I have just received my copy of William Stout and William Service's slightly revamped edition of his 1981 masterpeice THE DINOSAURS (now entitled THE NEW DINOSAURS). The back cover describes it as "the book that started the renaissance in dinosaur books"; I have no idea if this is true or not, but I can at least describe the effect this book had on me back when I received a copy for Christmas when I was six years old back in 1981. There are two books that my father read to me as a child that marked my imagination forever, and I asked him to read over and over again. One is "The Hobbit", and the other is Stout's "The Dinosaurs". My dad was never too worried about a little darkness and violence getting in the way of me hearing a great story, and for this I am eternally grateful. Stout and Service's superdetailed and unsanitized paintings and text depicting a huge, real, living breathing natural world alien from our own is probably what kept me hooked on paleontology into my adult life more then any other factor, and probably still most strongly shapes how I imagine the Mesozoic world. Stout's paintings are incredibaly atmospheric and have a stylistic elegance that gives a beautiful subjective interpretation of the dinosaurs and thier world (Ray Troll follows a close second behind Stout for my favorite subjective paleo-artist). However, Service's fictional narratives, delivered in beautiful prose, stick with me just as strongly. They describe the natural world in all its complexity, and do it beautifully. From the section entitled "Mammals" check it out...
"The top of the tree, the hole in the ground, and night: their domain. Some eat insects and fill in with buds and seeds, others eat buds and seeds and fill in with insects. An occaisional lizard is taken. Perhaps the largest used to venture forth at night to raid nests and drag hatchlings back to thier small lairs. The dinosaurs began to tend thier nests and guard their young. Mammals retreated, and would continue to retreat. Most footprints will soon belong to the dinosaurs, which no mammal will dare follow, or even crouch to hide in. Now, on the ground, and only for the time being, whether down from a tree or out of a brake or up from a hole, all kinds of mammals move rapidly and rehearse their terrain again and again. They are not easy to catch. Agile and quick to bite, they are not easy to kill. Only a few kinds of pterosaur share with them that almost singular feature, fur. The pterosaurs are easier to kill but harder to catch. Some carnosaurs, having devoured one or the other, simply pass through and evacuate the small bones and hair; others cough up the remains in pellets." It goes on.
Neat stuff. This book also gave me my first real appreciation of deep time and the scope of diversity and change it encompases; Service's narrative occaisionally talks about evolutionary, geographic, and climatic change on the scale of thousands of generations, and of the first time I grasped a world and a span of time immesnse beyond imagining. With all due respect to my other childhood hero Ray Harryhausen, its quite an imaginitive and intellectual leap beyong stop-motion dinosaurs roaring and biting each other while cavemen run for cover, although I like a nice scantily clad cavewoman as much as the next guy.
Of course, I have a hard time veiwing this book objectively, as I have had it and read through it so often in the last 20 years that I still see it through child's eyes. Anyway, I think the book is a gift from God and required bedtime reading for anyone trying to convert their child to dinosaur infatuation permanantly. It elevates dinosaurs beyond a superficial childhood fascination as big toothy monsters into part of a living, breathing natural world. Anyway, the new edition...
Stout's new artwork is largely confined to the opening and closing sections, so those expecting a completely new book may be dissapointed. However, there is quite a bit of it. I counted thirty new paintings (31 including the revamped Parasaurolophus on the cover), mostly full page and two page spreads. There is a distinct difference in style to the paintings he produced twenty years ago; the new paintings lean more towards simple dinosaur portraits drawn in black ink with relatively light coloring. I am undecided which style I like more; the original artwork had perhaps a bit more creative flair, although I like some of the updated portaits (especially the Camarosaurus and snarfing Alioramus) quite a lot. Other then the new introductory and end section paintings, the rest of the book's artwork is intact. Its still beautiful work, although outdated; I suppose Stout doing new updated versions of every painting in the book was too much to expect.
Serivce's marvelous (if also outdated) text has also been left intact, and I think this was the right move. Although the thought of a completely accurate and scientifically up-to-date narrative in Service's prose makes me drool, finding a writer that talanted to replace the now deceased Service is unlikely. It requires the author to look past the hype and agressive, noisy, hyperactivity permeating modern dinosaur restorations and plausibly portray them as dumb animals with nothing to prove, but still be able to capture the incredible complexity and splendor of the natural world. Hopefully, Stout will somewehere along the line find a contributor as talanted as Service to write a new, updated text to compliment a book full of completely new illustrations. However, in the meantime I am actually sort of pleased that THE NEW DINOSAURS is basically the same book that infatuated me with dinosaurs almost twenty years ago, with a little bit of cool new stuff.
Now, some gripes....
1. The original edition featured some really great stylistic black and white graphics bordering the text in the introductory sections "Introduction" and "Welcome to the Mesozoic Era" (at some point, I am going to photocopy the words "Welcome to the Mesozoic Era" rendered in the awesome, stylistic lettering for the chapter headings, designed by someone named Alex Jay, and the surrounding graphic to stick on my office door). These graphics are absent in the new edition, althought he funky lettering is intact.
2. Although William Service's marvelous text has been rightfully left intact, I would like to have seen more updating of other parts of the text. The "Introduction", "Dinosaur Dimensions", and Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous sections written by Peter Dodson are the same (although, if I'm not mistaken, the little sidebars in every chapter identifying and giving information on the dinosaurs in the paintings have been updated some). I don't understand why this text couldn't and shouldn't have been updated. Dinogeorge's afterword provides a nice brief discussion on how dinosaur science has changed since the early 80s, but the following section, entitled "Notes On This Edition", pretty much limits its list of specific corrections of the volume to giving updated radiometric dates for the Mesozoic and making corrections of taxonomic spellings and assignments. There is more to dinosaur science then this. Ideally, a new short (few paragraph) section after every chapter discussing new information that outdates the text and illustrations would have been great, perhaps acompanied by a couple small simple black and white drawings to give a more updated veiw of the dinosaurs in the chapters. It also would have been cool if Stout had updated the drawings (as well as the classification) in "Family Faces". Of course, these suggestions would require a considerable amount of extra time on the part of the contributers, and are not really critical to appreciating either Stout or Service's original work, but I at least wish Dodson's chapters had been touched up.
Anyway, there it is. Parents, run out and grab a copy as soon as possible. Get them hooked young.
It is our duty to make the best of our misfortunes and not to suffer passion to interfere withour interest and the public good.
It is your business when the wall next door catches fire.
Jeffrey W. Martz
Graduate student, Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech University
3002 4th St., Apt. C26
Lubbock, TX 79415