Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Thanks for the great welcome yesterday!

As I wrote my first post, I noticed an archaeologist and a paleontologist among my favorites, and I started thinking people dig up exciting stuff in fiction more often than they do in real life. The only things buried in my yard are abandoned toys and squirrel treasures.

I can name a half-dozen fictional archaeologists, including Amelia Peabody and her grumpy Emerson from Elizabeth Peters' series, Daphne and Anthony in Guilty Pleasures, and Dr. Lisa Maxwell, the spelunking archaeology professor in Stolen Fury. Leslie Howard played a pre-Indy Nazi-fighting archaeology professor in the 1941 film Pimpernel Smith. The plot parallels Scarlet Pimpernel, but the film supposedly inspired Raoul Wallenberg to emulate the fictional hero and save thousands of Jews.

Much as I love Harriet Pomeroy, there aren't many fictional paleontologists out there aside from Ross.

Why not?

Is it because dinosaur bones are found places like the Gobi Desert and North Dakota, whereas ancient human habitations can be anywhere, permitting a plot set in Italy or featuring Roman ruins in England? Archaeological treasures can be small, valuable and easily stolen - everyone loves a heist - but imagine stealing Sue the T-Rex from the Field Museum. Maybe authors feel that a hero or heroine who studies ancient culture or history has more appeal than one who studies bones.

Whatever the reason, I want to give all those dashing treasure-hunting archaeologists some competition, so I'm offering my first contest. Three people who post a dino-licious hero or heroine not mentioned above (and not part of the Michael Crichton/Jurassic Park empire) will win a squishy expandable dinosaur in the mail. The prize is a tiny little creature - until you get it wet. I'll make it easier: even a secondary character, if it's a bona fide paleontologist, is a valid entry. Movies count too. Especially if they have Leslie Howard in them.

I'll pick winners Sunday, May 10, random number fashion, not based on how much I like the character, so keep entering until then.


Vivi Andrews said...

Cary Grant as David in Bringing Up Baby! A leopard, a dinosaur bone, utter chaos. Brilliant movie. I'll keep thinking. I'm sure there are more out there.

Anna Richland said...

Can you believe I've never seen Bringing up Baby? Now I'm 14th on the library reservation list, so I'll remedy that. When I was doing "bad monkey" research for Shooting Stars, I rented Monkey Business - same director, same Grant. I'll admit to being happy I had laundry to fold while watching it. Somehow monkeys, unlike, say, camels, seem to ruin a movie.

Kate Diamond said...

Oh! You must see it! All things Cary Grant are (a) fabulous and (b) necessary education for the romance novelist.

Although I like him much better in black and white. He is almost orange in some of his later Technicolor movies.

Eddie said...

Okay, Anna, here's a pair for you...but I cheat. They're characters in books that aren't published--yet! Oh the chance that a year or so from now they will be, I'll plunge on. Thea Campbell and Paul Hudson. She's actually an accountant and dressage rider, while he is the paleontologist....but she helps out tracking down stolen dinosaur bones and bringing the thief (and killer) to justice. Along the way she learns more than a bit about paleontology, too! And other things...:)

Anneliese Kelly said...

I was just coming to post Bringing Up Baby--a "stolen" dinosaur bone is a major part of the plot. You must see it.

And Kate, while I generally hold with your maxim about Grant in black and white, Charade is the definite exception to that rule. SUCH a sexy, funny, creepy movie. I think it's the only romantic suspense film that's equally romantic and suspenseful (and funny).

EilisFlynn said...

The idea of the dashing archaeologist never fails to make me snort. I had this professor, see, in arch 101 who never failed to put me into a fugue state. Still teaches at the university, from what I hear.

And if you liked the movie Charade, Eddie, you would love the novel Charade, by the same writer (Peter Stone? It's been decades). It had style, humor, warmth, adventure! I wonder if I still have it?

Have fun with your blog, you Ivies you.

Anna Richland said...

Well, other than the purloined bone in Bringing up Baby and Eddie's pending romp (which I have been lucky enough to read a smidge of in our writing class), we're coming up short on paleontologists. They do get the shaft in favor of archaeologists, even after how many years of Ross/Friends in our lives. The fault, dear bloggers, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that there are no dino-hunters.

Anonymous said...

The British TV show Primeval has at least two, debatably four), a paleontology professor and student, Nick Cutter and Conner Temple. Also an Egyptologist, Sarah Page. The show is not deep, but it is highly entertaining.


Anna Richland said...

Thanks for the tip. I looked up Primeval and it's broadcast on BBC America, new season starting May 16! Here's the link to a great description. Don't know if our paranormal writers (Eilis?) have seen it yet. http://www.sliceofscifi.com/2009/04/24/new-season-of-primeval-debuts-on-bbc-america-may-16/

Jerry D. Harris said...

there aren't many fictional paleontologists out there aside from Ross. Why not?Well, a couple reasons. One, in most (non-scientist) people's minds, "archeologist" and "paleontologist" are interchangeable synonyms, so many people that behave as paleontologists in fiction are called "archeologists." Even paleoanthropologists -- people studying fossils relevant to human evolution, are a subset of paleontologists, not archeologists -- the latter study human culture and its evolution via artifacts, not fossils per se (though obviously they do look at many bones for clues about the cultures). If they're studying fossils (most notably bones), and in particular attempting to reconstruct the organisms they're from and their evolutionary histories and relationships, then they're doing paleontology and are paleontologists.

