Michael Crichton is a literary figure not often associated with the genre of environmental fiction, or eco criticism. He is instead associated with thrilling and fantastical works that inspire the intensity and thrill of blockbuster films. Why then, do so many of his works share themes seen so prominently in the modern genre of environmental fiction? Maybe some semblance of an answer can be found when we look at his life.
Michael Crichton was born in Roslyn, New York to John Henderson Crichton, a journalist, and Zula Crichton (Matthews 867). Crichton attended Greenvale and East Hills elementary schools and Roslyn High School. Crichton revealed an interest in literature early in his life and as a result planned on a career as a writer. He entered Harvard University as an English major in 1960 (Matthews 867). His discontent with English Department however led him to change his major to anthropology. He completed his BA in anthropology in 1964 (Mustazza).
Crichton eventually returned to Harvard, where he began his studies at the medical school. During his time in medical school Crichton paid his expenses through writing.
Crichton’s first novel, written during his time in medical school, was titled Odds On and was published in 1966 (Gale). Crichton published this novel under the pseudonym John Lange before he graduated in 1969 (Matthews 870). Crichton would later go on to publish four more novels under this and another pseudonym, Jeffery Hudson (Matthews 870). One of these novels, A Case of Need (1968) was awarded the Edgar Award and was adapted into a film titled The Carey Treatment (1972) (Matthews 871).
Crichton gained substantial experience in medical research when after graduating from medical school he worked at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. During this time Crichton was exposed to much of the subject matter he would write about later in his career. During his time at the institute Crichton published his first successful work under his own name. The Andromeda Strain (1969), a medical thriller about a killer virus, was a tremendous success and inspired both a 1971 film and later a television miniseries (Gale). In 1970 he published a nonfiction book critical of the health-care system titled Five Patients, which won the Association of American Medical Writers Award (Matthews 871).
Crichton remained interested in medical research; however the success his novels enjoyed ultimately dictated a change in his career. In 1972 he published two more novels: The Terminal Man and Binary (Mustazza). Crichton also wrote his fist examples of historical fiction. In 1975 The Great Train Robbery (1975) was published. This novel was based upon a real British train robbery in 1855 (Gale). He then published Eaters of the Dead (1976), a novel set in the tenth century and somewhat based upon true events. Both books would later be adapted into films. In 1979 he wrote the screenplay and directed the film adaptation of his earlier novel, The Great Train Robbery (Matthews 871)..
In the 90’s Crichton’s acclaim bloomed. The decade began with the publication of arguably Crichton’s most popular novel, Jurassic Park (1990). Several filmmakers had learned of the book even before it was published, and a bidding war for the rights to the movie adaptation ensued (Mustazza). Spielberg ultimately won the rights to the movie franchise after agreeing to Crichton’s terms. Directed by Spielberg and written by Crichton and David Koepp, the film was released in 1993 and became “the highest-grossing film in history at the time” (Mustazza). It would also inspire two film sequels, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), based on Crichton’s follow-up novel, The Lost World (1995), and also directed by Spielberg and scripted by Crichton and Koepp, and Jurassic Park III (2001), with characters created by Crichton. As a result of the franchises great success in 2002, a genus of dinosaurs was named Crichtonsaurus in his honor (Mustazza).
In the spring of 2008 he was diagnosed with cancer and quietly began chemo- therapy treatment (Matthews 872). He unexpectedly succumbed to the disease at the age of sixty-six November 4th 2008 (Gale). At his funeral Steven Spielberg said, “Michael’s talent out scaled even his own dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the earth.” (Mustazza).