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Literature / Dinotopia

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Breathe Deep, Seek Peace.

The tale of a mythical lost continent, on which resides an idealistic Utopian society ruled over jointly by dinosaurs and humans who have become marooned there over time. New arrivals are taught the ways of pacifism by the Dinotopians and are integrated into society.

The book features gorgeously detailed illustrations, courtesy of author/illustrator James Gurney, previously best known for his book covers, animation background art, and especially for his incredibly detailed illustrations of historical cultures in National Geographic.

A pair of young adult novels have been written for the series courtesy of Alan Dean Foster, along with a series of children's novels by various genre-fiction authors, a fourth Gurney-written/illustrated prequel that was packaged with a board game, a computer game, a made-for-TV movie, a short-lived television series based, in turn, upon the TV movie, a made-for-video animated film, and, inevitably, a few video games.


The main series (books directly authored by James Gurney):

  • Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time: Arthur Denison and his son William are shipwrecked and brought via dolphins to Dinotopia. With their new Protoceratops translator Bix, they travel across the island and learn about its culture and customs. Arthur learns about the scientific achievements of the Dinotopians, while Will and his new Love Interest Sylvia train to be Skybax riders together. Has a Chekhov's Gunman in Lee Crabb, a cranky dinosaur-hating man who becomes a recurring villain in later books.
  • Dinotopia: The World Beneath: Arthur Denison leads an expedition into the World Beneath to explore an Advanced Ancient Acropolis. He finds a new Love Interest who accompanies him on the expedition and Lee Crabb tags along, hoping to find riches in the lost city underneath and perhaps a way off the island.
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  • Dinotopia: First Flight: A Prequel to the other books that takes place in ancient times. Gideon Altaire is a citizen of the technologically advanced city of Poseidos who is discontent with living in a culture of artificial dinosaurs. He discovers a Scaphognatus named Razzamult who tells him of a plan to invade the Dinotopian mainland and replace all the dinosaurs there with robots. Gideon rescues a group of captive pterosaurs, steals the Ruby Sunstone that powers the attack force, and escapes to the mainland. There he Goes Native to help repel the invasion, in the process becoming the first human to ride a pterosaur.
  • Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara: Arthur Denison's exploits have caught the attention of the mysterious emperor of the isolated city of Chandara. He and Bix are invited to tour the city, but their invitations are stolen by none other than Lee Crabb, forcing them to sneak past the border guards and find their way into the city through other means. Along the way, they meet a variety of people and dinosaurs.

The Young Adult novels by Alan Dean Foster:

  • Dinotopia Lost: The pirate ship Condor and its captain Brognar Blackstrap lands on Dinotopia, threatening the peaceful ways of the entire island. They kidnap a family of Struthiomimus and unknowingly take them into the Rainy Basin, home of the Tyrannosaurus rex. Furthering complicating things, the pirates also capture a baby rex, upsetting the balance of power amongst the saurians of the Basin and Will Denison and his Protoceratops sidekick Chaz must rescue the captives and stop Blackstrap's crew.
  • Hand of Dinotopia: Will's fiancée Sylvia Romano disappears off in search of the legendary Hand of Dinotopia, supposedly a way to get off the island. Teaming up with Chaz again, Will heads off to find her and later joins her in her quest for the Hand.

The Digest novels by various authors:

  • Windchaser
  • River Quest
  • Hatchling
  • Lost City
  • Sabertooth Mountain
  • Thunder Falls
  • Firestorm
  • The Maze
  • Rescue Party
  • Skydance (double length book)
  • Chomper
  • Return To Lost City
  • Survive
  • The Explorers
  • Dolphin Watch
  • Oasis

In its various forms, the series provides examples of:

  • Actionized Sequel: First Flight, a prequel to the first two books, features flying car chases, explosions and an aerial battle between pterosaur riders and a giant flying robot scorpion.
  • Actual Pacifist:
    • Most Dinotopians, human and saurian alike, abhor the use of violence. There is even a passage in the Code of Dinotopia that says "Weapons are enemies, even to their owners". Not all on the island strictly adhere to this rule, though.
    • In Lost City, the protagonists encounter a lost civilization of Troodon and are shocked to learn the raptors still keep weapons and maintain an army (as justification, Troodon are believed to be pack hunters). However, the Troodon treat this more as a Martial Pacifist mental discipline than something they actually expect to use in battle (akin to how many martial arts practitioners regard their skills).
    • In the Hallmark Channel miniseries, protagonists David and Karl Scott get physical with each other multiple times, which is looked down on by native Dinotopians. Cyrus Crabb later turns up with a pair of flintlock pistols, which he uses.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The original novels were set during the Victorian era, but the miniseries takes place in a more modern setting and seems to be a sequel of sorts to the books, as characters like Arthur Dennison and Lee Crabb are mentioned and confirmed to exist but are long dead by the time the miniseries' events take place. The only character from the books to physically show up in the series, Oriana, only appears at the Distant Prologue of the first chapter, writing a letter to her niece Marion.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: In the books, the Dinotopians were very enlightened and fully aware of outside events. In the mini-series, they are rather naive and completely ignorant of anything happening outside their land.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: In the miniseries, the Dinotopians are noticeably more disapproving and distrustful of outsiders, like Karl and David, and while the two brothers try to tell the Dinotopians they are the only ones who can put a stop to the catastrophe they unwillingly caused, the population angrily shuns them and brands them as pariahs before Mayor Waldo imprisons them.
