Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  


Entry updated 5 August 2021. Tagged: Theme.

Icon made by Freepik from


Our cultural fascination with the great lizards of prehuman Earth has inevitably led to much sf in which – as never in history – humans encounter living dinosaurs. This may take place in Prehistoric SF set in an anachronistic deep past, as in In the Morning of Time (coll of linked stories 1919) by Charles G D Roberts. A modern enclave of surviving dinosaurs is somewhat less risible. This notion is best known from the novel that gave the Lost World subgenre its name, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912), filmed as The Lost World (1925); Greg Bear's Dinosaur Summer (1998) is a nostalgic Young Adult Sequel by Another Hand in which dinosaurs captured for a circus are at last returned to their habitat. Edgar Rice Burroughs's Pellucidar series is also infested with dinosaurs, perhaps recollecting those encountered Underground in Jules Verne's Voyage au centre de la terre (1863; exp 1867; trans anon as Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1872); his Tarzan meets dinosaurs in Tarzan the Terrible (29 January-26 February 1921 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1921), as does the cast of The Land that Time Forgot (stories August, October, December 1918 Blue Book as "The Land that Time Forgot", "The People that Time Forgot" and "Out of Time's Abyss"; fixup 1924). Another early sf example is Frank Savile's Beyond the Great South Wall (1899), featuring an Antarctic brontosaur. Wardon Allan Curtis's "The Monster of Lake LaMetrie" (September 1899 Pearson's) uses the eponymous surviving elasmosaur as recipient of a human brain transplant (see Identity Transfer). Diggings for the London Underground release subterranean dinosaurs in W J Passingham's "When London Fell" (18 September-4 December 1937 The Passing Show). James Blish attempts, not entirely successfully, to portray the dinosaurs of a lost African valley as emblems of heart-of-darkness Horror in The Night Shapes (1962); James Gurney's art book Dinotopia (1992) and its sequels imagine an idyllic nineteenth-century coexistence of human and dinosaur on an Island.

The awed Victorian view of dinosaurs as killing machines has cast a long shadow since Richard Owen (1804-1892) defined the Megalosaurus and other great lizard carnivores in 1842 as examples of the "deinos saurus" ["terrible lizard"]. They soon became Icons, both for the terror they inspired and for the Time Abyss they represented. In his long poem In Memoriam A.H.H. (1849), Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) described them as "Dragons of the prime, / That tare each other in their slime ..."; and in Bleak House (1853), Charles Dickens magically increased the chthonic resonance of London by envisioning "a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn-hill" through all-enveloping fog. Dinosaur rationalizations of the dragon myth (see Supernatural Creatures) and the Loch Ness Monster (which see) are frequently encountered. Killing-machine examples include a Tyrannosaurus rex easily despatching advanced Alien invaders in Alexander M Phillips's "The Death of the Moon" (February 1929 Amazing); speculation in Philip E High's Speaking of Dinosaurs (1974) that saurians were Genetically Engineered by further aliens as organic battle engines; and several dinosaur-Clone stories cited below.

Another popular access route to dinosaurs is Time Travel, generally leading to hunting and safari scenarios which tend to go badly wrong, as in Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" (28 June 1952 Collier's), L Sprague de Camp's "A Gun for Dinosaur" (March 1956 Galaxy) and Brian Aldiss's "Poor Little Warrior!" (April 1958 F&SF). David Drake treats this subtheme at some length in Time Safari (coll of linked stories 1982; exp vt Tyrannosaur 1994). Robert Wells's The Parasaurians (1969) offers the theme-park alternative of hunting Robot dinosaurs in one's own era (here 2173 CE). Scott Ciencin's Dinoverse sequence – beginning with Dinoverse (1999; vt I Was a Teenage T. Rex 2000) – allows its teenage protagonists to inhabit prehistoric dinosaur bodies through transtemporal Identity Transfer.

