Dinotopia: A Land Apart From Time by James Gurney

This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series 2022 Reads

As with other posts in this series, these #booksread2022 posts go anywhere from a few weeks to a month after I’ve read them. I read this particular book last week, though! 


Back when I made a trip to the United States in 2019, I asked at several bookstores about James Gurney’s Dinotopia books, and the response was always the same: the shop owners knew exactly what I was talking about, but told me that they hadn’t seen a copy in quite some time. The only way to get copies was online, as it turned out, but knowing my son’s obsession with dinosaurs was unlikely to wane anytime soon, I ordered a few of them second-hand. 

My son flipped through them, absorbed by the art, but he was a bit young for me to read the stories in them to him at the time, so I put it off until now. However, this past week I read to him the first book of the series, Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time. We were, as before, mesmerized by the art: Gurney’s illustrations of a world where humans and dinosaurs live in utopian harmony are absolutely captivating, as I already knew long before acquiring the books: I’d gotten my wife a few books of Gurney’s on the techniques of illustration and painting, and some of the art from the series appears in those volumes as well. 

The story, though, deserves some praise too. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here: Gurney envisions a world that would be utopian in. contrast even to ours today, but which ought to feel unthinkable for the time period in which it’s set (in the 1860s). Yet somehow—I think by the power of the art, and because the text is in itself actually quite short, it holds together nicely. Dinotopia is a multiethnic utopia, and while it’s not exactly multicultural, it has its own unique culture, distinct from the rest of humanity in that time and cleverly particular to its own circumstances… but the presence of the dinosaurs and their influence on the humans who live on the isle is more than enough to dispel any questions that might bubble up from a more cynical reader’s mind about whether a British naturalist in the 1860s would really have held Africans and Irish folk on the Isle in as high regard as the narrator does. 

At times, I wasn’t sure whether my son was actually following the story: Gurney’s written it in the voice of the nineteenth-century naturalist who does most of the narrating. However, whenever I paused to ask him a question, he always turned to me and responded in a way that suggested he was paying attention, even if he was staring off into space. When we reached the end of the book, I suggested we read something else, assuming he would want a break from a text with language so challenging that I had to pause and clarify vocabulary for him quite often, but he immediately told me he wanted to read “the next one.” 

Happily, we do have that next one—Dinotopia: The World Beneath—but I talked him into reading other things first. (I could use a break from all the vocabulary explaining myself.) That said, I’m already planning for us to get the other two illustrated volumes soon, because I’m quite certain he’ll want to dive into them as soon as we finished The World Beneath.

Series Navigation<< <em>Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—And How to Think Deeply Again</em> by Johann Hari

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