Bibliophile | Chris Flynn looks to the lessons of the past in ‘Mammoth’

by Chris Flynn
University of Queensland Press

The inspiration for Chris Flynn’s wacky novel was an auction that was held in New York in 2007. Included in the 345 lots that were bought by the rich and famous was a 67 million year old skull of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, the severed hand of an Egyptian mummy, a 10 million year old penguin fossil, a pterodactyl skeleton and a huge mammoth tusk.

What if these relics from the past could talk? This Belfast-born Australian author taps into the voices of these prehistoric creatures that have been unearthed and have been living in the world of bipeds “instead of crumbling to dust in the dark as they were meant to”. Humour is mixed with pointed observations about human motivations over time and the consequential destruction of the much of the natural world.

The remains of the extinct American mastodon Flynn has named Mammut are over 13,000 years old. They were discovered by bipeds in 1801, so the relic has been able to observe the hominoid descendants for a considerable amount of time. Mammut becomes the main narrator of the story, along with the Tyrannosaurus bataar who was found in the Gobi Desert in 1997.

Along with several others from the odd assortment, Mammut and T.bataar describe how they came to die and how they were wrenched back from the nothingness after being discovered. Mammut is able to reveal how written history varies considerably from oral history and has insights into how bipeds have impacted on the pristine wilderness that once spanned the globe.

Flynn admits that the beast (or at least part of it) does have a propensity for exaggeration and never lets the facts get in the way of a good story; a story that gives the reader small insights into American history over a period of 41 American presidents and sometimes diverges into Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany.

Flynn reminds us that these ‘trophies’ from our long-forgotten past probably still have many lessons to pass on to the humans of the present world … if only they could talk.

Lezly Herbert

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