365 Days of Earrings

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures

About 20 years ago when my son was small (he's now 23, 6'1", and home for just a few days), he left one of his plastic dinosaurs on my desk next to my little wooden ark. I was struck with the symbolism: the dinosaur had missed the boat.

Today I finished reading Tracy Chevalier's 2009 novel, Remarkable Creatures, based on historical accounts of the lives of two women who collected fossils on the beaches near Lyme, England in the early 19th century. Fossils that did not resemble living organisms created a religious challenge, since church teachings insisted that God had only created perfect creatures and would not have caused any of them to become extinct. An early explanation was that perhaps Noah had not taken all animals on board the ark. But many believed that fossil hunting was sacrilegious. I was inspired to don a pair of Noah's ark earrings, a gift from my mother-in-law.

As often happens when the world an author crafts inspires my imagination, I became so attached to Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning that I find myself missing them and the fossil beds of Lyme Regis. I am grateful for this glimpse into the 200-year-old questioning of religious dogma. Scientific evidence led people to question established beliefs--slowly, uncertainly, faithfully. Today, many Americans choose creationism over evolution, longing for the comfort of God's perfect creation.

Mary Anning's discovery of plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs unsettled her world. I'm grateful that Tracy Chevalier used her story to help me understand why people turn away from such remarkable creatures.

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