  • Adapted Out: As shown in the books, Dinotopia is not only inhabited by dinosaurs and pterosaurs, but also by many other prehistoric animals from Earth's past, such as Permian synapsids and Pleistocene mammals. In the miniseries, any prehistoric animals that aren't from the Mesozoic are nowhere to be seen. (With the only possible exception of the giant fish which many fans believe is a Dunkleosteus.)
  • Adipose Rex: Mayor Waldo, the mayor of Waterfall City in the miniseries, is a pretty hefty, cheerful fellow with a prodigious appetite. Just try not to piss him off.
  • Advanced Ancient Acropolis: Poseidos had robotic dinosaurs, solar power, photography, remote control aircraft and all sorts of other sci-fi technology way back in the B.C.'s!
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Where most paleontological art plays the Real Is Brown trope for all it's worth (probably because the influential paleo-artist Charles R. Knight did), Gurney likes to subvert it. A lot. (It's always Mardi Gras in Chandara.)
  • And Now For Something Completely Different: The World Beneath is written in third person, switches perspectives between Arthur and Will, and involves having to stop a real antagonist.
  • Animal Mecha: Strutters. Justified, in that they were designed specifically to replace dinosaurs.
  • Animal Talk: There's some jazz about a "dinosaur language" early on in the first book. Then the prospective Skybax riders are told that, because pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, their mounts will not be able to understand the dino language. Because whether you can understand a certain language depends on your biological classification. Even though humans and other non-dino species can understand dino language. Gurney has, understandably, RetConned this little ball of confusion into oblivion, and in the later books all of the prehistoric animals talk like humans. In Journey to Chandra, Arthur's able to understand small pterosaurs chattering, and it's written out like English.
    • The idea behind the dinosaur language was sound, at least at first. The first book stated fairly early that most dinos and creatures speak their own language because they lack the physical structures to speak human languages. Protoceratops, Troodon and the smaller pterosaurs are the few exceptions, having more parrot-like vocal cords that allow them to pronounce human languages: it's why the Dimorphodons are used to relay messages and why Bix is an ambassador, as she can speak several languages. The skybaxes have different vocal structures again, and so have their own language. A side-plot of the book Windchaser is the that the eponymous skybax is the first of his kind to learn human languages, and becoming a translator for his species.
    • It should be noted that by "dinosaur language", the first book meant a universal language for all dinosaur species; something very close to the definition of Animal Talk except, as noted above, specific to your Linnean classification. (In other words, imagine humans talking with cats talking with whales talking with aardvarks talking with fruitbats talking with desmostylans talking with tapirs talking with... and it's easy to see why Gurney retconned this.) While many media related to the franchise simply portrays the dinos and extinct animals as being able to speak English flawlessly, the Hallmark miniseries depicts most dinos and extinct animals as being able to communicate only in grunts and roars, but otherwise capable of understanding English, while Troodons and Dimorphodons are still shown as being able to speak in human languages.
  • Anthropomorphic Shift: Gurney strongly dislikes it when animal characters act too human, particularly when it leads to Furry Confusion. He has written extensively in his blog and in his nonfiction book Imaginative Realism about how he himself has struggled to avoid this. However, a few of the spinoff novels and each of the films have featured animal characters that are indeed anthropomorphic or nearly so (the TV movie and series goes ahead and gives an animal character human-like hands). This may be one of the key factors in the Canon Discontinuity. While there are a few feathered dinosaurs in Journey to Chandra who appear to have human-like thumbs, but this is a pretty common mistake in paleoart.
  • Appeal to Obscurity: Dinotopia is ringed by a dense barrier reef and its offshore weather is terrible; most of the human inhabitants are descendants of shipwreck survivors. The customary response by Dinotopians in reply to newcomers' queries on how to get home is that if it was possible to get off the island by sea, they probably would have heard of a Tunisia-sized tropical volcanic island with dinosaurs on it before they arrived.
  • Artistic License: Gurney stated in his blog that he was fully aware of the fact that the dinosaurs on the island have existed unchanged for millions of years, but he stuck with it anyways for the sake of the story.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: Early in the story it's established that English (or any other language that Arthur can speak, such as French) is not the lingua franca of Dinotopia- Sylvia doesn't speak it, and on arriving at the Hatchery Arthur and Will can't find anyone who can understand them until they meet an old man descended from an English dolphinback 15 generations ago (which Arthur calculates to about 400 years), giving him a strange dialect that still makes it difficult to communicate, while few if any of the dinosaurs speak it at all (Bix certainly doesn't, despite being a dinosaur translator). Yet when we're introduced to the dinosaur alphabet (an array of footprints pointed in different directions) it's, by sheer coincidence, a set of 37 different sets correlating exactly to the A-Z alphabet, the numbers 0-9, and (oddly enough) a "?".
  • Artistic License – Paleontology:
    • While the depictions of dinosaurs are accurate (or were when Gurney drew them), how so many different fauna from such a broad span of time came to exist on the island gets mostly Hand Waved, though obviously we don't begrudge him that. Also, theropods miraculously acquire feathers in the later books, after the theory became accepted in real life. invoked
    • In the miniseries mosasaurs can walk on land and look like crocodiles.
  • Atlantis: It's suggested that Poseidos was Atlantis.
  • Audio Adaptation: Of the first two books, obviously lacking in pictures.
  • Author Avatar: Arthur Dennison is in the not-even-subtle-about-it category, particularly in Journey to Chandara.
