Tag Archives: Roy Chapman Andrews

A Warning from History

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Street executions in China, 1920s

Some hundred years ago–there are still a few people alive who were alive then, so we’re not talking ancient history–the American Museum of Natural History sent Roy Chapman Andrews to China to organize scientific expeditions. Andrews and his wife rented a house in the capital city of Peking.

This period of Chinese history was characterized by endless turbulence, mostly violent. Here is a snapshot of it, an eyewitness account, from Andrews’ book, Ends of the Earth (1929).

“Every change in the local political aspect in any part of China produces a series of executions. The new gentleman in control proceeds to rid himself of all those who might make trouble by the effective method of a firing squad or the headsman’s knife. For a week or two the grisly business goes on. Often the heads are hung on telephone poles in various parts of the city or exhibited in small bamboo cages as a warning to others.

“Usually the executions are performed at certain definite places but sometimes they happen right in the middle of the street. I cannot forget one day when looting started in Peking only a short distance from my house. The authorities in charge of the city had given very definite instructions to the gendarmes charged with maintaining order. I was driving up a broad street… when a terrific commotion started in three small shops. A dense crowd blocked the way. Suddenly there was a rush and four men were dragged into the street by a dozen gendarmes. They were made to kneel almost in front of my car while one of the police lopped off their heads in less than three minutes. It was done so quickly that I hardly knew what was happening and it certainly did stop the looting. The bodies were left in the middle of the street for three days.”

Our own cities are drawing perilously nearer to this. This is what’s in store for us if we keep going as we’re going. And it’s the Democrat Party that will take us there.

The Baddest Beast in Lintum Forest

This animal is so rare, neither Lintum Foresters nor Abnak hunters have as yet found a name for it. Jack and Ellayne, in Bell Mountain, saw one making off with half a knuckle-bear in its jaws.

The Andrewsarchus, shown here from Tim Haines’ Walking With Beasts, is known from just a single skull discovered in Mongolia by Roy Chapman Andrews’ Central Asiatic Expedition. From the neck down, everything else is pure conjecture. Not having read Bell Mountain, scientists still haven’t decided quite how to reconstruct this monster. If you ever get a chance to visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York, don’t miss the Andrewsarchus skull. It’s a yard long, and those massive teeth and muscle attachments look like they mean business.

‘Let Me Share a Treasure with You’ (2017)

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We have a lot of new readers here, so you guys would have missed this, first time around.


This wonderful footage was taken, most it, by J. B. Shackleford, photographer for the American Museum of Natural History’s expeditions to the Gobi Desert in the 1920s.

Watch: this is the key to another world.

The Very Strange ‘Shovel-Tusked’ Elephant

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Mr. Nature here, with an animal that I expect to turn up in Obann any day now: Platybelodon, aka the “Shovel-Tusked Elephant.”

We don’t have elephants like this anymore. Look at that elongated lower jaw. Scientists think it was used for stripping bark and branches from trees. They used to think it was used for scooping up water plants in swamps. Fossils of this critter were discovered in the Gobi Desert in the 1920s, by Roy Chapman Andrews’ expeditions for the American Museum of Natural History. I read all about it in All About Strange Beasts of the Past. It seems the desert used to be wetlands. In the absence of SUVs, air conditioners, and toilet paper, it’s hard to account for such radical climate change.

Platybelodon was smaller than a modern elephant, but still a pretty hefty beast. It looks like God was improvising on His elephant theme–like a jazz musician cutting loose with his saxophone. We only know these elephant variations from fossils, and from paintings made on the walls of caves by ancient human beings.

But I like to believe that someday we will know them better.

Where I Get Some of My Ideas From

I write about a world that never was, inspired by a world that used to be.

This is footage from Roy Chapman Andrews’ Gobi Desert expeditions in the 1920s, for the American Museum of Natural History. This is Mongolia as it was then, but isn’t anymore.

God has wired into some of us a longing for places we cannot reach, either because they exist no more or because they never did exist. A fantasy writer taps into that. We know the past was real, because we used to live in it: but was it really? Things change. Sometimes they change too much. Places I used to know very well are so gone, so wiped out without a trace, that they might as well have been in Mongolia in 1926: or tucked away in Lintum Forest. Pick one.

Did I dream these places? Were they ever really real? Because I can’t find them anymore.

Oh, but God can. He most certainly can.

