The Katurran Odyssey by Terryl Whitlatch and David Michael Wieger (2004)

KaturranCover blurb

The Katurran Odyssey is a remarkable visual achievement, filled with spectacle, fantasy and wonder on every page. This epic tale of faith, hope and selfless heroism is illuminated by the stunning illustrations of Terryl Whitlatch, the principal creature designer for the Star Wars prequels, and is brought to dynamic life by the storytelling of screenwriter and author David Michael Wieger.

Katook, a small but courageous young lemur, lives in the village of Kattakuk. When he dares to enter a forbidden area on the island and witnesses a shocking secret; the outraged priests banish him from the island forever. Forced to journey across the vast sea in search of a new home, Katook encounters great perils and marvels on his quest and undergoes profound tests of trust and friendship. At last, he finds the place where the secret of the Long Winter is revealed and where he must summon all of his courage to confront his greatest fear if he is to save his family and his home.

Like such classic works of fantasy as Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, Rien Poortvliet’s Gnomes, C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, and Brian Froud’s FaeriesThe Katurran Odyssey creates a mythic world imbued with beauty, adventure and transcendent imagination.

My thoughts

It’s no secret why many of the works reviewed here have faded into obscurity, but it’s a mystery to me why The Katurran Odyssey didn’t receive the same attention as the thematically related Dinotopia series. That’s too bad, because it is a gorgeously illustrated work that should be on the shelves of any person who enjoys both natural history and fantasy.

The Katurran Odyssey is a children’s book, but one that adults will appreciate for the sheer majesty of its illustrations. Katook is a young ring-tailed lemur who is banished from his home after he finds out the village’s priests have been abusing their positions to hoard food during a drought. He sets off across the world, meeting several characters along the way, including a vain quagga. His travels eventually lead him to an encounter with his people’s god, the Fossa.

The main difference between The Katurran Odyssey and Dinotopia is that the former has no dinosaurs or people. Instead, many animals in the book are extinct mammals, from albino mammoths to pack-carrying glyptodonts to Tasmanian tigers. There are a few dinosaur-era contemporaries as well, if you look closely. The anatomical detail of each animal in the book is astounding, as is the detail of the surrounding environments. Whitlatch was the creature designer for the Star Wars prequels, and The Katurran Odyssey’s cover features praise from George Lucas.

While I originally gave this book high praise on Amazon.com – calling it “Middle Earth meets the American Museum of Natural History” – I now think the story could be a little stronger. What starts out as a critique of religion ultimately turns into a cop out. Quigga the quagga, the lemur’s sidekick, is supposed to be humorous, but to me he was simply annoying, although kids may like him. And at one point the book comes across as surprisingly anti-science, but I’m not sure whether that was intentional.

Anyway, these are small complaints. This is still a book worth buying, if you can find it. Many bookstores where I live have put it in the adult science fiction section rather than the children’s section, which I think is a mistake. Pick it up if you see it: You won’t be disappointed.

Trivia

  • The Katurran Odyssey has a soundtrack, although it is sold separately. The score by Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning is New Age, with each song based on a different part of the book. It is quite relaxing, especially if you are leafing through the book on a rainy day.
  • Every species illustrated in the book is real, except one. Readers are encouraged to figure out which one is the make-believe animal. Highlight the following text for the answer: It’s the flying chameleons on page 16.

Reviews

  • None

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