by Ray Bradbury
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Ray Bradbury has long had a fascination with dinosaurs, and if the general public has not linked him as closely to the great beasts as it has to Mars, it is through no fault of his own. Dinosaur Tales, originally published in 1983, collects four stories and two poems in which Bradbury explores the hold these massive beasts have on the imagination. In some cases, such as “Tyrannosaurus Rex,” the link is direct, while in others, including his famous story “A Sound of Thunder,” the link is less focused.
Opening with the introductory essays, by Bradbury and by Ray Harryhausen, whose work in stop-motion animation has inspired numerous artists and authors, from Bradbury to Greg Bear to the staff at Pixar who included Harryhausen in the film “Monsters, Inc.” These both look at the men’s shared interest in dinosaurs, as well as the shared circumstances under which those interests were launched.
The stories and poems are heavily illustrated by a variety of artists, providing a broad spectrum of depictions of dinosaur influenced art, some of it realistic and some of it cartoonish. While these might not always be true to the text they are accompanying, they do present an idea about the wide range of inspirations dinosaurs have provided.
The centerpiece of the book, of course, are Bradbury’s stories, which depict the power of dinosaurs (in “Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?” and “Tyrannosaurus Rex”) as well as the bitter sweet idea of the loss of the dinosaurs (in the near-Lovecraftian “The Fog Horn” or the Poe-based poem “Lo, the Dead, Daft Dinosaurs!”). These stories do more than reflect on the fates of the dinosaurs, they examine the characteristics of the humans who have fallen in love with them.
In “Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?” Benjamin demonstrates both the single-minded devotion of a child with a new obsession as well as the capricious nature of childhood when he makes his decision that the only thing worthwhile growing up to be is a dinosaur. Benjamin’s career choice is nurtured by his grandfather, who sees only the positives of Benjamin’s growing curiosity until the truth of the matter is brought home to him.
“Tyrannosaurus Rex” uses the dinosaur as a metaphor for the fear which can be engendered by a person as well as the manner in which a person can be perceived. In the end, however, the story is not about the dinosaur, but about the person it represents, in this case the despotic film producer Joseph Clarence, who looks upon the dinosaur and sees one feature, while those around him see it in a different manner completely.
Bradbury twice deals with the issue of dinosaurs surviving into the modern era. The shorter piece, the poem “What If I Said: The Dinosaur’s Not Dead?” deals with the wish people have that these creatures could have survived while “The Fog Horn” shows the survival of a dinosaur in a manner which is practically Lovecraftian in mood, although it ends with a bitter moment as the loneliness of the sole surviving dinosaur becomes apparent.
The most famous story in the collection is Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” which is a time travel story which uses game hunter’s desire to hunt the greatest game of all, Tyrannosaurus rex, in order to make a point of causality which has captured the imagination of generations since the story was first published in 1952 in Collier’s.A thin volume, Dinosaur Tales collects a lifetime of thoughts about dinosaurs by a man who clearly has an affection for the beasts and understands all the different things they represent to so many different people.
Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up? A Sound of Thunder Lo, the Dear, Daft Dinosaurs! The Fog Horn What If I Said: The Dinosaur's Not Dead Tyrannosaurus Rex
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