Dinotopia is a fantasy about how the world might have been if dinosaurs and people lived together. The completely fabricated world that Gurney creates is quite different from the one portrayed in the science fiction book Jurassic Park, in which a realistic future was extrapolated from a few small literary inventions. Unlike the nasty creatures in Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs in Dinotopia are intelligent and cooperative.
The book purports to be the recently discovered journal and sketches that belonged to Arthur Denison, who was ship-wrecked on the island of Dinotopia with his son Will in the mid-1800s. The story describes a journey of discovery that lasted almost four years. There is plenty of action, adventure, intrigue, and even a budding romance between Will and a native Dinotopian girl, Sylvia. There are several unresolved plots to insure at least one sequel will follow.
The story is detailed to the extent that it would probably be too difficult for anyone younger than ten to read and understand. Many of the details and humorous highlights will only be noticed by adults (for example, the map of the Dinotopian world shows South America and Africa still joined -- which was the case 50-100 million years ago). Younger children will certainly be impressed with the number and quality of the paintings that bring this fantasy world to life. But I think this misses the point of the book. Dinotopia is not how the world was -- a fact that younger children may not understand. Give this book to a child who is old enough to appreciate the enormity of the effort involved in creating a work of this caliber. That is what will make the book special and justify the hefty price.
Dinotopia is expensive, but the artwork is first rate and the writing style adds just the right amount of plausibility to bring the whole work together. If you have a child in the 5th to 7th grade who enjoys dinosaurs and fiction, this book will probably be a hit. I had trouble finding the book in local book stores, so it seems like it is a hot item this year.
Dinotopia by James Gurney; ISBN 1-878685-23-6; $29.95.
Copyright © 1993 by Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.
The preceding article was originally published in the November 1993 issue of Lithosphere, the official bulletin of the Fallbrook [California] Gem and Mineral Society, Inc; Richard Busch (Editor).
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Last updated: 18 September 2002