“The Fossil” is a short story by Marlena Kilian, age 11. Our protagonist is Corian Monseur, the son of a Spanish nobleman architect who is designing the king’s chambers. Corian and his younger brother Ceon live in luxury in a mansion full of servants who wait on them hand and foot. One day, they are out for a walk in the garden when they notice that their mother’s prized lilac bush has been mysteriously crushed. Ceon starts to cry. As Corian bends down to console his brother, he notices something strange and shiny on the ground that looks almost like an animal’s tooth—but they aren’t sure.
Corian and Ceon take the object inside, where everyone who sees it is astonished. They decide to mail it off to a team of Russian scientists. After thirty excruciating days of waiting for a reply, Corian finally receives a letter from the scientists stating that they believe the object is the fossil of an ancient baby dragon’s tooth! They send it to other experts for confirmation who promise to be in touch soon. Five years later, Corian has long given up ever hearing from them again, but the scientists finally write back. They apologize for losing track of time and confirm that the fossil is, indeed, a dragon’s tooth. The tooth is put in a museum and becomes world renowned—and so does Corian.
What makes this world believable?
The world that Marlena Kilian builds in “The Fossil” is clearly established from the moment the story starts, and is one of the most vivid parts of the narrative. Though there is no specific year given in the story, we get the sense that this is a very long time ago. The historic feeling of the story helps make the world immediately feel realistic because the language is so noticeably different.
Corian finally said, “Ceon, we must get Molly, for I think in my hand is an animal’s tooth,” and they ran hastily to the patio, where servants were brushing the dusty furniture.
Throughout the story, the characters’ language feels as antiquated as it does in the example above. The world’s reaction to the fossil is another clue as to the time period—it seems that fossils are a very new invention. Finally, the author uses historical details like telegrams to further give readers a sense for the rules of this world.
The descriptions of the castle are another thing that help build a believable world.
Their backyard was a courtyard made up of rows of flower beds and perfect oaks rising as high as the mansion’s roof. The pride of Corian’s family was the lake beyond the courtyard, which flowed into many brooks and creeks behind and along the sides of the mansion.
The writer’s choice of details is careful. After establishing this courtyard at the beginning of the story, the two brothers return there soon after to play at Ceon’s behest. But now, disaster has struck those same flowers we learned about above.
When Corian caught up with Ceon, he could not take in what lay before him: a creek ran between the last two rows of the flower beds, and where the creek flowed, the lilacs lay wilted with the front side of the wooden bed crushing their stems and petals.
By establishing the world of the garden before describing the brothers’ escapade there, the writer is able to more quickly move the narrative along. We know what the garden looks like already, which helps us focus entirely on the devastation of the lilacs.
- Clearly there is magic in the world of this story because the two brothers found the fossilized tooth of a baby dragon. Why don’t you think any dragons or other magical creatures appeared in this story?
- The first time Corian is waiting for a letter from the experts, he is very impatient. The second time, he almost forgets it is coming. Why do you think there is such a stark difference between these two periods of waiting?
Corian Monseur lounged on a couch with lace trimmings, gazing lazily through the window. His father was a nobleman and an architect busy designing the King of Spain’s chambers. His family lived in a mansion with servants and rich bedrooms with halls leading to each one. Their backyard was a courtyard made up of rows of flower beds and perfect oaks rising as high as the mansion’s roof. The pride of Corian’s family was the lake beyond the courtyard, which flowed into many brooks and creeks behind and along the sides of the mansion.
Corian yearned for the tempting freedom he could enjoy not under the mansion’s roof, but under the blue sky. Although he was permitted to go outside, he could only go along the endless flower beds, but they were not of any fascination to Corian.
Ceon, his younger brother, darted into the room with pleading eyes and said, “Corian, please come with me outside. Mother tells you not to idle.”
Corian’s gleaming eyes glanced at his brother, and he spoke solemnly, “I am 12 years old, yet we always seem to have an adventure together.” Then he gave an awkward smile as Ceon happily went to get their moccasins and their light coats.
