The other day I was looking for a new background for my new laptop. The problem is I have so many interests and hobbies I can never decide on one for long. My last computer shuffled through over 1,000 images it automatically shuffled through, but since that helped slow it down to a crawl.
Anyway, I went searching for a cool dinosaur pic when I came across a painting I hadn’t seen in almost fifteen years: Dinotopia.
For the uninitiated: Dinotopia is an island where dinosaurs are not only still alive but sentient and live in harmony with humans. The books follow several humans brought to the island by dolphins as they learn about Dinotopian society and history and have fun adventures with their new dino friends.
I’ll be honest, the stories for me were really more of a context for the art. I must’ve checked out every Dinotopia book my elementary school had at least a hundred times. I was a dinosaur kid back in the day (Still am, I go to Vernal’s Dinosaur National Monument anytime I can) so this was right up my alley.
One of the things I loved about Dinotopia was that it’s a utopian society. The entire island is at peace, even the carnivores. When an herbivore senses it’s about to die it wanders into the valley where the meat eaters live and offers itself as sacrifice. Humans live on fish and plants, like the dinosaurs, and spend their time bettering the society. Utopians are hard to find in fiction, since dystopian societies are a greater source of conflicts. There aren’t any villains or massive world-shaking conflicts for the characters to stop. The main stories are usually the characters just exploring the dinosaur’s island, meeting new dinosaurs and learning about the island’s history, and honestly when you’re dealing with a world where dinosaurs will talk to you while happily letting you ride on their backs, a villain will only get in the way.
I mentioned the art before and I’ll mention it again: ART! The illustrations are full paintings with rich detail only a master artist could come up with, and considering we’re talking about people riding pteranadons that’s saying something. The artist James Gurney never seems to think of his subjects as silly or ridiculous, and thus the scenes are always these grand scale pieces emphasizing the beauty of Dinotopia. To me it’s how kids see dinosaurs, big, beautiful, and full of wonder.
This series is a spectacular piece for children and parents alike. The art is perfect. The story is full of hope, beauty and adventure without the usual darkness comes with fiction, and the escapism is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. In the immortal words from Reading Rainbow: “You don’t have to take my word for it…”
We’ll see you next time!