When I was halfway through the first grade, our family moved from Flint, Michigan to the nearby small town of Durand (the Railroad capital of Michigan, and dubious honor of being the home of the ‘Durand Dirties’, an X rated drive-in theater of statewide notoriety). One of the first things my Mother did for us children, once we moved there, was take us to visit the local library, where I got my first library card.
One of my early obsessions at that time was dinosaurs. I must’ve checked out each and every book about prehistoric life that the small Durand library had on its shelves, and sometimes the same books over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of this idea that at some point in the past, the world was crawling with giant lizard-like beasts. I found the illustrations even more captivating. Some of them have burrowed into my brain to the point where I get a rush of childhood memories just by glancing at certain images, especially by the artist Charles R. Knight, and his beautiful (but inaccurate, especially to modern paleontologists) brontosaurus pictures, and his amazing murals for the Chicago Natural History Museum.
When, in the early 90’s, the movie “Jurassic Park” was released, I was super excited to see it, and to take my young son, who was nearing the same age that I was when I was bit by the ‘dinosaur bug’. The early CGI of that film literally made me gasp the first time the beasts came on the screen. But then something sort of sad happened (and the end of the movie sort of has the same melancholy feel). The monsters lost their mystery and allure for me. When they were relegated to my imagination, and to poorly executed stop motion photography (like Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs from ‘The Valley of Gwangi’ and ‘King Kong’ and ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’), the dinosaurs still had the power to spark awe and wonder. Once digital animation took over the media, ANYTHING that could be conjured up in the mind could now end up on a movie or television screen. And the latter day discoveries that dinosaurs eventually evolved into our modern day birds, also sort of deflated the excitement and allure of these mighty beasts. What’s to get excited about? There’s dinosaur relatives flying all over the back yard bird feeder.
I still prefer Knight’s vision, and I still feel a glimmer of awe when I look at his pictures.
To Be Continued.