Dinosaurs are, notoriously, extinct. Their passing is observed through a Time Viewer in John Taine's Before the Dawn (1934), is the subject of rival theories tested by Time Travel in Robert J Sawyer's End of an Era (1994), and is shown with relentless detail in Stephen Baxter's Evolution (2002) – powerfully dramatizing the modern theory of the Chicxulub Comet impact as an extinction event. But suppose the saurians had survived? A comic Parallel World of intelligent modern dinosaurs is visited in Robert Sheckley's Dimension of Miracles (1968). Harry Harrison's West of Eden (1984) is an Alternate History in which the dinosaurs' highly evolved descendants confront primitive humanity. In Robert J Sawyer's Quintaglio Ascension sequence, beginning with Far-seer (1992), dinosaurs were long ago transported to another world where their Evolution continued.

The popular theme of creating Clone dinosaurs from ancient DNA is long established in sf, an early example being "The Hunting Season" (November 1951 Astounding) by Frank M Robinson. Tyrannosaurus rex is Cloned in Roger Zelazny's Roadmarks (1979), George R R Martin's Tuf Voyaging (coll of linked stories 1986), and most famously – along with other dinosaurs – from recovered fossil DNA in Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park (1990), filmed as Jurassic Park (1993). An earlier Genetic Engineering approach to dinosaur production was John Brosnan's Horror novel Carnosaur (1984) as by Harry Adam Knight, itself filmed as Carnosaur (1993). Sea Monsters in Surface (2005-2006) prove to be pliosaurs (or something very similar) reconstructed from ancient DNA.

Further filmic dinosaurs appear in King Kong (1933); Son of Kong (1933); One Million B.C. (1940; vt Man and His Mate) and its remake One Million Years B.C. (1966); Untamed Women (1952) – using stock footage from One Million B.C.; Unknown Island (1948); Prehistoric Women (1950); Two Lost Worlds (1951); The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953); Lost Continent (1951); King Dinosaur (1955), featuring dinosaurs on an alien world; The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956; vt Valley of the Mists); The Land Unknown (1957); Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959); Dinosaurus! (1960); Gorgo (1961); Valley of the Dragons (1961; vt Prehistoric Valley UK) – dinosaurs on a Comet! – the dire Reptilicus (1962); The Sound of Horror (1964), whose invisible dinosaur is seen only briefly at the climax; The Valley of Gwangi (1969); When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1969); The Land that Time Forgot (1975); At the Earth's Core (1976); The Crater Lake Monster (1977); The Last Dinosaur (1977); Planet of Dinosaurs (1978), again with dinosaurs on a distant world; My Science Project (1985); and others. The most durable and many-sequelled example is the Japanese Gojira (1954), alias Godzilla.

Television examples include The Flintstones (1960-1966), Dino Boy in the Lost Valley (1966-1968) (see Space Ghost), Land of the Lost (1974-1977), Valley of the Dinosaurs (1974), Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985; vt Dinosaur ... Secret of the Lost Legend) and Dinosaurs (1991-1994).

Such is the attraction of the dinosaur that a few authors have posited Aliens closely resembling particular species. James White's Sector General hospital story "Trouble with Emily" (November 1958 New Worlds) deals with a patient very like a brontosaurus – hence the punning nickname Emily, though the creature would now be termed an apatosaurus. Piers Anthony's Prostho Plus (stories November 1967-October 1970 If and November 1967 Analog; fixup 1971) features a chatty extraterrestrial trachodon or duck-billed dinosaur. Dinosaur-like fauna on a colony world are hunted in Marguerite Reed's Archangel (2015).

Relevant anthologies include The Science Fictional Dinosaur (anth 1982) edited by Robert Silverberg, Martin H Greenberg and Charles G Waugh, The Ultimate Dinosaur: Past, Present, Future (anth 1992) edited by Byron Preiss and Robert Silverberg – which includes speculative nonfiction essays by scientists – and Dinosaurs: Stories by Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Many Others (anth 1996) edited by Martin H Greenberg. [DRL]

see also: Irwin Allen; Biology; Dinosaur Times; Donald F Glut.

further reading


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies