Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Kenneth Oppel: Every Hidden Thing

It says something about the cynical times in which we live when the phrase “Dinosaurs have really lost their luster” is met not only with laughter, but with nods of agreements from the audience. Gone are the days that these 16 foot tall monsters could inspire awe (and maybe even fear) With movies and other media representing the creatures in every way shape and form, dinosaurs have become a household staple over the past three decades.

In his book  Every Hidden Thing author Kenneth Oppel takes the readers back to a time were dinosaurs still had a bit of wonder and mystery hidden within their bones and explorers were fighting over the prestige of being the first to discover these fossils. Oppel spoke about his new book to a crowd of nearly 100 eager listeners, ages ranging from 10 to 60, offering passages from his story and insights into his research with the goal of reigniting some of the splendor that finding multimillion year bones used to raise.

Oppel began the night by offering a glimpse into the setting he created for his book. Alone on stage, equipped only with his novel and his PowerPoint, Oppel read a passage from his book to the crowd of eager young adults; an act that, judging by his demeanour and expressive tone of voice, Oppel had plenty of practice doing. Every Hidden Thing takes place in the late 19th century, and follows the tale of two 17 year old amateur paleontologists, pitted against each other by their waring fathers, in a hunt to track down “the black beauty”; a fossil specimen of ebony black bone, larger than any species discovered at the time. The passages Oppel read painted the characters as troublesome and adventurous, yet bright and motivated towards their goals; traits that the young audience could be seen connecting with as they laughed and nodded along to Oppel’s reading.

Oppel read his passages and engaged the audience with the enthusiasm and wit you would expect from an award winning author focusing on young adult fiction. He spoke with enthusiasm and expression as he excitedly went over the details of his characters, the adventure they were about to set out on, and the research expeditions he himself took part in to bring his world to life. In order to prepare for Every Hidden Thing, Oppel set off on a dig in Dinosaur National Park, Alberta, with a team from the Drumheller museum to excavate a skeletal specimen they had located. While he was quick to brush off (no pun intended) his own contributions to the dig, he spoke of the experience with the energy and exuberance of someone who themselves had just discovered a giant petrified skeleton in the ground for the first time. The “mundanity” of dinosaurs resurfaced again when he recounted a moment during his expedition where he excitedly pointed out a bone in the dirt that were passing, only to have his travel guide go “oh ya, those are everywhere. We mostly just ignore them”. Still, the energy of the night could not be ignored, and while the young crowds interest for these prehistoric monstrosities may or may not have been re-piqued, their interest in Oppel’s work, both past and present, hung in the air, and the question and answer period focused heavily on his past series and how these books impacted the readers that now filled the room.

Ending with a quiz for the audience (complete with t-shirt giveaways), Kenneth Oppel shared a night with his audience (both of the young and regular adult variety) that promoted his new book, as well as celebrated reading and story crafting as whole, finding ways to reignite fires that have grown mundane and dull, and re-finding our interest in the prehistoric which may have found itself hidden.   

Every Hidden Thing Is now available in bookstores everywhere.