  • A Wizard Did It: It is very vaguely implied that the sunstones in the World Beneath gave the dinosaurs their sentience.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Karl and David in the miniseries constantly bicker and quarrel with each other a lot. The fact that they have radically different stances on Dinotopia (Karl wants to leave as soon as possible, David prefers to stay and is more than happy to be part of the island's culture) and that they both seem to have feelings for Marion don't make things any easier. Nonetheless, they are highly devoted to each other and Karl will always do everything in his power to keep David safe. Likewise, Mayor Waldo and his wife Rosemary have been estranged for quite some time, and their relationship seems kinda rocky, but their love for Marion will always bring them together in the end.
  • Bamboo Technology: Indeed, the residents appear to be technophobes to a degree, relying entirely on man-power (so to speak; it's just as likely to be crocodile-power or woolly rhino-power or whatever). They don't shun wheels, bellows, and pulley systems, and some of what they have is fairly sophisticated - diving machines, hot air balloons, a kind of keyboard that Deinonychus types on with its feet - but they're rather averse to strutters. Given the events of The World Beneath and First Flight, it's more than justified.
    • There's some degree of gadgetry in Chandara, including what seems to be a gramophone, but they're regarded as curiosities.
    • It seems to depend on whether or not a particular technology can do something a dinosaur cannot do just as well; Arthur notes in his journal that while his students and peers at the University aren't at all interested in internal combustion engines, they took great interest to the sewing machine.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Tyrannosaurs and other theropods that live in the Rainy Basin and the Outer Island outside Culebra. A few of them have been written as Noble Savages, though.
  • Bat Deduction: Poseidos sounds like Poseidon. Legends say Poseidon sank Atlantis into the sea. Poseidos also sank into the sea. Therefore, Poseidos is Atlantis.
  • Beneath the Earth: The World Beneath, a vast system of caves running beneath most of Dinotopia.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Some books make mention of oversized prehistoric insects and other arthropods. In Journey to Chandara, they're even a delicacy.
  • Big Door: The entrance to the World Beneath proper from the sea caves Arthur's team accesses it from is one of these.
  • Boats into Buildings: The village of Bilgewater, which first appears in Journey to Chandra, was built from the hulls of three galleons — the Prince of the Seas, the Royal Vanguard, and the Advance — that wrecked on the reef surrounding the island, sinking in Dolphin Bay. With the help of dinosaur muscle for the heavy lifting, the ships were floated to the surface, dragged to their permanent home, sawed in half, and set upright to create a unique community.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Dinotopia Lost ends with the Big Bad facing a pair of pissed off T. Rex parents, although the very last line in the book leaves hardly any doubt about what happened next.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Every prehistoric creature is called by its scientific name... except for the Giant Flyers with the red-black-white color scheme, who are called Skybaxes by everyone. When huge pterosaurs came and rescued Arthur and Crabb at the end of The World Beneath, these were identified as Quetzalcoatlus northropi, and looked distinct from the skybaxes also present. While the skybaxes are identified as Quetzalcoatlus (technically the made-up species Quetzalcoatlus skybax) from the first time Arthur sees one, the reason for there being two different species is likely because, when Guerney was illustrating the first book, fossils of Quetzalcoatlus were sketchy at best and some of the existing illustrations at the time were wildly inaccurate, so using a made-up species circumnavigated this issue. The Q. northropies were probably included for safety's sake.
  • Canon Immigrant:
    • Many of the towns and locations featured in the Young Adult novel series appeared on the map of Dinotopia in Journey to Chandara.
    • Journey to Chandara also features Skybax Air Jousting, a sport first mentioned in Windchaser.
  • Carnivore Confusion: The series is one of the few works involving Talking Animal characters that openly addresses this issue and has, relatively speaking, a well thought-out approach to the problem. All carnivores have switched to a diet of fish and it's implied that those who can (most notably humans) have gone entirely over to veganism. The twist is that some animals refused to make the change and have exiled themselves to the Rainy Basin and Backwood Flats, where they live as their wild ancestors did (similar to The Wild in Kevin & Kell). Interestingly, this is treated by the major characters as more of an alternate lifestyle choice than a break of the rules and such characters are not vilified as one would expect. At least, not in the book. The movie is another story...
    • In one of the not-quite-Canon spin-off novels, a city-dwelling herbivore was shown journeying through the Rainy Basin as she was about to die, providing the carnivores with food. This act was referred to in almost religious terms. Another of the novels has a similar set-up in the mountains where local herbivores in the process of dying also offer their bodies to the local saber-toothed cats as part of a peace treaty.
    • To be sure, the assurance that fish are kosher becomes a bit troubling when it becomes increasingly clear in Journey to Chandara that any species with more brains than a sponge can communicate with each-other...
    • Additionally, leathers, skins, and furs were seen in use by the Dinotopians (although in the original book Will and Sylvia were given coats made from fur that animals had shed after climbing the mountain). Readers had to wait until Journey to Chandara for the explanation: Arthur Dennison is given a new journal bound in the skin of an Intellectual Animal "whose dying wish was to donate his body to science". Have fun with the Fridge Logic.
  • Catchphrase: "Breathe deep, seek peace" and the Skybax rider version. "Fly high, seek peace".
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Lee Crabb only had one appearance in the first book and had become the main antagonist by The World Beneath and Journey to Chandara.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The Deinonychus librarian Enit and the Troodon timekeeper Malik are not even mentioned in the fourth book (perhaps being lumped under the "many friends" Arthur and Bix bid farewell to before they leave for Chandara), in spite of making named appearances in the first two books. Especially jarring in the case of Enit as his assistant Nallab (a human) does appear. Might have something to do with being unfeathered deinonychosaurs in a 2007 book.
