Thought Box

Cowboys, 'Injuns' and Bones

Cowboys, 'Injuns' and Bones

by Deepa Gahlot July 14 2017, 6:04 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 24 secs

We associate the American Wild West with the hundreds of Westerns about cowboys and Red Indians. But life was tough for early settlers and gold rush prospectors. The native Indians were fiercely protecting their land against the white armies, and some tribles were known to kill and scalp any white man on sight. It is against this fascinating background that Dragon Teeth is set—about a fight, not for land or gold, but for dinosaur fossils. And could write better about dinosaurs than then author who brought to life Jurassic Park.

It does not happen too often than a popular contemporary writer reaches out to his readers from beyond the grave. Michael Crichton, best-selling writer, producer, director will always be remembered for his Jurassic Park books, turned into hit movies and TV series. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 66, but his latest book Dragon Teeth is just out. His wife, Sherri, discovered the manuscript among his papers—the research notes that went into his stories about dinosaurs.

Dragon Teeth is a page-turner, a fictional account, set in 1876, of true events involving rival paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh of Yale University and Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia. The protagonist, however, is William Johnson, the spoilt son of a shipping magnate, who takes on a bet to go to the untamed West, instead of a cushy holiday in Europe. So, along with being a thriller about the scientists, Red Indians, armymen and outlaws, it is also a coming of age story.

Crichton makes digging fossil bones seem adventurous and exciting, despite the heat, dust, hostile Indians and great discomfort. Johnson puts aside his usual languid state of mind to learn photography (which was not the aim and shoot affair it is now, but a cumbersome process involving glass plates and chemicals) so that he can join Marsh’s expedition to look for fossil bones in the West, where the American Army is getting a drubbing by angry Red Indians.

As a backdrop to the adventure is the gold rush, the debate between Darwin’s theory of evolution and the religious leaders trying to debunk it.

Marsh is so paranoid about Cope’s non-existent spies that he abandons Johnson in a fleabag hotel, where he meets Cope. The easygoing Cope takes him into his team and they proceed on their way, ignoring warnings of Indians scalping white men.

Facing storms, arrows, bullets, stampeding buffaloes and all manner of peril, Johnson does grow from a milksop to a man; and also helps make an important discovery.

One can only admire Crichton for his meticulous research; legendary names like General Custer, Wyatt and Morgan Earp, Chief Sitting Bull make ‘guest’ appearances. The book is as entertaining and suspenseful as it is informative, which was to be expected from a master storyteller.

Dragon Teeth
By Michael Crichton
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages 286

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