Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Saint Thomas More, Patron Saint of Lawyers, Politicians, Science Fiction Writers, and...Dinosaurs?

Today we celebrate St. Thomas More, England's famous lawyer, who was executed for treason by Henry VIII when he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn or Henry's claim to be head of the Church.  His good sense of humor, which remained intact right up to his execution, is legendary.  And he is a man, not just for one season or two, but for all of them.

St. Thomas More is also, of course, the author of the novel Utopia, which criticizes English law by comparing it to a fictional society where everyone holds property in common, nobody works more than six hours a day, euthanasia is encouraged, and crimes rarely happen.  How Utopia got to work so well and why the people there don't act like real people, I can't explain.  Nonetheless, St. Thomas More's Utopian vision makes him an early sf writer and an important influence on all later writers of Utopias and dystopias.  As there is no official saint of science fiction writers at present, I humbly propose St. Thomas More.

And of course, if St. Thomas More is patron of sf writings, especially Utopias, that would make him the patron saint of my favorite Utopia, the Dinotopia picture books of James Gurney.  The original Dinotopia is a wonder to behold, as its sequel, The World Beneath.  However, the third one, First Flight, sucks, to put it mildly, but I just learned--I tend to lose track of these things--that a fourth volume, Journey to Chandara, came out in 2007, and I am going to have to fix my lack of familiarity with it as soon as possible.  Gurney, who started painting dinosaurs when he produced the Postal Service's dinosaur stamps, fills his books with lavish artwork depicting an idyllic world where peacenik dinosaurs frolic with exceptionally cute children while the protagonist, who looks strikingly like Kurt Russell as he appeared in Tombstone, builds steampunkish inventions and goes on adventures or something.  Besides being beautiful, Dinotopia is apparently an art historian's in-joke, as many of the carefully detailed sculptures, buildings, reliefs, and other artworks filling out the Dinotopia universe are based on famous pieces, reworked to incorporate dinosaur motifs.  So the books please me as an archaeologist as well as an sf fan and lover of dinosaurs.  Sadly, Dinotopia is strangely resistent to interpretation into other media.  I once attempted Alan Dean Foster's adult novel Dinotopia Lost, which depicts Dinotopia being invaded by cutthroat pirates.  By about fifty pages in, I was rooting for the pirates, and by about a hundred pages in, I gave up.  In novel form, Dinotopia suffers one of the great drawbacks of Utopian fiction--the unbelievable, condescending, perfect characters are really irritating.  I also failed to make it through the television miniseries, which is now used to torture prisoners in third-world countries.  One scene in the miniseries was genuinely moving, however, and managed for just a few seconds to evoke that sense of childlike wonder so effortlessly delivered by the picture books:  a group of the human characters were engaged in some sort of generic Gaea-worship meditation thingy, their meditation enhanced by the rhythmic stomping and tail-thumping of a group of dinosaurs.  The image of the dinosaurs slowly pounding the Earth as the sun sets and the humans sit in lotus position really manages to be awe-inspiring.

Anyway, where was I?  Yes, since St. Thomas More's work inspired subsequent Utopian fiction, and since it undoubtedly inspired Dinotopia, or at least its title, and since Dinotopia is full of wise, ancient dinosaurs who've learned how to live as one with nature or something, St. Thomas More could be the patron saint of dinosaurs.  As the patron saint of dinosaurs, he would of course be the patron saint of paleontologists.  And since lots of people, including ones who should know better, think archaeology has something to do with dinosaurs, the Vatican could goof and assign him as the patron saint of archaeologists, which would make him my patron saint.  Get it?

Now, for a real reflection on the great St. Thomas More, stop by Pro Ecclesia, from which I ruthlessly stole that icon.

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!
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