  • City of Adventure: Waterfall City, a hub of learning and the arts, and a reliable spot for any heroes to visit on their adventures.
  • City of Canals: Waterfall City, which is also set on a hill, so the canals turn into awe-inspiring waterfalls (which have the side effect of making everything in the city permanently a little damp).
  • Civilized Animal: All of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that live in cities, villages or have some sort of regular contact with humans are this.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Arthur invokes this when trying to explain the sunstones.
    Will Denison: Is it magic?
    Arthur Denison: No, I believe it is science, but an ancient, strange science, quite unknown in Europe or America.
  • The Commandments: The Code of Dinotopia
  • Counterpart Artifacts: The two halves of the Orichalc key in The World Beneath.
  • Creator Cameo: Dinotopia (the first book) has one of these in addition to the Author Avatar noted above. He's a minor figure in the street scene in Pooktook, the man standing to the right of the Centrosaurus with the drink-dispensing panniers. He has a child riding on his shoulders, curly-toed shoes on his feet, and the most detailed facial features on that particular spread, especially considering that there are other passers-by standing closer to the foreground.
    • It's justified, though. In Imaginative Realism, Gurney reveals that he often has to act as his own actor/model when there's none handy.
  • Cut Short: The TV series (after the miniseries) ended with the Wizard's magic portal back to the real world mysteriously stolen. To which we ask, "What the hell book did the writers of the show read?"
  • Cypher Language: The Dinotopians use an alphabet made up of footprints. Which just happens to be a straight substitution cipher for the modern Latin alphabet.
  • Dated History: In the miniseries, the mayor says that their last arrival from the outside world came in 1944, so they ask David and Karl to fill them in on what's happened since. When David says that someone walked on the moon, the Dinotopian Senate laughs it off.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Chaz the Protoceratops in Alan Dean Foster's two novels. In Hand of Dinotopia he remarks (after a flash flood in a desert) that only with Will Denison could he risk drowning in a desert.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: The spinoff novella Windchaser begins with the protagonist's father being killed in a mutiny.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Done to some extent to Will in Journey to Chandra. Previously he'd had equal page time to his father, but in this he appeared fleetingly, twice. As might be expected, the role of his Love Interest Sylvia was similarly reduced. Done much more severely to Oriana, who had been Arthur's traveling companion and budding Love Interest in The World Beneath. Neither of them are even mentioned at the end, when Arthur's reflecting over the places he's seen on the way.
    • Lee Crabb, despite being directly responsible for altering the entire journey in Journey to Chandara, makes only two appearances in the entire book.
  • Diminishing Villain Threat: Lee Crabb presented an actual threat to the safety of Dinotopia in The World Beneath. He seemed to be trying to start a war in Journey to Chandara, but all he really succeeds in doing is stealing Arthur and Bix's passes and convincing Emperor Hugo Khan to stockpile some weapons, and his plans are foiled quite easily by Arthur, who needed only to show up.
  • Dinosaurs Are Dragons: Run into the ground, then taken out back and shot in the otherwise well-liked spinoff novel Dinotopia Lost. Among the pirates who land on Dinotopia there is one from China (sigh) who insists on referring to every dinosaur regardless of species as a "dragon" (sigh), even the Ornithomimid family they kidnap and plan to sell to a mainland circus (sigh). For the record, your typical Chinese Dragons look like this, and your typical Ornithomimid looked... like a weird bird. Partially averted, as the Chinese word for "dinosaur" (kônglóng) is comprised of the characters for "ancient" and "dragon"
  • Direct Line to the Author: A Land Apart from Time and Journey to Chandara are presented as journals that James Gurney found in a library and a pawn shop.
  • Dragon Rider: Essentially what the Skybax riders are, being a fleet that rides on the backs of large flying reptiles.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: In First Flight, Gideon dresses up as a security guard to sneak into the Strutterworks and steal the Ruby Sunstone.
  • Dumb Dinos: Averted - the dinosaurs are fully sapient and live alongside humans as equals.
  • The Empire: Poseidos was this before it sank beneath the waves.
  • Eternal English: Thoroughly averted in the beginning of the first book. Arthur Denison notes that when a character who speaks English is produced to translate, his English is "archaic". Gurney's other books don't feature fresh dolphinbacks, but Dinotopia Lost and a lot of the junior novels do, and they play it completely straight.
    • Somewhat justified in Dinotopia Lost, as the pirates mostly seem to come from English-speaking nationalities (largely British a Jamaican, an American, etc. with the few that aren't having learned it). Will still has to provide translation services, and it's specifically noted that the human Dinotopian language is "Latin-derived".
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: Lee Crabb's descendant Cyrus Crabb in the TV movie is an amoral thief and con artist who hates the entire Dinotopian way of life. He joins with the protagonists to save the island, "not because I like it, but because I'm trying to save me own skin."
  • Evolutionary Stasis: Big time. Despite having been stuck on the island for hundreds of millions of years, the dinosaurs haven't evolved a bit. Thus we see species from the Pleistocene interacting with species from the Permian, and everything in between.
  • Excuse Plot: A Land Apart from Time and Journey to Chandara were less about telling stories and more about heaping generous amounts of Scenery Porn on the reader.
  • Expelled from Every Other School: David tries to explain his brother Karl disobeying a curfew to Matriarch Rosemary this way.
    "Karl has a little problem with authority. He's been kicked out of eleven schools."