The second reason seems to be plain ol' anthropocentrism: people can obviously relate most closely and readily with other people, not with non-human organisms. As sexy as dinosaurs may be, they are alien to the senses. They evoke awe and wonder, and perhaps even fear, but they don't inspire introspection or consideration of ourselves the way our human past does. So archeology is more accessible and comprehensible to most people than paleontology is.

If there's a third, I'd say it's that, at least in the last few decades, the media darlings for paleontology have tended not to look like regular, average Joes and thus also less accessible than your average guy. They look more like Grizzly Adams than Indiana Jones. While this certainly is NOT an accurate portrait of your average paleontologist, it's the snippet of the paleontological community that's been thrust in front of the public most often and makes us seem like a really bizarre group of cave-nerds or something...not exactly inspirational! Plus, we have a bad habit of not being able to communicate with others in non-technical jargon... Thankfully, much of this is changing as new crops of people take charge in the field!

CrystalBall said...

Well Anna, ironically, I do have a burning need for an expandable dinosaur to match the expandable unicorn that I already own. Pictures from an Expedition, by Diane Smith, a includes a paleontologist. However, I don't know whether a character described as "a stiff, secretive Yale professor" qualifies as "dino-licious." I haven't read the book so I can't recommend it. It did get 5 stars on Amazon, though!

Laelaps said...

He didn't start out as a paleontologist in the novella, but one of my favorite fictional paleo people is Sam Magruder from G.G. Simpson's book "The Dechronization of Sam Magruder."

Basically a scientists is transported back in time and writes his experiences with the dinosaurs on stone slabs which a group of scientists later find and read in the present day. Magruder is essentially Simpson, though, telling us about what he thought the ancient world would be like.

RE: the more general lack of paleontologists, I think there are quite a few paleo people in fiction but it is more of a niche thing. Dinosaurs are considered juvenile and kitschy, while archaeologists seem to have a more "grown up" profession (adults appreciate art, children like monsters). This might be an oversimplification but I think it has a lot to do with why paleontologists are not more popular.

Chris said...

Thank you, Anna, for leaving this question on my blog - it actually triggered me to write a longish post in response, which you can see at Prerogative of HarlotsOne of your readers mentioned Primeval's Nick Cutter as an example of a fictional paleontologist. His academic discipline has been the subject of much debate in our house - I don't think he's a real paleontologist, as he never mentions digging stuff up and never seems to do any paleontolgical stuff like hanging out in museum collections. His familiarity with guns and possession of a big truck with lots of floodlights on it suggests he may be a field biologist. Either that or he likes shooting rabbits.

Paul said...

If unpublished palaeontologists are allowed, then this year's SVP may see the debut of Dr Saul Downchapel - palaeontologist, detective, ninja....

However, I am amazed that nobody has yet mentioned Professors Challenger and Summerlee from The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a far better dino-romp than Michael Crichton's efforts.

There's also Melodie Crookshank from Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston. Haven't read it, but I'm assured it's... readable. Definitely more airport book than Pulitzer material.

Neil said...

(I realize that I’m too late for the contest but I’ll throw these out anyway)

With the major caveat that I haven’t actually *read* any of the following books, some rummaging through Amazon and such reveals a relatively healthy population of fictional paleontologists. Their preferred habitat appears to be, perhaps unsurprisingly, various forms of “genre” fiction, generally of the suspense/murder mystery/science fiction varieties. Insert learned commentary about how the study of fossils is conducive to discussions of mystery, death and clues visible only to the well-trained eye.... Paleontologists appear as protagonists or antagonists in:

Cretaceous Dawn by Lisa M. and Michael S. A. Graziano
The Bone Hunter by Tom Holland
Over the Moon at Big Lizard Diner by Lisa Wingate
The Bone Race by Steve Butz

There are two characters in Lovecraft’s cra-hazy rad novella "At the Mountains of Madness" that might conceivably be considered paleontologists—William Dyer (the narrator) and Professor Lake—although these characters are described as a geologist and biologist respectively.

David Sheskin’s drollish short story “Prehistoric Parable” features a paleontologist protagonist named Ivan Platymere.

Although it’s a bit of a stretch, I also feel compelled to mention chapter 104 from Moby Dick, where Ishmael dons the mantle of paleontologist (he claims geological credentials based on his experience with digging ditches) to discuss the cetacean fossil record. Has anyone ever mentioned how wholly rad this book is? They don’t write them like this anymore folks, not even Pynchon.

Lastly, Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction by Allen Debus is a fairly exhaustive and critically intensive account of paleontology in popular literature. Although dinosaurs are the focus, the portrayal of paleontologists is discussed in some detail.

Charles Snider said...

Andy DuFresne from "Shawshank Redemption.
Dr. Howard Bannister, opposite Barbra Streisand in "What's Up Doc?"