory of Evolution hot off the presses, a number of authors turned their attention to stories of the primordial past. But it was not until 1912 and the publication of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, that the die was cast. Doyle, best known for his Sherlock Holmes series, set the standard for much of the dinosaur fiction that was to come, and many of the devices he used have become canonical in the genre. There was the idea of a lost or undiscovered swath of jungle that harbored prehistoric giants -- the professor of paleontology whom no one will believe -- and the near always fatal attempt to capture a dinosaur and bring it back to civilization.

Foremost among the fans of such stories are children, who can never, it seems, get enough of dinosaur tales. Many have wondered what it is about dinosaurs that makes them so compelling for children. Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park, comments "One day I was in a museum and there was a little kid who couldn't have been more than two... watching this slide show... And the slides would be up there and the kid would shout Tyrannosaurus! Stegosaurus!, and I just sat there thinking 'what is it?'"

Steven Spielberg discussing the film version of Jurassic Park, also considers the connection between children and dinosaurs. He comments "My first toy from a museum that I ever got was a little lead-cast triceratops, and I became fascinated. Dinosaurs are bigger than us, that's one point," Spielberg comments "and... because they are something that doesn't exist today... [because] there is no direct access, [dinosaurs] become the thing that mythology is made of. Dinosaurs have the pull and seduction of mythology but they have their roots in reality."

The mythological connection is perhaps a vital point. Some see a direct connection between dinosaur films and medieval dragons tales. And if you were a medieval farmer what would you think, if while plowing your field, you tuned up a giant lizard-like scull with rows upon rows of nasty teeth? You might just drag it home, and sitting with your family by the fireside, you could be inspired to tell a tale of days long past -- when dragons ruled the Earth.

Copyright 2002 Kevin Shortsleeve

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Monday, 16-Dec-2002 00:01:16 EST


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