  • Fantastic Slurs: Downplayed in that it's not meant as an insult, but "native" Dinotopians commonly call newcomers "Dolphinbacks", since they're almost always shipwreck survivors who were pulled to safety by the local dolphins.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Justified. Shipwrecked survivors throughout the ages brought their cultures with them. Also, some who successfully escaped the island influenced other worldwide cultures.
  • Fantasy World Map: The books have included a map of the island and the surrounding areas.
  • Fish-Eye Lens: Coupled with some kind of infrared/rainbow filter, we're told that this is how dinosaurs (and human children and artists) see the world in one page of the original book. As with the convoluted "rules" of the Animal Talk (see above), this has also more or less been RetConned out of existence.
  • Flanderization: The TV miniseries turned Dinotopian society from "peaceful, wise and enlightened" to "naive, stubborn and ignorant". Also, the carnivores of the Rainy Basin went from intelligent Barbarian Tribe to standard Prehistoric Monsters.
    • The animated film throws these away into the trash, though it also has other issues. The Dinotopians go back to preferring life without technology and are shown to be aware of the outside world and its changes, but have grown fearful of them and use sunstones to keep the island hidden. The carnivores revert back to being sentient, even Noble Savages like in the books.
  • Flying Car: Just one of the many instances of Schizo Tech found in Poseidos.
  • Flying Face: Hoverheads were Poseidan robots with heads that could detach and fly around, hence the name.
  • Framing Device:
    • First Flight is told as a story that Will is learning as part of his Skybax riding training.
    • A Land Apart from Time and Journey to Chandara are presented as Arthur Denison's diaries that James Gurney found.
  • From the Latin "Intro Ducere": Lee Crabb points out that, in the original Greek, mashing the terms "dinosaur" ("terrible lizard") and "utopia" ("no-place", originally as in a place that doesn't exist but has shifted to mean a place too good to be real) together just results in a "terrible place". He uses this to help justify his view that Dinotopia is a Crapsaccharine World. (That said, "terrible" has undergone language drift; the Greek deinos meant something like "fearfully great" or "awe-inspiring" — which does describe Dinotopia — while Crabb uses the modern meaning of "terrible" as "really bad", meaning his own argument undermines his point.)
  • Full-Name Ultimatum: Sylvia does this to Will too many times to be normal in Hand of Dinotopia.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The Code of Dinotopia is a list of eleven proverbs (well, ten-and-a-half, given that much of the last line is missing) well-known among all Dinotopians. The first letter of each line put together makes a twelfth, "Sow good seed". (For what it's worth, the TV miniseries ruins the acronym, changing the lost line from "Don't p..." to "Fin...", full line "Find the light".)
  • Gentle Giant: Most of the larger species.
  • Gentleman Thief: Nibor Dooh in Journey to Chandara is a highwayman who robs travelers of all their possessions, but compensates them with the possessions of his previous victim.
  • Giant Flyer: The Skybax (who sit comfortably in Rule of Cool territory), as well as the Pteranodons.
  • Great Offscreen War: Since modern Dinotopian society has given up warfare entirely, any armed conflict depicted will have happened in the past.
    • In First Flight, we see a grand total of one (relatively small) battle between the first Pterosaur Riders and a scorpion-like strutter. However, Journey to Chandara mentions a much larger conflict that occurred between Poseidos and the mainland during that timeframe. The re-release of First Flight fleshes this out somewhat.
    • Hand of Dinotopia reveals that this is exactly what happened the last time contact was made by the outside world.
    • River Quest also has a mural depicting a war between the carnosaurs of the Rainy Basin and the humans.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Ogthar, the legendary king of Poseidos, is depicted in sculpture as a half-human, half-dinosaur figure.
  • Harmless Villain: The only time Lee Crabb has ever posed any sort of threat was in The World Beneath, when he tried to escape Dinotopia in a strutter with overly ambitious plans of returning with an invasion force. In A Land Apart from Time, he's just a cranky old extra, and in Journey to Chandara, his antics cause nothing more than inconvenience to the heroes, at worst. He also appears in the digest novel Thunder Falls, assisting an old Kentrosaurus with a test for two students.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: Mayor Waldo and the Senate in the miniseries. When presented with evidence that the sunstones are failing, he decides to discuss it at the next meeting, in one month's time. Even later, when it becomes clear that they face an existential threat to their civilization, they decide to just bow their heads and die, rather than try to find new sunstones.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Most of Brognar Blackstrap's crew pull this at the end of Dinotopia Lost.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Will Denison's Love Interest Sylvia is redheaded.
  • Heroic Dolphins: Dolphins were responsible for bringing all shipwreck survivors to the island.
  • Historical In-Joke: It's implied that Dinotopians from the advanced lost city of Posidos escaped destruction and began all of human civilization. Egyptian, Mayan, and Indian art motifs are seen in the pre-Egyptian daguerreotypes, as well as in the Greek-ish language used to name the city, inspiring the legend of Atlantis.
  • Honorable Elephant: The woolly mammoths and other prehistoric proboscideans that live on the Forbidden Mountains.
  • Horse of a Different Color: The animal characters are not, strictly specking, anthropomorphic, which avoids some uncomfortable Furry Confusion here.
  • Hover Bot: Fritz. "Hover-heads" like Fritz normally have a humanoid body with the head as a detachable module, but Fritz's body is ruined and is useful only as a charging station.
  • Humans Are Good: So long as they have the wise Saurians to teach them.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon: Dimorphodon. After science marched on, the portrayal became unlikely due to Dimorphodon being a relatively poor flyer that would probably not be capable of flying long distances like a carrier pigeon.
