Monday, February 13, 2006

Peter Benchley Dead at 65

The literary community lost a groundbreaker Saturday night, as "Jaws" scribe Peter Benchley passed away in his home in Princeton, NJ from scarring in his lung tissue.
The best selling author was best known for "Jaws," the phenomenon that single handedly made going to the beach the stuff of nightmares.
After witnessing the affect his novel and the subsequent Steven Spielberg film had on the Great White Shark, Benchley became one of the world's strongest advocate of shark preservation and protection, stating over and over that "Jaws" was merely a work of fiction and the film did not necessarily accurately depict Great White Shark behavior. His words fell on deaf ears, as the Great White has been hunted to the brink of extinction, and only recently has the importance of White sharks to marine ecosystems been realized; due largely in part to Benchley's work, post "Jaws."
Other novels to Benchley's impressive credit are, "The Deep," "The Island," "The Beast," "White Shark" (which was later re-titled "Creature") and "Shark Trouble!"
Many of these novels were made into major motion pictures or made-for-TV movies, and "Shark Trouble!" is an excellent non-fiction read about the behavior of the ocean's top predators.
So Literature and Hollywood has suffered a great loss, but personally the wounds go a little deeper. The Turzman lost a hero, and I don't use that word casually.
I remember the time in 1975 that I am about to tell as if it were yesterday. I was 4 years old, and my bedtime story each night was this kiddie version of Daniel Boone's biography that my mother read to me each night. At the same time, my father was tackling one of the newer novels on the market at the time each night, and the cover attracted me like a moth to flame.
It was a giant, triangular form with massive teeth and four letters sprawled across the top.
I asked my dad, "What's a Jaws?"
To make a long story short, I have never read anything about Daniel Boones since. The particular Boone book I spoke of earlier is probably still sitting on the same shelf, 3000 miles away from where I now sit for all I care, for Jaws became my new fascination, and it has stuck with me ever since.
Each night for about a week during that faithful year, my dad would read passages to me as I tried to follow along. Any normal child would have lost interest immediately afterward, but being a genius-in-the-making, I insisted that we read it again.
My father, in one of the most brilliant moves in child-raising ever, challenged me to read it back to him, and I did.
Modestly, I admit I needed help with some of the longer words, but for all intents and purposes, I learned to read by reading "Jaws" at age 4.
So you see, friends of the Turz, Benchley's passing is gonna hurt this author for a long time, because with the help of my dad, Peter Benchley taught me to read.
Imagine my elation when my father explained to me that a movie was being made about this grand story, and as we eagerly awaited its theatrical release, my parents pulled a similar stunt to continue my reading practices. One of my favorite movies at the time was this animated version of Tolkien's "The Hobbit," and my parents informed me of the novel that cartoon was based on.
"They made a book from that movie?" I questioned.
So, "The Hobbit" was the second novel I ever read. It may be hard to swallow, friends, yes I read Benchley and Tolkien before Dr. Seuss or even those "Dick & Jane" tales, but it's true.
And I'm forever in the debt of my parents and J.R.R. Tolkien, but mostly to Peter Benchley.
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