I have a lot of books under the heading of “classics I somehow haven’t gotten around to reading yet,” and until recently this pair was on that list. It’s been literal decades since I watched the Jurassic Park movie, so I thought this would be a good time to pick these up, since I could only remember the basic gist of the story.
The basic gist, of course, is DINOSAURS! I found myself wondering, through the first few chapters where there are tales of people coming across mysterious lizard-like creatures, what the advertising was like for this book when it was first published back in 1990. Did readers know that this was going to be a book about honest-to-goodness dinosaurs, or was there a real shock value when they found out what was happening? Despite knowing that the mysterious lizard-like creatures were, in fact, dinosaurs, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jurassic Park. It completely ruined my productivity for a day (three days, really, if you count The Lost World) because I really wanted to know what was happening.
These were the type of books that, while I was reading them, I could barely put them down, but when I finished and reflected back on what I had just read, I realized that I actually had a lot of issues. The biggest one was the never-ending philosophizing by Ian Malcolm. At one point, he’s been horrifically injured and is probably going to die (sadly, he doesn’t). Outside, the velociraptors are literally nomming their way into his room. And Malcom just lays there, explaining how science replaced religion and how life changes and adapts, etc. etc. Um. HELLO? VELOCIRAPTORS?! And everyone in the room is just sitting there nodding and listening, like Oh my how wise you are, Dr. Malcom! Please tell us more, I guess this is distracting us from the fact that velociraptors are LITERALLY ABOVE OUR HEADS CHEWING THROUGH THE BARS AND WILL BE IN THIS ROOM RIPPING US TO SHREDS WITHIN MOMENTS. I mean seriously.
It was even worse in The Lost World. Here they are on this beautiful island with this literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to SEE LIVE DINOSAURS and they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around in their trailer listening to Malcom natter on about evolution and natural selection and scientific discoveries and the scientific method yadda yadda YADDA. Oh my GOSH we could have easily lost 50 pages of Malcom lectures and the story would have been even better for it.
A few things that felt weird to me, especially reading the two books together. At the end of Jurassic Park, after we’ve spent pretty much the entire book escaping from dinosaurs, and after we’ve spent a big chunk of the story explaining how velociraptors are incredibly dangerous and intelligent – for some reason they decide to go find the raptor hatching place????????? Why????? It’s never really explained. The entire ending the book felt very tacked on and abrupt to me. Guess we’ll sneak into a cave FULL of the dinosaurs we’ve been running away from for the last however many chapters?! I was left feeling very confused. There was also the fact that the beginning of the book is about people finding dinosaurs (albeit small ones) on the mainland – but it’s never really addressed in the end.
I think I liked the story/concept of The Lost World even better than Jurassic Park, but there was SO much lecturing by Malcom that it really brought down my overall enjoyment of the story. I was especially confused by the fact that, as part of Malcom’s lectures, he explains that the raptors, and other dinosaurs, haven’t been able to form their real, natural society because they haven’t been taught – because the dinosaurs were created in a lab, they have been able to live from some instincts, but aren’t able to create the same kind of society as they would have back when dinosaurs were actually alive. And that’s all well and good except… at the end of Jurassic Park, that entire weird tacked-on ending was about finding how the velociraptors were forming their own intricate society, with adults caring for and raising young ones, etc. etc. – all the things that suddenly they aren’t capable of doing in The Lost World – in fact, they find a raptor nesting site, and it’s a disaster, with broken eggs and dead younglings, and no effort from the adult dinosaurs to raise their broods. It seemed weird. Here are Malcom’s thoughts in The Lost World –
But animals raised in isolation, without parents, without guidance, were not fully functional. Zoo animals frequently could not care for their offspring, because they had never seen it done. They would ignore their infants, or roll over and crush them, or simply become annoyed with them and kill them.
The velociraptors were among the most intelligent dinosaurs, and the most ferocious. Both traits demanded behavioral control. Millions of years ago, in the now-vanished Jurassic world, their behavior would have been socially determined, passed on from older to younger animals. Genes controlled the capacity to make such patterns, but not the patterns themselves. Adaptive behavior was a kind of morality; it was behavior that had evolved over many generations because it was found to succeed – behavior that allowed members of the species to cooperate, to live together, to hunt, to raise young.
But on this island, the velociraptors had been re-created in a genetics laboratory. Although their physical bodies were genetically determined, their behavior was not. These newly created raptors came into the world with no older animals to guide them, to show them proper raptor behavior. They were on their own, and that was just how they behaved – in a society without structure, without rules, without cooperation. They lived in an uncontrolled, every-creature-for-himself world where the meanest and the nastiest survived, and all the others died.
Now this does somewhat make sense, unless you happen to contrast it with the end of Jurassic Park. At this point, the characters have discovered the cave where the raptors are nesting, and are observing the behavior of the dinosaurs:
There were three nests, attended by three sets of parents. The division of territory was centered roughly around the nests, although the offspring seemed to overlap, and run into different territories. The adults were benign with the young ones, and tougher with the juveniles, occasionally snapping at the older animals when their play got too rough.
There was a female with a distinctive stripe along her head, and she was in the very center of the group as it ranged along the beach. That same female had stayed in the center of the nesting area, too. He guessed that, like certain monkey troops, the raptors were organized around a matriarchal pecking order, and that this striped animal was the alpha female of the colony. The males, he saw, were arranged defensively a the perimeter of the group.
?!?!?!?! Literally nothing like the nesting site in The Lost World, despite the fact that BOTH sets of dinosaurs were created in a lab…??? Sorry to ramble on about this, it just left me feeling mighty confused. If any of you are Jurassic Park fans and have researched this seeming discrepancy more, do let me know.
One last thing that left me scratching my head: at the beginning of The Lost World, large animal bodies are being found dead on the beach. Later, this is explained. However, there are also reports of dinosaurs migrating/living in colonies in the jungles of Costa Rica… never addressed. All in all, it almost felt like Crichton was planning to write another book and then just didn’t get around to it, because there are definitely some weird loose ends left.
I can see why these books were made into movies. There is something about the enormity of the dinosaurs that is hard to imagine when reading. It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen the films that I really can’t remember if they followed the books in any more than a basic sense or not, but I’m looking forward to rewatching them ASAP.
In the end, I really did thoroughly enjoy these stories. When Malcom wasn’t lecturing, they were fast-paced and completely engaging. The premise is genuinely brilliant. I’m not sure I enjoyed them enough to find more of Crichton’s works, but these classics are definitely worth the read.