  • Intellectual Animal: Most of the cast.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Pretty much a given, considering the setting.
  • Island of Mystery: The island itself.
  • Kill It with Fire: Arctium longevus, or Trilobur, has periodically been struck with a blight that killed it before it could produce seeds and caused it to emit a poison from its roots in return (which kills off other Triloburs and similar plants), preventing Trilobur from ever growing in that area again; the only way to solve the problem was by burning, which destroyed the poison in the soil and made the area safe for Trilobur to grow again.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Lee Crabb points out that Dinotopia directly translates not to "dinosaur utopia", but "terrible place".
    • It actually translates more to "fearfully-great" or "awe-inspiring" place. Whether this was an author mistake or evidence that Crabb isn't seeing the big picture is unknown.
  • Land, Sea, Sky: The three different classifications of the island's habitats. Everyone is assigned a different position in one of said habitats.
  • Legend Of Chekhov: A group of humans finding a way to go off-island is discussed in The World Beneath. Later, finding this route becomes the driving plot of The Hand of Dinotopia.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!
  • Loads and Loads of Races: A great many prehistoric species make appearances in the books. Much more than would be realistic for an island about 200 kilometers wide.
  • Lost in Translation: A minor one in The World Beneath where it's suggested that Poseidos was mutated into Poseidon in the outside world.
  • Lost Technology: The Strutters (Steampunk Dinosaur Tank-Walkers) in The World Beneath. They are essentially mechanical life-forms. Funny enough, once they're found technology, nobody particularly wants them. Though this is retconned in Chandara, where some Strutter technology has been adopted by the mainland Dinotopians, i.e. for situations that would be to dangerous for humans and animals.
  • Lost World: Dinotopia, home of prehistoric creatures.
  • Love Triangle: In the miniseries, Karl and David both fall for Marion, though the story doesn't make a big deal about it. Before they leave on their submarine voyage to the world beneath, she tells them she loves them both.
    David: You hear that? She loves us both.
    Karl: (teasingly) She was looking at me when she said it.
  • Mammoths Mean Ice Age: The colder and more mountainous regions of Dinotopia are inhabited not by dinosaurs, but by Ice Age mammals. Mammoths are naturally some of the best-known residents there.
  • The Marvelous Deer: The Megaloceros from Journey to Chandara, which guides caravans through fogs.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Subverted in River Quest, one of the children's digest novels. Magnolia's Mentor Edwick survives an injury from an exploding geyser, but it effectively puts him out of commission and forces Magnolia to take up his reigns.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The Sun Stones that power the Strutters. See also Power Crystal below.
  • Most Writers Are Human: Very oddly applied, even leading to some uncomfortable Fridge Logic. Dolphins (who bring shipwrecked humans to the island) and humans are the most prominent modern-day species on the island. We are assured that there's something about humans. Yeah... Also, according to the text only ten percent of the Dinotopia population is human, but the illustrations suggest otherwise. Then again, the human narrator would naturally be drawn to the human population centers. Loitering too long in "wilder" regions like the Rainy Basin would prove hazardous to one's health.
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom:
    • The T-Rexes in Dinotopia Lost give these to the protagonists. Chaz's is "Slays With Words," Will is "Thinks Through Fear" and their Struthiomimus companion Keelk is "Walks Through Stone."
    • Newcomers are even referred to as "Dolphinbacks."
  • Nice Guy: A majority of Dinotopia's population is this, having taught to be friendly and kind through the Code of Dinotopia.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot:
    • The one exception to the spin-off novels' discontinuity, among fans, is a well-loved trilogy by Scott Ciencin about the Knights of the Unrivaled. They are, naturally, a Hidden Elf Village of Samurai Troodontids.
    • Also Dinotopia Lost, which has pirates, sympathetic Tyrannosaurus rex, and a Deinonychus that knows martial arts and had his own hot air balloon.
    • And who can forget the robot dinosaurs of Poseidos?
    • They are only referenced, but Chandara apparently has a temple of Shaolin Acrocanthosaurus Warrior Monks.
  • No Antagonist: The number of actual human or saurian villains in the main books and the spin offs can probably be counted on one hand. Typically, the dangers are of the environmental sort.
  • Noble Savage:
    • Stinktooth the Giganotosaurus protects Arthur and his friends from a Tyrannosaurus after he saves his son, and even helps Arthur stop Lee Crabb from escaping the island. The "savage" part comes from the fact that he's still a carnosaur that lives outside of civilization and presumably eats non-seafood meat.
    • There is a pack of Tyrannosaurs in the Blackwood Flats that only eat carrion.
    • Dinotopia Lost has a pair of Tyrannosaurs themselves turning to this in order to save their offspring from a band of pirates from whom Will Dennison is attempting to rescue an ornithomimid family .
  • Non-Human Sidekick:
    • Fritz the robohead to Gideon in First Flight.
    • Bix.
    • Chaz also counts for Will in the two novels by Alan Dean Foster.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The carnivores of the Rainy Basin. Bix describes them as "hungry by nature, with no stomach for civilization."
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: In the miniseries, David and Karl participate in a Dinotopian exam. David provides an extremely long winded essay, while Karl simply uses the lyrics to "Bohemian Rhapsody." Naturally, none of the Dinotopians know the difference and instead praise his answer.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: It's never made clear exactly what sort of scientist Arthur Denison is, but he has so far shown the skills of a paleontologist, zoologist, botanist, geologist, anthropologist and even engineer.
  • Omniglot: Invoked by Bix, and by extension, other Protoceratops. They serve as translators and ambassadors for Dinotopians. In the first book, Bix mentions being fluent in 17 languages.