Let Me Share a Treasure With You

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Andrews confers with a Mongol camel-rider

I think it’s safe to say I couldn’t begin to write the kind of fantasies I write if I’d never read Roy Chapman Andrews’ non-fiction accounts of his scientific expeditions to the Gobi Desert. He led the great Central Asiatic Expedition for the American Museum of Natural History, into a country passed over by many of the currents of history–a country so wild, so exotic, that it might as well have been a fantasy world, like Middle-Earth or Narnia.

To see what I’m getting at, visit the Roy Chapman Andrews Society website ( https://roychapmanandrewssociety.org/ ), scroll down quite a ways, and then watch some videos of original film footage from the expedition. The video in the middle of the page is especially haunting, with a gorgeous piece of music attached–The Gael by Trevor Jones, part of the soundtrack of The Last of the Mohicans. Maybe I’m some kind of nut, but this video brings me close to tears.

Because it’s a lost world, sights that no one will ever see again, a world unto itself, with no Starbuck’s, no MacDonald’s, no transgender bathrooms, none of the dismal plock we have to hack our way through every day.

It makes me homesick for the world of my own fantasy novels: somehow these videos get me to thinking I can go there–to Lintum Forest, to Roshay Bault’s house in Ninneburky, to the Abnak camps among the foothills. All fantasy, of course.

But God has given us imagination for a reason; and I think the reason is to keep us sane.

A Hero with a Broken Wing

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Roy Chapman Andrews in the field

I raced through my wife’s gift, Quest in the Desert by my boyhood hero, Roy Chapman Andrews–the story of an expedition to Mongolia in the 1920s, and the wild adventures of the leader and his dog. These are avatars of Andrews and his dog, to whom he dedicated the book; and the adventures are based on his actual experiences.

I was expecting a rip-snorting yarn, and I got one. What I wasn’t expecting was an undertone of sadness that will haunt me for a while.

The Mongolia that Andrews fell in love with is long gone, the world he inhabited is only a memory–and I’m old enough now to empathize with that. My world’s pretty much gone, too, and I don’t much like the one that’s replaced it. And yet there’s more to it than that.

I somehow got the impression of a man who, wherever he went, didn’t quite fit in. Certainly he was needing something that he couldn’t seem to find.

And then, watching some film footage of Andrews’ expeditions, it occurred to me that maybe the wistfulness was in me, not the writer. Watching the black-and-white ghosts of Andrews’ bygone world, I found myself longing for it in some way that I could hardly understand.

I have read much of Andrews’ non-fiction, and now I’ve read his novel, written more than twenty years after he had to leave Mongolia for good, the communist regime having kicked out all the Westerners. And now I think I know what Roy Chapman Andrews was missing–mind you, my conclusion is based only on the words he committed to publication.

There is no sign, in any of this printed work, that the author had any communion with the God who created him, whose Son redeemed him. And looking out on our God-rejecting age–which, with a little bad luck and a lot of stupidity and wickedness, could turn out looking like Northern China in 1926–it makes me think that a human being without God is incomplete, and will never be complete. There is only so far we can go without Him, and that’s not far enough.

Which, I believe, was the broken part of Roy Chapman Andrews. He traveled very far indeed, but never far enough.


My Valentine’s Day Present

I was positively mad about this book when I was in sixth grade. My wife knew that, because I had mentioned it occasionally, during rambles down Memory Lane. So she got it for me for Valentine’s Day.

Roy Chapman Andrews–the first to find dinosaur eggs: explorer, museum director, writer of books that ignited the imagination–was one of my childhood heroes. Quest in the Desert was his only foray into what we nowadays call Young Adult fiction. Having read much of his non-fiction, I can see that a lot of the material in the novel comes from his actual experiences in exploring the Gobi Desert and knocking around Mongolia. No way that’s bad! Andrews had adventures in some pretty wild and woolly places, and knew how to write about them.

As a glorious additional attraction, the book is illustrated by the great Kurt Wiese, who illustrated all the Freddy the Pig books (by Walter R. Brooks). Wow!

China, Mongolia, and the Gobi Desert in the 1920s were not places for the faint-hearted. Andrews loved the people and the land, and as an explorer of the Amundsen school, he always went into the desert well-prepared. He once remarked that for an explorer to have “adventures”usually meant that the explorer didn’t know his business. He did have plenty of adventures, but nothing his expedition was unprepared to handle.

The climax of Quest in the Desert is, of course, purely fictional–the discovery of the long-lost tomb of Genghis Khan (still undiscovered to this day). If you can’t get excited over that, you may need an autopsy.

What a totally wonderful time I’m going to have, reading this again!

P.S.–My Valentine’s gift to Patty was Unnatural Death, one of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries: great stuff.

I can’t imagine a life without books, and I don’t want to try.

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