Today, we’ll be visiting a much more peaceful, pleasant location on the Lost World World Tour. Unlike almost all of the previous locations, this might be a place where people would actually like to go. Yes, it’s time to spend some time dithering in Dinotopia, featured in the 1993 illustrated book by James Gurney.
Dinotopia is a hidden island located somewhere in the Pacific (maybe?), which is inhabited by both intelligent dinosaurs, prehistoric beasts and the survivors of shipwrecks from countless cultures and civilizations. Because of this, the world of Dinotopia is a hodgepodge of almost every civilization mixed together — along with the saurians themselves. The dinosaurs here talk (with their own roaring, hissing language) and work together with the human inhabitants to live and prosper. Highlights include the Venice-like Waterfall City and the Quetzalcoatlus-packed Canyon City. Dinotopia has pretty much every kind of environment (and every kind of prehistoric creature) you can imagine. It’s dinosaurs are pretty well-behaved. Even the tyrannosaurs will leave you alone — provided you give them gifts of tasty fish.
Unlike the behemoth Jurassic Park, Dinotopia hasn’t expanded into a vast multimedia empire. There are three fantastically illustrated books by James Gurney, a pop-up book, some other books for adults and young adults, and a miniseries. I remember enjoying all of them when I was fairly young. Do they hold up? Well, Gurney’s illustrations at least are never going to get old. They’ve got a sort of photo-realism to them and the pictures of assorted dinosaurs in fantastic costumes (or serving as nannies) are both majestic and adorably hilarious. For a dinosaur-loving kid, you can’t do much better.
The first Dinotopia book came out when I was a young fan of all things dinosaur. I have many fond memories of sitting next to my father and looking over the pictures as he read to me. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and would often wander around creating my own Dinotopia stories in my head. Yeah, I was a pretty weird kid… However, I didn’t remember anything of the book’s actual story. I went back and looked it over for this blog post and found some interesting things.
First off, Dinotopia ( despite the name literally meaning ‘terrible place) is a pure utopia. There’s no money, no crime and no feuds between dinosaurs and people. The narrative of the main books follows two Victorian Era shipwreck survivors, a father and son, who wash up on Dinotopia. I think having them crash in 1862 was an important decision as Dinotopia seems to be everything the Victorian Age is not. There’s some technology (with some very cool gliding airships) but no smoke-belching factories with child laborers. There’s no American Civil War with its endless slaughter. There’s no capitalism and frenzied Industrial Age quest for profits. There’s no racism (or speciesm, if that’s a thing). It’s a bit like the ideal of steampunk — an ideal world through counter-factual technology, but with dinosaurs instead of steam.
It may seem a little hard to set a story in a utopia and Dinotopia’s narrative is indeed relatively conflict-free. I guess that makes it a little boring for adult readers — but the sheer imagination contained within the illustrations makes up for that. Dinotopia is the Lost World as a pure fantasy land, even more so than Edgar Rice Burrough’s Pellucidar. It’s a place that can’t exist at all in our world. For that reason alone, it’s a place worth visiting.