Personal Tribute to Writer Michael Crichton

Photo: Michael Crichton contributed to popular literature, action film and dramatic television during his well-respected and diverse career.
Anna Hiatt/Staff
Michael Crichton contributed to popular literature, action film and dramatic television during his well-respected and diverse career.

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I learned of Michael Crichton's recent death in the unfortunate form of an e-mail from my editor requesting an obituary for the late novelist. While I lamented hearing of the death of someone with such a weird importance to my life in this impersonal way, it struck me as disarmingly appropriate. It was Crichton who inspired my young love of reading and established in my mind The Writer as the most admirable of men. Without his influence, there's a good chance I wouldn't be writing this piece today.

"Jurassic Park," the film adaptation that inspired my foray into Crichton, came out at the perfect time to arouse this devotion. I was in first grade. Having just learned to read, I developed a voracious appetite for books-especially ones of the 400-page variety, which having in my possession made me feel like the older kid I desperately wanted to be. Looking back, it makes me laugh and blush a little. My books of choice would hardly qualify as great literature. I spent hours immersed in the vast galaxy of "Star Wars" spin-offs and devoted myself to reading almost the entire "Redwall" series. But nothing captivated me like "The Lost World" or "The Great Train Robbery." More than inviting welcome stares from impressed adults, reading these novels presented me for the first time the notion that books could be fun and interesting and include as much gore and action as TV. Not exactly a testament to great writing, but Crichton established for me the written word as a form of entertainment that could compete with "Rocket Power," and I'm forever grateful.

His works are those eternally described as "page-turners" or "thrillers" in the snippets of reviews displayed prominently on the back covers. He was never known for innovative writing style, nor was his prose ever accused of advancing the English language. But Michael Crichton could tell a story. Sure, his plots were far-fetched, but that tendency was always offset by his unfailing attention to detail. A Harvard med school grad with a wealth of technical knowledge about science and medicine, aided no doubt by education and personal research, Crichton was gifted most of all with a nearly unfathomable imagination.

Dinosaurs, medieval time travelers, anthropomorphic microbes, killer gorillas, Victorian criminals-each flowed from his pen with a consummate ease. Freed from ambitions for character development or emotionality, Crichton wrote stories that left no doubts about who was good or bad, what the conflict was or who would come out on top. Almost each of his works contained a veiled criticism of some aspect of society or academia. Overly ambitious scientists drew his ire, as did irresponsible journalists, greedy corporate meddlers, eco-terrorists and generally anyone with a tendency to get in over their heads. It was these evil-doers perpetually driving the narratives, bringing dinosaurs back to life and searching for treasure in places of inevitable death-but they always got their just deserts in the end. If this sounds like a movie script, that's no coincidence. More than 10 of Crichton's novels were adapted for film-a testament to his fecundity and remarkable storytelling.

Were I to read those books now, I'd undoubtedly find them less redeeming than I once did, being unable to avoid comparing them to the genuinely great works I've read since, in school and outside of it. Regardless, there's something plainly inspiring to me in the life of Michael Crichton, whose ability to wrap me up so completely in a story was one of the most transformative and influential experiences of my young life and an ability to which I still aspire.

Re-read your copy of "Jurassic Park" with Nick at [email protected]

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