Thursday, July 07, 2011

Cryptids!

I was contemplating cryptids this week after having picked up the first two books is Roland Smith's terrific Cryptid Hunters series published by Hyperion and Scholastic:  The series features the adventures of thirteen-year-old twins Marty and Grace and their cryptid-hunting uncle.  In the first book, they're off to Africa to save the sauropod-shaped mokele-mbembe from facing a new extinction.  In the second, they're on a ship off the coast of New Zealand to find a giant squid.  Two more books are forthcoming...

Anyway, it got me thinking.  As a young reader, in addition to dinosaurs, one of the things that I was absolutely fascinated by was crytpids (although the word didn't actually exist back then): Bigfoot, Yeti, the Loch Ness Monstermokele-mbembe, and the like.  Just the idea that there were these creatures that could exist below the radar in our (apparently) very advanced world fascinated me.  And how cool would it have been to have come face to face with one or any of these?  Of course, in 1938, that very thing happened with the discovery of live coelacanths, thought to have gone extinct at the time of the dinosaurs...

The difference, of course, between dinosaurs and (most) cryptids is that the former were real, but they still tap into that same craving to see them live and that same wonder about what would happen if we encountered them today.  In the flesh.  And this fascination has been ongoing since very nearly the dawn of the dinosaurs themselves.

 The earliest life-sized sculptures were the "Crystal Palace dinosaurs" of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, built in the early 1850's, not long after Richard Owen coined the term "dinosaur."  Nowadays, of course, just about every natural history museum has skeletal and/or static or animatronic recreations.

Incidentally, for a great picture book treatment of Hawkins, check out the Caldecott Honor book, THE DINOSAURS OF WATERHOUSE HAWKINS,by Barbara Kerley, ill. by Brian Selznick (Scholastic 2001).

It took a little longer for Mesozoic creatures to appear in the literature, but ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs appeared in Jules Verne's 1864 novel, A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.   Dinosaurs featured prominently in 1912's THE LOST WORLD, by Arthur Conan Doyle and 1918's THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  All three books relate to modern humans stumbling across remote and isolated ecosystems in which dinosaurs or other ancient beasts never went extinct.  And what would happen if we had to interact with them today...
   
 Of course, back then, they didn't have time travel.

1 comment:

brian yansky said...

Interesting post, Greg.

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