Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World – Dragons, Dinosaurs and Giant Snakes


I wonder if Roy Mackal, Chicago University’s Professor of Biology, was an inspiration for Indiana Jones?  He certainly looks the part, as he comes complete with a rakish hat.  After his introduction, he has a chat with a Chicago cab driver.  It’s an amusingly stilted exchange, as the cab driver asks him what he’s carrying.  “Well a jungle machete, some medical supplies for the tropics and a back-pack.”  The wooden cab driver then asks where he’s heading. “Well you may not believe this, we’re off to Africa to look for dinosaurs.”  Okay, sounds reasonable to me!  If he’s not Indiana Jones, then maybe he modelled himself on Conan-Doyle’s Professor Challenger?   But does he succeed in his quest?  We’re teased that later in the programme we’ll find out.  This article has some decent background on him.

Whilst Arthur’s amused expression tells its own story, he does concede that many species of animal have only recently been discovered, so it’s possible that some strange-sounding animals may exist in remote locations.  One such example is the giant snake which menaced Belgian helicopter pilot Colonel Remy van Lierde in the Congo.  There’s a picture of the snake (said to be fifty feet) although it’s hard to get an impression of its size as there’s no landmarks around it.  Arthur seems convinced though, and he reveals that analysis of the photograph proved that the snake was over forty feet long.  Further reading can be found here.

De Loy’s Ape (the picture at the top of this post) is certainly a striking image.  Is it a previously undiscovered species of ape or simply an elaborate hoax?  The programme is non-committal, but there’s plenty of opinions to be found on the internet, most of which say it’s a fake.

Some of the other animals discussed are less interesting, although things pick up a little when the topic of Mammoths is discussed.  It’s mentioned that Russian scientists planned to clone a new Mammoth the next time they found a preserved one in the ice.  It’s not been done yet, although it’s still being discussed.

As for Professor Mackal, it’s obvious that the programme’s budget didn’t stretch to following his team up the Congo.  So we have to make do with hearing him talk about what he did (or didn’t find) when he returns.  He’s non-committal, but leaves us with the hope that next time something concrete will turn up.

With a lack of definite finds or compelling evidence of strange beasts, I think it’s fair to say that Dragons, Dinosaurs and Giant Snakes is one of the less compelling editions of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World.

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