  • Orichalcum: The key to the World Beneath is made of this.
  • Orphaned Etymology: Pretty much none of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals in the books would actually have been known to science in the 1860s. The Quetzalcoatlus northropi are probably the worst offender, with the species being known to the Dinotopians by its full scientific name even in First Flight, which takes place thousands of years before the main books, and thus before either the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl or airplane designer Jack Northrop existed!
  • The Outside World: The titular island is sealed off from the rest of the world by deadly reefs and storm systems that prevent anyone from leaving. Outsiders who arrive there are assimilated into Dinotopian society, though there are a few who try to leave the island. Most are content to create a new life there. There is concern about what the nations of the outside world would do if they found a way there.
  • Panthera Awesome: The saber-toothed cats in Sabertooth Mountain.
  • Patchwork Map: There are seven different habitats on the relatively small island, with Habitat Partners for each. Aerial can be ruled out for not being an actual biome, while beaches and bays are a given, considering that Dinotopia is an island. The remaining five are forests (the Rainy Basin and presumably the Blackwood Flats), savannah (the area around Sauropolis), freshwater (various rivers around the island, mainly the Polongo), desert (the Great Desert) and alpine (the Forbidden Mountains). And if you're wondering, yes, there are also volcanic areas (the city of Pooktook rests on one).
  • Pirate: Dinotopia Lost revolves around a band of pirates that end up on the island.
  • Power Crystal - See above.
  • The Power of the Sun: The sunstones absorb sunlight.
  • Precocious Crush: Will Denison is the subject of this, from a T. rex hatchling of all things.
  • Predation Is Natural: Bix explains that Tyrannosaurus and the other carnivorous dinosaurs in the Rainy Basin are not evil, just hungry by nature, with no taste for green food or diplomacy. Convoys traveling through their territory carry fish to stave them off long enough to get by. Some dinosaurs even make an end-of-life pilgrimage into the Rainy Basin, offering their bodies to the predators as a final act of service.
  • Prehistoric Monster: Utterly averted. Most of the dinosaurs are wise and peaceful, and they are all sentient. Even the uncivilized tyrannosaurs and carnosaurs of the Rainy Basin are not above negotiating with any travelers who try to buy safe passage with offerings of fish. Same is said for the prehistoric reptiles, mammals, and proto-mammals which are equally sentient as the dinosaurs and live in the same society.
  • Ptero Soarer:
    • Skybaxes, the Pteranodon guardians of the World Beneath and Instant Messenger Pigeon Dimorphodon. They have most of the inaccuracies seen in other depictions. The Skybax have aged especially badly in light of current understanding of azhdarchid biology.
    • The TV miniseries makes a glaring error by portraying the Dimorphodons as birds, with feathers, toothless beaks and everything.
  • Quicksand Sucks: The protagonists encounter some quicksand early on in River Quest.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: In The World Beneath, the strutters discovered by the heroes still work fine, even after several thousand years of just sitting in a cave. They don't even appear particularly rusted.
  • Raptor Attack:
    • Hand of Dinotopia has a tribe of Deinonychus living on Culebra. They help out the protagonists in exchange for being taught how to fish.
    • The Deinonychus and Stenonychosaurus in the earlier books are also now victims of Science Marches On, being depicted without feathers.
  • Really 700 Years Old: An old librarian in the first book, who Arthur guessed was seventy was actually one hundred twenty. He explains they have a tea on Dinotopia that extends human life span.
  • Retcon: The World Beneath introduces the Sunstones as being newly (re)discovered. Journey to Chandara states that Sunstones have been traded on Dinotopia for ages. There's also the Animal Talk and Fish-Eye Lens mentioned above, and the Veganopia mentioned below.
  • Rhino Rampage: Subverted by the various prehistoric rhinoceroses which live on the Forbidden Mountains. Particularly the Paraceratherium caravans Arthur and Bix encounter in Journey to Chandara, which are all Gentle Giants.
  • Rock Beats Laser: An all-powerful flying scorpion strutter was defeated in First Flight by a Ragtag Band of Misfits riding on pterosaurs and armed with nothing but sticks, fruit slings, and their bare hands.
  • Rousseau Was Right: The books apologetically show that with the guiding wisdom and influence of enlightened dinosaurs, humans can become nice, peaceful, and capable of co-existing with each other. This also goes for most newcomers to the island. The only "bad" guy grew up off of the island, and he's relatively tame for a villain.
    Arthur: I can't imagine how it could be possible for such a small island to support enough artists and stonecutters to build all these wonders. And I can't imagine how all these different people and dinosaurs can possibly get along without quarreling.
    Nallab: Oh, it is possible, but only if you do imagine it...
    • The biggest example comes from Dinotopia Lost, where most of a crew a cutthroat pirates pull a Heel–Face Turn and integrate into Dinotopian society after seeing how nice life on the island can be.
  • Sapient Cetaceans: Although every creature in and around the island of Dinotopia is at least intelligent enough to communicate with humans, dolphins were the first to interact with humans.
  • Sapient Steed: Humans will commonly ride saurians, who of course are sentient.
  • Scaling the Summit: As part of their training as Skybax riders, Will and Sylvia have to prove that they are not bound to the earth by climbing the tallest mountain in Dinotopia to a place called the Tentpole of the Sky, a monastery-type place built by Tibetans on the icy peak.
  • Scenery Porn: There is not a single illustration in the books that isn't beautifully rendered.
