I always seem to forget how good Jurassic Park is. I blast through it once every few years, throw it on my shelf and the distance slowly makes me derisive, and then something forces me to pick it up again when my brain needs a little peanut butter and jelly dipped in hot chocolate, and I am forced to admit that Jurassic Park is a damn fine novel.
Sure it’s packed with Michael Crichton’s usual band of screenplay-adaptation-friendly archetypes, sure it derives much of its plot and thought from Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells and Mary Shelley, sure it’s pulpy and quick to read, but those things aren’t necessarily bad, and Crichton does enough to elevate or alter these elements to make Jurassic Park a fine piece of popular Sci-Fi in its own right.
Yes, the characters are there to serve the plot. Each has an important skill or skill-set — Muldoon is the “Great White Hunter,” Malcolm is the chaos theoretician, Grant and Saddler are the paleontologists, Tim and Lex are the kids in peril, etc., etc. — and who they are and the how their stories unfold are easily altered or even cut entirely in the shift from book to screen because they are less important than their skills, yet Crichton still manages to make them likable enough that we care about what happens to them. None of the characters are dynamic or round, but their static flatness makes them no less interesting than a character like Ian Fleming’s James Bond. They may not be as memorable as Bond (although Ian Malcolm has some pretty impressive popularity for a supporting character), but they don’t really have to be. We can forget them after the book is over, then enjoy them anew when we go back to the book later. They aren’t Hamlet, but they work.
And yes Crichton borrows liberally, but he borrows from the stars. He uses Shelley’s classic creation-gone-mad trope, and he blatantly thieves from Doyle’s Lost World and Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, but he does it with style. Granted it’s a pulpy style, but that pulpiness is an asset. It takes those pieces he’s combined and lets the reader catch mere glimpses of them outside the roller coaster car as he takes us into drops and curves and spins and loop-de-loops. The speed and pace nearly makes us forget from whom he’s borrowing. And that is by design. Crichton’s pulpiness is pacing, conscious pacing, and as literary action-oriented plotters go, Crichton is a master of speedy obfuscation.
Add to all that some memorable tirades about science and reason and the environment, some kick ass Velociraptors and T-rexes, an excellent scene with toxic eggs, and some rather insightful criticism of “great men,” and Jurassic Park is a book that I predict will stand the test of time. We may not see its future today, but fifty to a hundred years from now it will be taught in schools and remembered, while other, more literary books will be forgotten.
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