Review: Dinosaur Tales

Dinosaur TalesDinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this in the library while browsing the sci-fi section with my wife. The cover art was delightful, and I remembered Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” fondly, so it seemed an easy pick for some light reading. Overall I enjoyed it; in particular, “A Sound of Thunder” is a time-travel classic, and “The Fog Horn” communicates such a haunting loneliness especially with excellent use of imagery and the continued refrain of the sound of the fog horn itself. The other stories (“Tyrannosaurus Rex” and “Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?”) aren’t actually about living, breathing dinosaurs, but rather about people who are passionate (and maybe obsessive) about the prehistoric beasts. Those non-dinosaur-oriented stories were truly good short stories, and I would feel very comfortable handing over a copy of either as a recommendation, but they lacked the thrill of the tyrant lizards themselves that seemed to energize Bradbury so.

The poems, which round out the volume, were rather forgettable to me, being rather goofy, whimsical, and Seussian. I suspect this is a reflection of taste rather than quality, however.

One of the things that drew me to this collection was the beautiful artwork. The illustrations by William Stout, Steranko, Kenneth Smith, Moebius, David Wiesner, Gahan Wilson, and Overton Loyd, and the book design by Alex Jay, all deserve praise. The dinosaurs depicted are definitely those of decades past (the book bears a 1983 copyright, although the edition I read was published in 1996). They’re reptilian and alien and often hideous (though, where appropriate, they’re comically bloated and even a little cute). While I certainly appreciate up-to-date and accurate paleoart, feathers and all, I’ve always had a soft spot for historical representations of dinosaurs, from the Crystal Palace Park to Jurassic Park. This book delivers on bizarre, frightening, charming, and simply fantastic depictions of dinosaurs. I was especially intrigued by the bizarre suggestions of an otherworldly saurian culture depicted in the frontispiece by Kenneth Smith. But perhaps my favorite artwork of all did not contain any dinosaurs–Steranko’s illustrations for “The Fog Horn” convey much of the emotional core of the story, with its lonely lighthouse and the dreadful gloom of one fateful night, while leaving the depiction of the creature from the deep purely to the description provided by Bradbury and the imagination of the reader.

For a final comment, I’ll circle back to the beginning of the book. There is a foreword by stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen and an introduction by Bradbury himself; both recount some details of the friendship and working relationship between Harryhausen and Bradbury, while the introduction outlines the history of Bradbury’s love for dinosaurs. Both are illuminating, and worth the read.

In sum, if you enjoy a good dinosaur story, you’ll enjoy this collection.

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