Science gives us monsters

I would have loved Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, but in many ways I’m glad I didn’t get into it until much later. When I was young, I got my monster fix not from beholders, gelatinous cubes or goblins, but from mythology – mostly Greek, but also Celtic – and science.

Two of my most treasured books were 50 Facts About Dinosaurs (and how I wish I still owned this – published in 1982, written for children, it is really, really out of date by now) and Monsters of the Deep. Both contained fantastic monsters which, while depicted only by painted illustrations every bit as lurid as those in the Monster Manual, are – or were – real.

All this is brought to mind once again by a news story about dinosaurs – or rather, marine reptiles. Student Raymond Hodgson and groundskeeper Ben Smith found an Icthyosaur fossil in the vegie patch at Richmond State School in western Queensland. The article doesn’t mention how complete a specimen it is, but the icthyosaur is an iconic superstar for anyone who’s familiar with the history of fossil hunting – and if you’re not, I recommend reading up about it. (I have two books on the subject: The Dinosaur Hunters and The Dragon Seekers. Honestly it’s been too long since I read either, and they were both good, but I think it was the latter that I preferred. The former focuses a lot of attention on the rivalry between Gideon Mantell and Richard Owen, though, and that’s quite an exciting back and forth.)