Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 879

The upper ridges of her [the mother raptor's] skull were pronounced like a gorilla's— thrusts of brow overhanging hugely swollen and yellow eyes. Her teeth were bared, thick jagged points that meshed perfectly into a hideous smile. A dark band ran from her head down to the tip of her thick, rigid tail.

In the dark of night, in an isolated house, this is what Zack and Uta see, the mother of the egg they took to Zack's home. The mother raptor is an important character, not a mindless monster, but someone with personality. She is impatient and lethal; she is also decisive, going after Professor Norak the instant she realizes he is near her nest. She also couples motherly concern for her brood with determination—she tracks her missing egg a long way before finding it in Zack's house. This also shows that she is intelligent—she counted her eggs and had a good enough memory to realize that she was one egg short. In addition, she is very focused on the task at hand; once she has her hatchling, she heads for home, leaving Zack, Uta, and Picasso alive.

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Without the mother raptor there would be no story. In addition, there would be no story if Zack, the main character, were not someone who takes the initiative when something needs to be done. Only a vague word from his stricken father is enough to send him on a perilous quest to uncover the mysteries of the living dinosaurs, the "Utahraptors." His friend Uta has a strongly positive view of Zach: "Uta had liked him the second she'd seen his narrow, handsome face last spring. His wolf-like eyes had reminded her of photos she'd seen of her own father when he was young." From her point of view, as well as in the view of her uncle, Larry Ghost Coyote, and Spider Grandma, there is much wolf in him, and his dogged pursuit of his quarry even into great danger suggests a wolf on the hunt.

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Even so, Zack is not a perfect warrior off to defeat evil. When he seizes the egg his father dropped, his thoughts are of fame and riches. When Honker hatches, it is to him a creature to be exploited, something that will get his father out from under Boneid's thumb and bring wealth to his family. It takes most of the novel for Spider Grandma's admonition to sink in: "All animals are our equals in this world. They have wisdom to share with humans, and you [Zack] should know that." Boneid's rapacious, destructive desire for fame and glory serves as an example of where Zack could be headed in his desire to exploit the Utahraptors, but Zack eventually chooses another path for himself.

His friend Uta is no mere hanger-on— she is the voice of conscience in the novel and a clever, active partner in the adventures. Zindel does not devote much space to descriptions in Raptor, but he paints Uta sharply from Zack's point of view: "He [Zack] recognized Uta, a young Indian girl with dark bronze skin and straight black hair that fell to her waist." She suggests to Zack that it would be best to leave the egg alone and to leave the Utahraptors alone: "That's the first rule about wilderness— leave wildlife alone!" Further, she is a reminder that the Utes lived in the region long before the scientists and miners came, and that they have had generations to learn how to adapt to their environment: "Growing up on my reservation is like one long survival course," she says. This idea is reinforced inside the caves where the Utahraptors make their home. Passages are marked either with flute players and ladders or with threatening images. The flute players and ladders mean safe passage; the threatening images mean dangerous passage. Spider Grandma's remarks imply that the Utes long ago learned of the dangers of the caves and made their marks inside them to help travelers. When Zack ignores the warnings, going against the knowledge of the Utes, he places himself in jeopardy; he is fortunate that level-headed Uta is close by to save him from his own foolishness.

In this tale of amazing adventure, the villain is almost an afterthought. The Utahraptors provide a plenitude of thrills without the need of a human villain. Even so, Dr. Boneid adds to the difficulties that Zack and Uta face: Boneid is "a death spirit," Zack has heard one of the old Ute Indian workers say about him. "His heart is like death." Dr. Boneid invented his own nickname, "Dr. Bones," because it might appeal to people interested in dinosaurs; he wants to be famous for his work—as well as famous for the work of others that he claims for himself. That includes the discovery of the Utahraptors, an accomplishment more rightfully claimed by Zack's father. To Boneid, paleontology is all about feeding his ego, and his lust for fame overwhelms his academic training and common sense. He will kill every living Utahraptor in order to have a specimen, even if dead, of the only (once) living dinosaur. He is the embodiment of bad science—motivated not by a love of learning or dedication to knowledge, but by an outsized ego.

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