Halloween may have been a month ago, but it’s never too late for SPOOKINESS! The idea of ghostly apparitions haunting the living in the form of prehistoric animals from the Mesozoic era has seldom been explored in children’s fiction, but the child-friendliness of it seems obvious in hindsight. Kids love dinosaurs. Kids love spooky ghost stories. Kids also love rainbow holograms. And so Templar Publishing saw fit to combine all three in A Night in the Dinosaur Graveyard, a “fast-paced, spooky adventure story, complete with ten amazing dinosaur holograms”!
Yasmin Foster donated this one, alongside Dinosaur Park 3D, back in March. Thanks, Yasmin! Truth be told, the main reason it’s taken so long to show up on the blog is that holograms are an absolute sod to photograph – but then, what else am I going to do in second lockdown? While the holograms were handled by Light Fantastic UK, the surrounding illustrations were produced by Wayne Anderson. They have a lovely, warm, fairytale quality about them; unsurprisingly, Anderson has illustrated a fair number of fairy tales in his time. That’s not to say the artwork isn’t occasionally fantastical and surreal at times, as we shall see. Even on the cover, the border contains elements combining bones and rock formations into unlikely, spiraling forms. Spooky.
The first two holograms appear on the cover, and don’t seem to be in quite as good a condition as those inside – I guess they’ve been exposed to sunlight that bit more. Nevertheless, the photo above gives a decent-ish impression. The models in the holograms resemble cheap dinosaur toys of the era, which is to say, 1994 (although this edition is from 1996). Of course, I doubt scientific accuracy was a terribly high priority when producing this kids’ tale about talking dinosaur ghosts. I do like that the stegosaur hologram falls within the beam of a torch (flashlight) being held by one of the characters. Nice touch.
The story, written by A J Wood, is a little – ahem – bare-bones. It concerns two children, Lucy and Fred, who embark on a fossil-hunting expedition with Professor Sponge (a charmingly stereotyped bald, bespectacled fellow in a huge overcoat) and their dog, Soap. Naturally, in spite of the professor’s expertise, Soap is the one to make a show-stopping find. (Another blow to Big Palaeo, there.) None of them remark on the bone’s proximity to the grave of the aptly named Dr Digger, whom the professor would surely have known was a palaeontologist. Sadly, the ghost of Dr Digger doesn’t put in an appearance, which does feel like something of a missed opportunity; he could have been a demonic, glowing-eyed Richard Owen stand-in riding an infernal Iguanodon straight through a portal from the umbral plains beneath. Oh well.
I’m very fond of Anderson’s treatment of the soft, verdant, welcoming landscape here – a real contrast with the cave to come.
For some reason, the kids and the professor opt to spend the night in a nearby cave, a rather unsettling place filled with swirling, curved rock formations peppered with fossil teeth and bones. Unsurprisingly, they start seeing things – ghostly forms flickering in the darkness. Cleverly, the flap on the right conceals a dinosaur hologram, allowing kids to enact the brief appearance of its spectral form. You’ll also note the slightly sinister, toad-like shape of a toothy…something in the middle of the spread.
The following spread reveals the terrible truth. “They’re monsters!…They’re gh-gh-ghosts!…They’re dinosaurs!” That’s right – these sinister caves are filled with dinosaur ghosts, and so we’re treated to our first two holograms.
On the left, we have this Triceratops. Only its head and shoulders are ever seen, and it has a peculiar skin texture, a bit like a sponge or perhaps something that’s been covered in barnacles. (Notice that Anderson has added another hint of a dino-ghost behind.)
Over on the right is this generic theropod-thing, with an oddly fat rear end and an obviously hinged jaw that appears to move up and down. Oh, how I wish I could see the originals.
Professor Sponge, the kids and Soap spend some time fleeing through the caves with the ghosts in pursuit, only to run into an ethereal Spinosaurus in the darkness.
This fellow is perhaps the dino-ghost that looks most like a toy, with poorly-defined hands and very few teeth. Still, it’s rather charming, especially as it’s very much in the good-old-fashioned, carnosaur-with-a-sail, tripodal mould. I’m not sure that a modern-style croco-face waddling towards our heroes would be quite as effective.
The book’s centrepiece is the above spread, in which Sponge and friends (or grandchildren, according to the back cover) stumble upon a vast underground lake. This may be my favourite spread in the book. The incredibly narrow, winding walkway, becoming ever thinner as it descends to a mouth-like opening in the rocks, is fantastically dreamlike. In addition, pterosaurs seem particularly suited to becoming wraith-like palaeo-spectres, somehow. There’s a hologram here that features a sauropod-thing that appears to crane its neck towards us, but it doesn’t work particularly well or even fit the scene, and it was a pain to photograph, so…never mind.
Eventually, our heroes find themselves cornered, and fear that they’re done for. However, the Prof then
“…leant on a boulder that, with a huge rumble, swung silently open like a door.”
Which doesn’t make any sense – how can something generate a huge rumble, yet simultaneously swing open in complete silence? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the whole dino-ghost gang is here, including the floating head Cacodemon Triceratops! And they look hungry.
Thankfully, the little theropod fellow is somehow able to speak English (I suppose they’ve had a lot of time to take lessons), and explains to our heroes that the dino-ghosts simply wish for the return of a single bone to the Dinosaur Graveyard – the very bone that Soap found by the river (and they’ve somehow held onto all this time). For it belongs to the king of the dinosaurs – again, sadly not the ghost of Dr Digger, who having exploited the simple nature of the saurians now rules the diabolical reptilian underworld as a false idol, but merely Tyrannosaurus rex. In fact, the dinosaurs claim that Dr Digger ‘stole’ Rexy’s bone, and they’ve been waiting all this time get it back. Makes you wonder what they’d think of our many natural history museums.
And so we reach the book’s holographic pièce de résistance, a Tyrannosaurus skeleton that transitions to a fleshed-out creature. Not only that, but its jaw moves up and down in both guises. Very cool, and again, rather difficult to photograph, but I had a go.
The skull is predictably peculiar, and the arms are way too long, but the skeleton does notably feature gastralia (and as I’ve mentioned, anatomical accuracy was probably not a priority). Rexy’s fleshed-out form is by far the most detailed model to feature here, with carefully applied skin creases, scales and convincingly chunky thighs. It also works well as a hologram, not just thanks to its toothy, leering noggin, but an excellent sense of depth and solidity.
After this climactic encounter, Sponge and crew are finally granted their freedom, and duly head home. They’ve lost their prize find, of course, but are given a shiny golden fossil tooth by way of compensation. And soon after that, the Professor returned with a crew of men armed with proton packs.
But that’s all for now.