J.G. Keely's Reviews > Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time

Dinotopia by James Gurney
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's review
Jun 01, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: art, fantasy, childhood, illustrated, reviewed, adventure, america, lost-world
Recommended for: Children, Artists, Dinosaur Lovers

This fanciful retelling of "The Land that Time Forgot" would just be a passable (if fun) story if not for Gurney's rather lovely artwork. His imagining of his new and strange world carries a depth and weight that, to be trite, truly transports you there--but then, that's what he built his career on.

A competent draughtsman who plied his imagining of ancient Egyptian rituals and architectural recreations in the pages of National Geographic, Gurney's style evokes the travelogue of a naturalist (which is, happily enough, his story's frame), so that the sometimes indulgent fantasy or unremarkable characterization mostly comes off as an occasionally unlikely (or overly likely) world.

This isn't to say that his art is always wholly successful--there are rough patches here and there, especially when his sartorial and tonsorial choices cause his characters to resemble late 60's hippies. It reminds me of the way that one can always tell when a period film was made because the costuming is always viewed through the lens of modern fashion, so that 70's Shakespeare is all wide lapels and feathered bangs, which the 80's trades in for mullets and angular silhouettes.

Portrayed as a travelogue of a shipwreck survivor on the island of Dinotopia, Gurney successfully captures the feel of early century sci-fi tales which even today seem only just beyond the realm of possibility. It seems that the only area positively affected by a little scientific naivete is that of the visionary futurist. Of course, it was not as difficult for Gurney to look back and imitate this method than it was for the original Victorian authors to create it, though it is not a very familiar style for modern readers, anyway.

Perhaps the greatest gift of Gurney's as a combined author/illustrator is that he lets you forget what you know and allows you to believe in what he has created.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 1, 2007 – Shelved
June 1, 2007 – Shelved as: art
June 1, 2007 – Shelved as: fantasy
June 14, 2007 – Shelved as: childhood
May 14, 2008 – Shelved as: illustrated
June 9, 2009 – Shelved as: reviewed
December 13, 2009 – Shelved as: adventure
September 4, 2010 – Shelved as: america
May 6, 2013 – Shelved as: lost-world

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by J.G. Keely (last edited Apr 28, 2008 07:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

J.G. Keely I hope that your insults spilling over into unrelated reviews have helped to make you feel better about the fact that I don't like one of your favorite books. Your restating of previously addressed issues, angry swearing, and yes-man posse will surely convince me of the worth of that book in time.

J.G. Keely Yee Ha

message 3: by Ama (new)

Ama I must point out that Donald's reference to another review has no real bearing on this review. Bad form.

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

_Dinotopia_ lacks any narrative drive. People are lost, people are found, people live for a while and discover weird things, and then people go home. Now, for many books, that would be a woefully inadequate synopsis. Not here.

No, Gurney's world is a collection of unmoving portraits, roaring with colorful artistic verve yet completely bereft of life. It hearkens back to exciting childhood dreams of humans and dinosaurs (see my review), but it fails miserably as a satisfying work. It could just as easily be a large map with pictures of dinosaurs, like a _National Geographic_ fantasy spread.

It looks neat. It's a neat idea. It's executed with an artist-writer's talent for realistic painting and imagination and a complete LACK of appreciation for human beings' thirst for tale.

There IS no tale in Dinotopia. As Keely says, it's more a travelogue than even the slowest adventure story of pulp fame.

J.G. Keely Yeah. All I wanted was the Nat Geo spread with dinosaur jousting. I got it.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

You are truly a whimsical child at heart. I fear I came to the book too late, poisoned by too many good books and a withered Art Appreciation gland.

message 7: by Elijah (new)

Elijah "Bad form"? We're on the internet, so long as no one's started talking about furry porn, their genitalia, or why Jews are taking over America, I'd say we're in pretty good form.

(And I realize that I just left an obvious opening for Brendan to rant about any/all of those three things.)

