Tag Archives: Charles R. Knight

A Good Dinosaur Gone Bad

TRILOGY OF LIFE - Ballad of Big Al - "Ornitholestes" - YouTube

One of these days I’m going to want to bring a dinosaur or two into the fantasy world of my Bell Mountain novels.

Ornitholestes was the most famous small dinosaur when I was a boy–and by famous I mean in all the books, on all the posters, toys and museum souvenirs: if you were at all interested in dinosaurs, you knew Ornitholestes (the name means “bird hunter”)–probably from this famous drawing by Charles R. Knight, found in just about every children’s book on dinosaurs.

Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs: Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Bird Hunter

See? There he is, catching a prehistoric bird.

The fame of this creature rests upon a single fossil, consisting of a damaged skull and some bits of the skeleton–to this day, the only fossil of Ornitholestes yet discovered.

By the time the popular documentary, Walking with Dinosaurs, came out in 1999, Ornitholestes–it really needs a shorter name; how about “Bob”?–had been jazzed up a lot. Now Bob had a kind of crest on his nose–very sporty. Looks great in a movie. But after only a few years they decided Bob’s flashy nose crest was really only a piece of the skull that had gotten knocked loose, so now he’s back to where he was when Charles R. Knight drew him in the 1930s. Only some artists like to give him feathers. No feathers have been found, there’s only one fossil, oh, well…

In spite of all the confusion, I find it easy to imagine this critter darting in and out of the undergrowth in Lintum Forest—–Wait a minute! Hold the phone! Did I just get the faint whiff of an opening scene for Bell Mountain No. 14? You know what? I think I did!

I think the Lord has just given me a birthday present. And this is not the first time that’s happened. Thank you, Father! This is just so cool!


Places that Never Were–Or Were They?

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Charles R. Knight, who died in 1953, became famous in his own lifetime as the world’s most convincing painter of prehistoric life. Among my early memories are trips to the American Museum of Natural History, and looking up at Knight’s great murals, my mind full of wild surmises for which I wasn’t old enough to find words.

I still love Knight’s work, but I’ve learned to appreciate another aspect of it–his background scenery. There are a lot of people who can paint or draw prehistoric animals. I can do that. But only a very few are able to bring us into the world those creatures lived in.

The painting above launched Knight’s career, when it was still the 19th century. The animal is Elotherium. Never mind that. The scenery which Elotherium inhabits–the longer I look at it, the realer it gets!

I could just about swear that Knight’s Elotheriums are in a real place. More than that–a place that I know. I used to play alongside a stream just like that, on Orchard Street, before they paved everything over. I climbed and skidded up and down those steep banks. I waded in that water, although it was too deep to wade all the way across. I was there. I didn’t see any Elotheriums, but I was there. If they’d come out of the woods on the other side, I’d’ve seen them.

And where would that stream take me, if I could follow it up to the top of the painting? What enchanted country would I discover?

What a gift the Lord Our God gave Charles Knight! God made us in His image, and some of us He made creators. We can only revel in it, and give thanks.

I think God knows where these places really are. He made them. Oh, for a glimpse, O Lord!

But who knows what He has in store for us?


A Window into Another World

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Charles R. Knight was always one of my favorite artists. He is best known for the paintings he executed for our country’s great museums–paintings that make prehistoric ages come alive.

This is one of his renditions of Uintatherium, a walking fortress that exists no more. Well, naturally I’m going to groove on the prehistoric animals. But lately it’s been another aspect of Knight’s paintings that has captured my imagination.

His backgrounds.

Look closely. Take your time. Ignore the creature and study the landscape. I don’t know about you, but I would just about swear that Knight’s prehistoric landscapes were real places that he’d visited.

I know about that. I dream of places that are only real when I dream them. In fact, that’s how Bell Mountain started.

I know nothing of Charles R. Knight’s religious beliefs. But I believe that if the Holy Spirit wants to use you, He will, regardless of what you believe. If we approach Knight’s possibly real, possibly imaginary places in the right frame of mind, the Spirit might touch us, too.

God created the world and all living things, and pronounced them good. If He has Uintatherium safely tucked away in some unguessed-at corner of His universe, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were in a place just like the one Knight painted.

And who would be more surprised to discover that than Charles Knight himself?


Mr. Nature: One Big Deer

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Hi, Mr. Nature here again–with one of my favorite artists, Charles R. Knight.

This is his famous painting of Megaloceros, the “Irish Elk,” the deer with the biggest antlers ever. Best known from the Ice Age, there have always been stories of this creature surviving into historical times in Ireland. No one’s been able to prove it, or disprove it.

Ice Age people saw it, though. They hunted it, ate it, and painted its picture on the walls of caves.

This is just one of incalculably many creatures that we can’t find anymore. My own belief is that God, with the whole universe at His disposal, has put them elsewhere. Maybe someday God will let us see these animals again.

I sometimes wonder if He might have given Charles R. Knight a peek at them.


Sanity Break: the Woolly Mammoth

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Sometimes writing about current events just wears me out. For refreshment, I turn to God’s handiwork.

Behold the woolly mammoth, as painted by the great Charles R. Knight. This was the first prehistoric animal I fell in love with. I used to dream about them. A truck would sound its horn at night, out on Route 1, and I would think it was a mammoth calling to the other mammoths.

And I don’t know why, but somehow I conceived the notion that my Aunt Betty, the nun, had the ability to obtain for me a mammoth of my own, and I used to pester her about it. Give me a break, I think I was only five years old. Poor Aunt Betty. She made me a little toy mammoth out of some kind of fur. Well, she tried. If I still had that toy, it would be among my treasures. But not as great a treasure as she herself would be.

When God restores His whole creation, I’m sure there will be mammoths once again. And we will enjoy them with our loved ones.


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