Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures
By Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures was one of those books given to me to read by a friend that I postponed reading. Yet, once I dug in, it was a very good read that let me think about two things: friendship and creationism.

First, there is the issue of friendship. In the novel, the two characters of Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning are the most unlikely women to be friends. Elizabeth is a gently bred spinster while Mary is a working-class girl in 19th century England. But they both share a beach combing ability: when they are on the beach they don't look for shells but for fossils. Elizabeth focuses on fish while Mary (the better finder of the two) looks for what they at first call the skeletons of crocodiles. Later these become known as dinosaurs -- namely ichthyosaurs.

Their adventures on the beach draw them together, then apart, then back again. They both persevere in an era of men - dominated politics, culture, love and science. Neither marries and neither seems to be accepted even in the small society of Lyme Regis in England. They are both consumed with finding these rare fossils and guiding others (i.e. men)  in their own search, study and research.

But both women discover the beauty of friendship and the power of forgiveness, even after years of avoiding and not speaking to one another in their small society. I really think the title has more to do with humans and our ability to do more than just survive. We have the remarkable ability to forgive one another for past hurts and to move on to deeper and wider friendships.

All of this happens in the backdrop of the questions about God and these remarkable skeletons that Mary keeps finding on the beach and in the cliffs. Did God give up on some kind of creatures? Were these destroyed in the flood? How do they fit in with the larger picture of the Church's view of creation? Do these creatures call into question a literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis? Or do they discount the whole bible entirely?

Now the book does not give one supreme answer to these questions, although Elizabeth at least is satisfied at the end with a certain understanding. The book made me realize that, although I don't take a literal view of either creation story in Genesis (yes, there are two of them), I do take the understanding of God as the creator very literally and seriously. The big question that remains is: how exactly did God do it (I don't think we will know until the last days)? Did it take longer than 6 days (and what exactly was a day back then)? Will science ever be able to figure it all out (don't think so)? Does science and dinosaurs mean that God does not exist (absolutely not!)?

I would not say that Chevalier challenged my faith in any areas where I have not contemplated in the past. However, she does bring these two ideas of friendship and creation into a wonderful story of two very real women. I recommend this book.

Happy Reading!


Copyright 2011 Amelia G. Sims

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