  • Schizo Tech: Poseidos had robots, flying drones, antigravity cars and computers... millennia ago. Possibly handwaved by the fact that their access to sunstones encouraged rapid technological development. That doesn't explain how Arthur Denison was able to invent a flying dragoncopter, though.
  • Science Is Bad: Essentially the Anvilicious plot of the second illustrated novel.
    • Hammered painfully into the ground by First Flight, which also featured an egregious example of Rock Beats Laser.
    • Ironic in that our protagonist is a scientist. Really, it's only technology that is bad.
      • Even then, it's more like "Unnecessary technology is bad" and that's mainly because it made humans decide that they were superior to everyone else and plan to exterminate the real dinosaurs and replace them with subservient machines that could do the same thing.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Leaving aside the Rule of Cool with featuring dinosaurs and early mammals from millions of years apart, Dinotopia is stated in the first book to be about 240 miles by 260 miles in size. This makes the island approximately the size of Tunisia or Suriname, or a little less than half the size of present-day Germany. This both makes the depicted range of climates implausible, and makes it hard to believe no explorer from outside has ever seen the island without crashing into it.
  • Shown Their Work: Not that surprising, seeing how as James Gurney was already a well established paleoartist when he created the series.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The reputation of Emperor Hugo Khan in Journey to Chandara proceeds his onscreen (so to speak) appearance so much that Arthur Dennison and Bix assume he must be a huge and intimidating creature like a Tyrannosaurus - and then he turns out to be a Microraptor. Probably the least intimidating of all dinosaurs.
  • Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness:
    • Despite being the primary recurring villain in the main series, Lee Crabb never goes past Jerkass in terms of vileness. In fact, it's arguable whether he even makes it to that level, since most of his character flaws involve him being greedy and malcontented rather than him actually treating any other characters particularly poorly. Of course, considering the books' heavy use of Rousseau Was Right, it's not surprising that the worst character is pretty tame.
    • His descendant Cyrus Crabb in the miniseries, however, is a serial thief, assaults Zippo and dumps him in a canal in a bag, sabotages Karl's attempt to escape Dinotopia by boat, and maroons Karl and David in the World Beneath at gunpoint after getting them to help him load a pile of sunstones into the submarine.
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: Firmly in the Talking Animal category.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: On the far end of the idealist side. In Dinotopia Lost a band of cutthroat pirates are actually convinced to give up their former ways and reform after seeing the majesty of Dinotopia.
    • Justified by character development: several of the pirates, especially the first mate, are established over the course of the story to be tired of piracy, or to have been forced into that life by outside circumstances. The more observant also notice that the era of traditional piracy is ending, and so are open to an alternative to being killed in combat or hung. Only the captain and two most bloodthirsty crewmen refuse to bend. They end up being eaten by tyrannosaurs.
  • Spoof Aesop: The Code of Dinotopia, a list of proverbs, has its last line cut off at "Don't p..." Some Dinotopians have suggested that the line might be "Don't pee in the bath."
  • Spider Tank: Sprogs from First Flight.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: Often averted, as the original books loved using more obscure dinosaurs, although the well-known ones do pop up.
    • The second book introduced Giganotosaurus to the Stock Dinosaur list.
    • Journey to Chandara adds in recently made stock animals as Therizinosaurus, Macrauchenia, and Microraptor.
  • Sugar Bowl: So long as you're not in the Rainy Basin or the World Beneath.
  • Talking Animal: Although not all of them talk in human languages.
  • Team Pet: Subverted. Bix would probably bite you in the thigh if you called her this. Really, she sometimes appears to think Arthur is her pet human.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In the mini-series, Waterfall City is about to be attacked by hundreds of thousands of vicious Pteradons. What should we tell the population to do - hide in their homes or in many of the large buildings? Nope, everyone gather in the open then run around like crazy when the aerial attackers arrive.
  • Translation Convention: In the first book, the main characters have to learn the Dinotopian language, but it's all presented as English. Same may go for why all the dinosaurs are referred to by their genus names. Lee Crabb makes it clear that there is no translation convention going on for Dinotopia's name, though. The World Beneath does the same for Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • Tree Top Town: The aptly-named Treetown.
  • Two Halves Make a Plot: In The World Beneath Arthur Denison finds a strange key with a spiral pattern on the base. He tries it on a door in the World Beneath but it doesn't work, and it's determined that it's only half a key. The other half is in the possession of Oriana, who enables Arthur to continue his expedition, and eventually becomes a Love Interest.
  • Updated Re Release: The first three books by James Gurney were re-released for their respective 20th (or 10th, in the case of Journey to Chandara) anniversaries with new behind-the-scenes material.
  • Underwater Ruins: Poseidos at the end of The World Beneath.
  • Utopia
  • Veganopia: Or rather pescatarianism, given fish and seafood is still fair game. Giant insects are apparently kosher as well, according to Journey to Chandara.
  • Warrior Monk: A group of Shaolin Acrocanthosaurus are mentioned in Journey to Chandara.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Malik and Enit aren't even referenced in Journey to Chandara, thanks to an unfortunate dose of Science Marches On.
    • In the miniseries, a boy is grabbed and carried away by Pteranodon. Whether he survived or died is not shown.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: There's only one major villain, and he's depicted as more of a cranky old nonconformist than as being particularly evil. And the spinoff novels usually don't even have villains.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: Some of the dinosaurs have names like this. Brokehorn the Triceratops is Brokehorn, son of Grayback The Wise. His grandson Strongbrow, nicknamed Stubbs, is Strongbrow of the Line of Grayback.


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