Sunday, August 8, 2010

Palaeo Fiction Genres...

With summer now more than half over (sigh... how time flies) we close in on the super surprise Pop Culture gallery. Which means we need to take a look at the diversity of the topic.
When we say "Pop Culture" all we mean is prehistory appearing in fiction. In a nutshell this amounts to creative ways in which prehistoric creatures/environments and humans are brought into contact with each other. Naturally this never happened in real life, but a number of rather creative and imaginative ways of getting the two elements together have emerged in fiction.
Here I give you a quick overview of the major themes/methods of mixing the two as I see them. This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor will it cover all the odd hybrids that exist. What I'm hoping is any of your favourite prehistoric stories will roughly fall into one or more of these categories. More to the point hopefully this will remind you of your favourite story or inspire to imagine and a new one and create a piece for this gallery!
For the images below I've tried to select photos/images from films and shows. As of such I haven't credited them, as there was no one listed for me to credit. While the majority of my made up genres have examples in film each tends to have dozens of book only entries as well. If you wanted a recommended reading list for any just let me know and I'll fire one up (I've seen 95% of all Dinosaur films made before the mid 2000's, and read a good mass of prehistoric "literature"... also the now defunct blog Prehistoric Pulp has done reviews on the majority of palaeo pop out there...)

Lost Worlds

Probably the oldest fictional archetype, and certainly one of the most appealing, has been the "Lost World" model. In these humans come across some remote corner of the Earth (or in a few really out there stories whole other planets!) in which prehistory never ended, and a palaeo-environment survives. What happens in the story can vary, but inevitable a great deal of discovery and danger ensues.

The means by which prehistory endures are as numerous and diverse as the number of these stories. Geographic isolation is a key ingredient but this can be provided from the reasonable to the outright fantastic. In the reasonable category prehistory has been cut off from its extinction and the outside world by being in/on a remote island, plateau, valley, etc. The more fantastic means of preserving prehistory often are themselves a big part of the story, to explain how the humans arrive. Otherwise it would make little sense for Dinosaurs to be discovered in underground realms, frozen away in the ice, contained within a volcano, all the way on another planet...


A less ambitious version of the Lost World model is to simply have a single element of prehistory survive into the present, nestled among an otherwise normal modern environment. The majority of these tend to be about exploitation by the human discoverers and an ensuing rampage. Though in a few cases it can simply be a tale of discovery.

Time Travel

Probably the other "great" Palaeo Pop Culture genre is the time travel one. Rather than bring prehistory to the present, take the humans back to the past... Or in some cases the past forward to the present. This genre is pretty straight forward, but has a lot of quirky extremes and twists that have been taken.

Scientific Resurrection

A very modern genre to emerge has been that of genetic technology bringing prehistoric creatures back through cloning or other scientific means. While many would claim Jurassic Park is the only real entry into this genre, there are several more (most of which are admittedly knock offs), but Carnosaur for example was its own concept.

Radioactive Resurrection

A much older version of scientific resurrection, an equal response to technological innovation, is a radioactive infused prehistory model. These tended to involve long dormant creatures being awoken or reanimated by exposure to radioactivity (whether an explosive or just some radiation). In some of the most famous stories the creatures involved gained super powers, but this was by no means a constant. As these tales typically were a commentary on the dangers of atomic energy there tends to be a lot of destruction for humanity in the end.


Dinotopia by James Gurney

When you can't have a plausible explanation for prehistory and humans to co-exist just make belief they should. As fantasy lets you do anything you want, there's not much for me to say other than this is a very diverse genre.

Hyper "Evolved" Dinosaurs

Another way to bring prehistory into the present and into conflict with modern man is to have intelligent ancestors of the extinct creatures reappear. Whether they hid in a lost world, are a by-product of time travel gone wrong, or returned from outerspace these big brained remnants of the past tend to give us a fair challenge.


Through combination of the intelligent Dinosaur and fantasy genres, fiction writers sometimes want to tell their stories from the prehistoric creatures point of view. Sometimes this is simply a narrative of a normal animal, and is more like a first person documentary. At the extreme we get humanized creatures.

Cave People

While this last category is more plausible than human-like Dinosaurs, I leave it to the end as it is the most fictional of the lot. In the cave people scenario humans and Dinosaurs are presented as having coexisted. Which is of course completely made up, but admittedly fun. In these man battles against the adverse odds of a savage world (in as few clothes as possible :P).


BlacknickSculpture said...

That was a fun post! Most times I tend to enjoy the Lost Worlds and Crypto type themes the most.

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

I like all those genres

beautiful cavewoman! haha!

Trish said...

Very nice overview, though I'm surprised you didn't mention any works that... Well, let's maybe call it the "Humans? Who said anything about humans?" subgenre. Pop culture that shows an obviously fictionalized but intended to be realistic view of prehistoric life. Examples would be the "Walking With Whatever" series on the more realistic side, the "Right of Spring" sequence in "Fantasia" on the more artistic licensy side.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Brian- I love a good lost world (I'm especially a sucker for Edgar Rice Burroughs style center of the Earth ones in particular :P), and time travel. Atomic powered Dinosaurs were my childhood fav (I've seen EVERY Godzilla film at least once...)

Another flavour of pop culture that has been applied to all these genre at least once is a good old dinosaur hunt. I don't know why (other than maybe Bradbury's classic Sound of Thunder) but these have always been among my favourites too.

Dinorider- You have no idea how much trouble that got me in with the GF when she saw I'd picked Raquel Welsh as my caveperson... I apparently have a "thing" for Welsh.

Trish- *Face Palm* you know what documentaries were on my list! The first day I started throwing this post together I'd uploaded a bunch of pictures not sure how I was going to approach this at first. After this first random non-planned upload, I ditched the list (oops!) and just wittled the post down to its current form.

I would have included Nigel Marvin as my picture for this category, as his "Chased by" series are by far my favourites (especially Sea Monsters!)

Most of this pictures are from my favourite incarnation of any particular genre...

Brett said...


I think the Chased by Dinosaurs would fall under the Time Travel genres. Just a bit of a different twist on it:)

I've actually dabbled in almost all those at some point. Nothing beets dinosaurs fighting humans.



El Squibbonator said...

I'm working on a novel with an interesting premise: the dinosaurs DID die out, but they remain in spirit form, and can be seen using a device called a Xenoscope. If the Xenoscope is destroyed, however, the dinosaurs will return to life and eat all the people and. . .you get the idea. So the hero has to keep the Xenoscope from falling into the hands of these ghost-dinosaurs. Which genre would you say THAT is?

Traumador said...

El Squibbonator- that sounds like a fantasy story to me ;P

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh seeing the Jim Henson 'Dinosaurs' show there.
Cracked listed it among the top 7 most soul crushing series finales in history.

Worth a look for a laugh, contains some swearing in the write up.

Traumador said...

yeah i recall the henson dinosaurs finale quite vividly from my childhood.

definately left me with environmental fears

Nima said...

Dinosaur surrealism would be a cool idea too. Especially with a sci-fi/crosscimensional/metaphysical aspect.

Euhelopus got stuck in a wormhole hex between the 11th and 12th String Theory dimensions. Up-side: immortality, freedom from gravity and never aging.
Down-side: not actually existing as physical matter with sense and feelings.