Dinotopia: The World Beneath by James Gurney (1995)

Dinotopia2Cover blurb

(Note: This is the sequel to Dinotopia,. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the first book.)

The voyage that Arthur Denison and his son, Will, began in Dinotopia now continues in The World Beneath. On the lost island continent where dinosaurs and humans live together in peaceful interdependence, Arthur embarks on a quest into Dinotopia’s deepest mystery that soon becomes a desperate race to keep Dinotopia’s existence unknown to the outside world.

When The World Beneath begins, Professor Denison unveils his new invention, a steam-powered flying machine. Will, a fledgling Skybax pilot, flies his father’s creation over Waterfall City, but disaster strikes and Will narrowly escapes death.

Though stung by the failure of his machine, Arthur Denison turns his focus to an earlier exploration of ancient caves that yielded artifacts he believes point to a long-lost Dinotopian civilization. The mysterious society seemingly employed a technology beyond any that Arthur has ever encountered. The answer lies in The World Beneath.

Arthur Denison and Bix soon organize an expedition that will include the untrustworthy but resourceful Lee Crabb, and Oriana, a beautiful musician who holds the key to their quest.

While Will flies scouting missions for caravans in the Rainy Basin, Professor Denison and his team plunge deeper into the heart of the island, toward a monumental discovery that will teach him and important lesson about the power and peril of technology.

Full of dramatic illustrations like those that delighted the readers of Dinotopia, this sequel offers another wondrous excursion into this saurian realm. The balance of science and nature created by James Gurney’s imagination guides us from one wonder to the next… until we stand beside Arthur Denison in contemplation of an ancient marvel called Poseidos.

My thoughts

Dinotopia: The World Beneath was the first sequel to the original Dinotopia and Gurney’s attempt to answer many of the questions that had been raised in the first book: What did Arthur Denison find when he traveled to The World Beneath? And how did his journal make to the outside world?

Gurney drops the first-person narration of the first book to tell a more traditional and straightforward adventure story in The World Beneath. The book opens with Will test-flying a dragonfly-shaped contraption invented by Arthur only to have it crash into the swirling waters around Waterfall City. Arthur is disappointed by the failure and comes to realize that if he is ever going to master the technology behind the flying machine, he must revisit The World Beneath. It turns out the vast caverns under Dinotopia hold the remains of an ancient and highly-advanced civilization that has long since disappeared. Arthur mounts a second expedition, this time joined by the protoceratops Bix, the shady Leo Crabb and by the musician Oriana, who is in possession of a key that can open the doors to the underground world.

Meanwhile, Will is assigned to escort a caravan across the Rainy Basin, a place where carnivorous dinosaurs prey on humans and other dinosaurs. While on patrol, Will makes a discovery deep in the rainforest that has implications for his father’s expedition.

One thing readers will notice when comparing The World Beneath to Dinotopia is that Gurney has refined his skills as a paleo-artist. The dinosaurs in the original book were exquisitely detailed, but they are even more so in The World Beneath. There are subtle changes in their appearances that make the creatures even more lifelike, such as detailed skin textures. Also, people who like their dinosaurs big and ferocious will be happy to see that the carnivorous dinosaurs play a much larger role this time around.

The focused story may please readers who wished the first book had more of a plot, but I believe something was lost in Gurney’s decision to replace the first-person journal entries of Dinotopia with the third-person narration of The World Beneath. The narrative format of the first book allowed readers to connect with the setting at a more personal level — you felt as if you were traveling with Arthur as he made his way across Dinotopia. The world seemed more real because you could fool yourself into believing this really was a journal written by someone who lived in a lost world of dinosaurs. Also, Will’s inclusion in the story seems almost an afterthought, which is a shame after spending so much time with him in the first book.

These are small complaints, however. The artwork more than makes up for any shortcomings in the text, and expedition to The World Beneath manages to capture much of the whimsy of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. You will once again be left waiting for a return visit to Dinotopia after you have finished with The World Beneath.

Trivia

  • The World Beneath plays a central role in the 2002 Dinotopia miniseries.
  • Two real paleontologists who helped with the research for Dinotopia are honored in The World Beneath. Ralph Chapman of the Smithsonian has an island named after him on page 45. Michael Brett-Surman is portrayed as the grinning bearded sea scavenger on page 40.
  • “Stinktooth” the Giganotosaurus is the first reconstruction of the new giant carnivore recently found in Patagonia. Gurney met the discoverer Rodolfo Coria just weeks after he uncovered the first fossil. Coria graciously allowed Gurney to include the dinosaur in the new Dinotopia book, provided the publication date followed that of Coria’s scientific paper. It did by just a couple weeks.

* Updated trivia provided by author James Gurney.

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