Rereading Jurassic Park After a Decade . . .

This June has been a wonderful month. A dinosaur filled month.

I’ve studied up on paleontology with Darren Naish’s Dinopedia, got to see some dinos in my favorite settings with Prehistoric Planet Ep. 2: Deserts, and then finally saw the most recent ‘Jurassic’ film TWICE(!), Jurassic World Dominion.

But I’ve only got time this month for one more Dino-centric post and I thought it might be fun to go back to the beginning with a reflective review of Michael Crichton’s original Jurassic Park novel.

For a lot of people, this is the thing that started it all. The thing that, in Naish’s view:

“. . . did more to introduce the public to the “modern view” of dinosaurs — the Dinosaur Renaissance view — than any other effort.”

Naish, Darren; Dinopedia: A Brief Compendium of Dinosaur Lore. (2021)

In the days of my youth . . .

I’m pretty sure that it was the film which first fascinated me as a child (I was only 3 months old when the book came out) but without this book, there never would have been a film (although Naish says there was a screenplay in 1983 so perhaps it still would have been).

This book seems to be another book lost to the record of not having GoodReads before 2011 (see Rereading Dune After a Decade), but if memory serves this was a book I was supposed to read in my senior year of high school (big year for me as a SFF reader it seems), but the teacher decided he was tired of teaching that particular Crichton novel and decided we should read Sphere instead (side note: I got very sick that year and tried to read Sphere with a 104 degree fever so I wouldn’t have to catch up when I got back to school. Needless to say, I hallucinated several parts of that book and it was absolutely terrifying. Perhaps it’s good that did not happen with JP).

Heartbroken, I think I ended up complaining to my dad and he presented me with his old copy, assumedly from 1995, if I tracked down the right edition, when the movie came out and he first read it.

No surprise, I was completely enthralled. I remember thinking Malcom was even cooler than he was in the movie, and probably thought I’d try to become a Chaotician if such things existed until I remembered that would literally just be a mathematician and I DID NOT like math during those times (I suppose math and I get along these days but I’m still not very practiced at it). Ironically, I don’t think reading this book kindled any desire in young me to become a paleontologist.

And Now?

Now that I’m older, and upon a second read, I think my opinion of the book has become a little more nuanced.

Actor Sam Neill (Alan Grant) has been quoted as saying today’s moviegoers would no longer accept Jurassic Park‘s slow-burn action pacing. In much the same way, the structure of Crichton’s masterpiece does not read at all like modern thriller. The opening pages are more or less a thesis on the state of (then) modern genetics research which reads more like a wikipedia article than a novel. It takes many chapters (in essence several prologues) to even meet any of our main characters with a kind of unfolding mystery that eventually leads us to the park.

My writer brain attributes this to the shear amount of situations Crichton needs to set up so he can dump exposition about dinosaurs on us without seeming to. Essentially, he’s worldbuilding, which is kind of strange to think about because we already know where we’re trying to get to, which is Jurassic Park, the name of the novel. However, certainly back in the early 90’s when this book first came out, a combined amusement park and zoo centered around genetically reincarnated dinosaurs must have seemed a pretty strange and (ahem) novel idea. We do not have that luxury of ignorance of what the novel is going to be about. We’ve known what this novel was about since about the time we were born.

Eventually the action does begin though, and when it does, it is thrilling in the extreme. Crichton really knows how to make his characters work for their survival and this novel was a great example of that. There were enough differences between the novel and the film that nobody who survived one, would be guaranteed to survive the other (slight spoiler: two character deaths in particular were baffling to me especially because one has a very prominent role in the sequel The Lost World! I’m tempted to dive into the next one just to see how he survived).

Again my writer brain derived quite a bit of enjoyment picking apart the differences between the novel and the film (both subtle and blatant) and pondering why certain changes were made and how they added to, or took away from the dramatic effect.

Of course, the part I loved the most about the whole thing was the dinosaurs themselves! Nearly every dinosaur description and behavior written into this book should be taken with a grain of salt (again take a look at Naish’s Dinopedia for the major mistakes). Some of this is because we’ve learned so much since this book came out, and some of it is choices Crichton made for dramatic effect, but either way, the dinosaurs are just sooo coooool.

Also, there was a considerable amount of things he got right which was also great to read.

Finally, now that I’m older, and I have learned a little bit more about the subjects featured in this awesome book, it was really cool to see just HOW MUCH research Crichton did to write this book. Of course the dinosaurs themselves, but also other little things like Dr. Alan Grant being a hadrosaur expert, and centering his career around studying their nests, which was a reference to Jack Horner, a real paleontologist who studied hadrosaur nests and consulted on the JP film when it came out.

I’d be remiss if I did not admit that there were other awkward parts in the in the novel besides the pacing which made it feel a bit dated. I caught a few objectifications of Dr. Ellie Sattler though certainly he has come a long way since novels like Easy Go.

Also, a chapter near the end entitled “Destroying the World” in which Malcom explains to Hammond the many different paradigm shifts our earth has encountered. How currently most organisms need oxygen to survive when three billion years ago plants producing oxygen actually created a crisis for contemporary organism for which it was a poison much like we consider fluorine.

When Hammond brings up that the ozone layer is getting thinner, Malcom suggests that: “Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It’s powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation.”

Eventually he ends the segment with:

“Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet — or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”

Crichton, Michael; Jurassic Park pg. 369 (1995)

Now it seems to me, that the point he is trying to make here is exactly the type of point Maclom would make which is: Life will find a way.

Even if that life is not human beings. That we should be less worried about “the planet” and more worried about ourselves. At least that is the way I WANT to read this chapter.

However, I’ve heard some things about Crichton being a climate change denier (check out his talk a Cal Tech in 2003 called Aliens Cause Global Warming). Apparently his opinions on climate change are made very clear in the “Afterward” of State of Fear, a novel which I own and enjoyed but apparently did not read thoroughly enough. I’m sure at some point there will be a follow up.

So Did it Hold Up?

In my opinion, yes. Jurassic Park is still a great novel despite the way times have changed around it. I think that some of the paleontology has matured since 1990, as well as some of our social attitudes, and modern readers may struggle with the pacing at the beginning, but ultimately, I think this one still thrills to read. Highly recommend.

That’s all I have for this time around. Has anyone read this? What were your favorite parts? What is your favorite dino? Would love to talk about this one!

Until next time . . .

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