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Geek Girl’s Fictional Junk Food-o-Rama – “The Enormous Egg”
When I was growing up, there wasn’t a local bookstore anywhere close by. I depended primarily on the racks of paperbacks in the grocery store and the local pharmacy both for comic books and regular books. School book fairs and the catalogs that they sent home with us in grade school were also largely responsible for the contents of my early library.
One of the books that I absolutely loved as a kid was The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. I found the copy that my mom bought for me at the grocery store, on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack. It drew my eye because the cover had a picture of a little kid and a farmer looking at a recently hatched egg with a baby triceratops looking up at them from a nest of straw. Up until that point, all of the dinosaur books that I had were nonfiction books.
As a starry-eyed little sprocket, I devoured fossil guides and dinosaur dictionaries, along with anything that I could get my hands on about specific dinosaurs. There were a few books in my collection that had cute, cartoon illustrations, but, for the most part, my dinosaur books were very, very serious. It hadn’t yet dawned on my young mind that anything you could write scientifically about could also be used in fiction. The Enormous Egg was a turning point in my life in that respect.
It’s the first real piece of fiction that I remember reading about a dinosaur. In fact, I wouldn’t read my favorite Ray Bradbury story, “The Foghorn” for another couple of years. To this day, that story still makes me weep when I read it. The Enormous Egg is a much happier story, and it’s probably good that I read it first.
Nate Twitchell is a boy growing up on a farm. One morning, when he goes to collect the eggs from the chicken coop, he discovers that one of those chickens has laid an enormous egg. Curious, Nate waits until the egg finally hatches. They soon find themselves the proud owners of a baby triceratops. The tiny creature is a bit homely, and Nate decides it bears some resemblance to his Uncle Beazley.
A triceratops is clearly not a chicken. Uncle Beazley soon starts to grow. Fortunately, he’s an herbivore. He’s a great draw for scientists who want to study him. Unfortunately, a triceratops requires a lot of food and a lot of space. Uncle Beazley can’t remain on the farm, and the National Zoo can’t afford to keep him, but a solution presents itself in the form of the National Museum in Washington, D.C.
In order to keep Uncle Beazley calm and help him adjust, Nate gets to go on the big journey with him. They are confined to the museum at first because they’re still determining how the existence of a real, live, walking dinosaur is going to be explained to the public. That works for a while, until Nate realizes that Uncle Beazley is bored and starting to languish with inactivity. He takes Uncle Beazley out for a walk early in the morning, thinking no one will see them, and after an incident with a frisbee in a park, causes a huge stir. Things only go from bad to worse, and Nate finds himself having to be a champion of Uncle Beazley’s continued existence.
The Enormous Egg has stayed firmly in my memory as one of those books that I loved reading. It’s still in my current collection and still gets an occasional re-read. Nate’s voice seems authentic. He’s a kid who isn’t quite sure what, exactly happened to him or why his family were the ones that were blessed with a triceratops hatched from a chicken egg. All he really knows is that he’s got a new pet that he loves and wants to take care of as best he can. Because he cares about Uncle Beazley, Nate is forced to make some very grown-up decisions to do what’s best for the triceratops.
Even though the overreaching story is Nate being responsible and growing up, the book doesn’t force that point at all. It’s presented almost gently over the course of the plot. Uncle Beazley is a unique animal, and caring for him becomes beyond Nate’s capabilities. Nothing truly disasterous happens, but it becomes clearer and clearer that they’re going to have to do something different to keep Uncle Beazley safe and healthy.
The science presented in the book isn’t very complex. It’s meant for children, of course, and so it’s presented as a necessary part of the story that’s only explained as much as the story needs. I can remember the first time that I read it becoming interested in living fossils (because the discovery of coelacanths off the coast of Madagascar is one of the most amazing things ever) and the idea of genetic throwbacks. I was bitterly disappointed to find out that the actual possibility of a chicken egg hatching a triceratops was zero, but I eventually moved on to other dreams. Still, for the curious, The Enormous Egg opens up scientific possibilities beyond the simple idea that millions of years ago, we used to have dinosaurs on this planet.
My love of dinosaurs in fiction has, obviously, not slaked off in the slightest as I grew up. Butterworth’s misunderstood monster who definitely isn’t a monster story was the perfect starting point to inspire a kid to enjoy other monster stories, even those with less happy outcomes. Uncle Beazley still remains one of my favorite fictional characters. His name may have been ridiculous, but what else would you name a dinosaur? There’s something that still strikes me as funny about calling a triceratops Uncle Beazley. It also made the book that much more memorable.