Anyway, I seem to remember this book being awesome, but I am a sucker for world-building and the like.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

I am a man to please.

Why, Elijah, how disgusting! No one wants to hear about the Rebbe's furry genitals!

message 9: by Elijah (new)

Elijah Sigh. "Expectation" and "desire" are not necessarily the same thing. Nonetheless, it's good to know that you can always be counted on for such antics.

Well, the level of discourse has been lowered, my work is done here.

message 10: by Elijah (new)

Elijah One comment-on-an-online-book-review at a time!

message 11: by Ama (new)

Ama I used "bad form" in the drawling manner of an English public school graduate. It was meant as gentle humor. :-P

message 12: by Elijah (new)

Elijah Ah, gotcha. I'm afraid gentility is misunderstood on the internet about as often as any sort of decency is neglected. (Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Decency is overrated.)

Do the English drawl now? I thought we Americans had gotten the copyright on that by this point. But then again, my image of the English still involves a man in a top hat with huge muttonchops exclaiming "I say!" as his monocle falls away from his face in shock, landing on his plate of bangers and mash (snicker) with spotted dick (snicker snicker).

message 13: by Elijah (last edited Apr 29, 2008 08:38PM) (new)

Elijah Hey! Hey! I'm Californian, and I'm damn sure that I say "y'all" as much as, or more than, you. New York has not yet ruined either my laidback nature or my speech patterns. (Get me drunk enough and I begin to sound like an early 90's west coast gangsta rap record--the Oakland comes out.)

message 14: by Elijah (new)

Elijah Of course there is more to it than a drawl, but mine does come and go, so you may have me there. But since there is no way to quantitatively prove anything, I am going to assume that I would win.

(Thank you, I have no idea why a picture was taken of me on the subway from someone else's lap, but there it is.)

J.G. Keely I'll judge the contest. I've got a background in phonetics and linguistics, my own Georgia drawl (which is, mind you, it's very own creature)--it pops up now and again (usually when I'm three sheets out) due to my having the pleasure of some years of childhood there--and some other dialectical stylings, including the Victorian British drawl I had to affect for the ridiculous outfit on my little picture, there.

Money's on the girl, as of now. Drawl isn't a southern thing, or a British thing, it's a lifestyle. You drawl when that's the pace you live at. The Southerners do it by a history of waiting out crops, endless politics, and inclement summers. The Brits do it from a sense of ennui so old and dignified that it has a longstanding quarrel with Shaftesbury over a lock of hair and an annual invitation to Christmas dinner at Strawberry Hill.

Drawl happens wherever life moves so slowly that there's nothing else to do but watch it go by and fan yourself with the hand not holding a drink.

message 16: by Elijah (new)

Elijah Or when you are influenced by growing up around those who are blazed out of their goddamn minds. They see life go by very slowly, and even if the young one who grows up in the same area does not take part in that same use of illicit substances (or at least not much) he picks that up. I'm from Berkeley, technically--home of the peace movement and all that. Just sayin'.

But, conversely, I now live in New York and so get visibly angry when someone in front of me in the subway station begins walking a fraction slower than they were a second ago, so I suppose it really depends.

Goddamn, I will go on and on about anything if I can use it to procrastinate, huh? (I'm halfway through a paper due tomorrow.)

message 17: by Dave (new)

Dave Donald, you're almost as eloquent as I was. Jumping into random reviews, throwing on your shining cape, and bringing justice to all the bad reviews out there.

J.G. Keely Both yours and his were noble and well-placed attempts to end my reign of terror, and it's only a matter of time until the gathered armies of the righteous overwhelm my glowering gates and topple the tower I've built of the corpses of the Great Books I have so unjustly murdered in my reviews.

Actually, I'll probably just be a forgotten footnote of a blowhard, in the end. The mere unthinking bulk of my reviews can carry only so much momentum, after all.

message 19: by Dave (last edited Dec 08, 2008 01:49PM) (new)

Dave Haha, no harm intended

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