I've always considered dinosaurs to be a sub-category of monster. They've always carried that aura of the fantastic, as wondrous and terrifying as any dragon, sea-serpent or other monster from mythology or the imagination.
Imagination isn't really required any longer to envision living, breathing dinosaurs. Modern productions like the Jurassic Park series or Walking With Dinosaurs have given us dinosaurs that seem more real than anything I ever dreamed up as a child. Yet in doing so, I think they robbed the dinosaur of some of its mythic grandeur, reducing them to just ordinary, albeit extinct, members of the animal kingdom.
But lets step back in time just a little bit. Pre-CGI and pre-Jurassic Park, dinosaurs in film were never very convincing. There were some impressive stop-motion dinosaurs created by Ray Harryhausen (Valley of Gwangi, One Million Years B.C.) or Jim Danforth (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) and traditional cel-animated specimens (Disney's Fantasia, Hanna Barbera's Valley of the Dinosaurs). There were also dinosaurs realized through costumes or puppets (The Last Dinosaur, The Land That Time Forgot). And finally, real live iguanas or other reptiles, dressed up with horns and fins and photographed up close to emulate their prehistoric ancestors (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth again, Journey to the Center of the Earth). While they all made for exciting spectacle, they rarely seemed very realistic.
Which is what made Album of Dinosaurs (1972) such a great book. For a kid in the 1970s, the beautiful pictures contained here (illustrations are by Rod Ruth, of Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures fame) were like a window into the past, presenting dinosaurs more realistic than could yet be found in any film, while still retaining that intangible mythic, larger-than-life quality that elevates them above mere animals.
On a more practical level, the book’s large size and smooth hardcover made it the perfect portable work-surface, which means I logged countless hours staring at that magnificent cover T-rex while it peeked over the top of whatever writing or drawing project I was working on.
These scans don’t really do the illustrations justice.
ALLOSAURUS ATTACKS APATOSAURUS
ANKYLOSAURUS BATTLES TYRANNOSAURUS REX
STEGOSAURUS BATTLES A CERATOSAURUS
There were many books in the “Album of...” series, including Album of Prehistoric Animals, Album of Sharks, Album of Prehistoric Man, Album of Whales, Album of Astronomy, etc. Books of this series used to be common staples of any good used book store, but it seems they’ve become increasingly rare. Worth seeking out.
10 months ago