Molly, a servant who was like an aunt to them, sternly said, “Tsch, tsch, boys. Be sure not to get dirty or walk into one of these chambers with a frog like last time.”
Ceon chuckled but Corian remained silent in his deep thoughts. They went out of the wooden door and ran through the flower beds. As much as Corian wanted to carry out his brother’s desire, he also got exasperated at having to leave his desirable chamber. Suddenly Ceon halted, greatly surprised. When Corian caught up with Ceon, he could not take in what lay before him: a creek ran between the last two rows of the flower beds, and where the creek flowed, the lilacs lay wilted with the front side of the wooden bed crushing their stems and petals. Ceon burst into tears: lilacs were his mother’s favorite flower; she made certain they received extra water from the barrels each day.
As Corian was attempting to console his weeping brother, his eye caught hold of a shiny object lying untouched in the water. Corian tried to avoid looking at the object, which he knew would only be a rock, yet he felt his hopes rise quickly. So, he took off his moccasins and wool socks as he edged near the creek to take a look at the object. The spring breeze whirled through the air, and the cold water came up to Corian’s heels. By now, Ceon was wiping his eyes just in time to see Corian turning the object over and over again in the palms of his hands. Corian was about to throw the object back into the water carelessly when he saw that white had begun to show through where he had rubbed it. The strong feeling that it couldn’t possibly be a rock was growing. Corian finally said, “Ceon, we must get Molly, for I think in my hand is an animal’s tooth,” and they ran hastily to the patio, where servants were brushing the dusty furniture.
Corian yelled for Molly, forgetting his manners, bringing his older brother, sisters, Molly, and even Mother bustling down the stairs with curls flying. Corian could hardly believe that perhaps he held in his hands a great discovery that would be marked down in history.
Servants led the family to a large resting chamber where everyone sat excitedly upon the narrow sofas. “Speak! Speak!” They cried at once as Corian gave the fossil to Molly with shaking hands. A young servant gave her a pair of spectacles. Molly looked intently at the object, and with Corian constantly inquiring if it might be an animal’s tooth, she replied, “Well it proves to not be a rock.” She paused briefly. “What I am getting to is that I don’t know if it’s an animal’s tooth.”
Philip, Corian’s eldest brother, suggested cheerfully, “Surely this is a discovery after all; there is no report of a tooth finding in all of Spain!”
Ronara, his eldest sister, said, “Let us send a telegram to some experts in Russia, for surely they would know.”
All the other sisters gasped with surprise, but Philip clapped as Mrs. Monseur got up and proceeded to prepare the curious discovery for travel. They sent the fossil in a mini-box with an expensive telegram, and afterward, Corian and Ceon explained where the object had been found, and they also explained about the half-crushed lilac beds.
For the next few days, Corian was impatient to receive the telegram from the experts, and the days were hard to endure. Finally, after waiting a long month, a letter arrived. Mr. Monseur was going to return the next day, after spending six months at the King of Spain’s palace, and Corian decided to wait before opening the letter so that all the Monseur family could be present.
Mr. Monseur was greeted warmly by his family the next day, and he was given the information about the discovery, which he enjoyed hearing, as they gathered in the second fanciest chamber in the mansion. Corian’s eyes opened wide when he was to do the honors. Usually, his father did the honors of opening the letters the Monseur family received, but his father said Corian deserved to do the honors this time. Corian opened the flap of the letter, pulled it out, and eagerly started to read:
To the Monseur Family,
This discovery was a new study for us, and in answer to your ques tion, “Is it a fossil?” Yes, indeed: it is an animal’s tooth. The tooth is believed to be an ancient baby dragon’s tooth. Dearest friends, you have made a fantastic discovery. The fossil is being sent to other scientific experts who will study the fossil more, and soon perhaps the fossil will be in a prehistoric animal museum. Please keep on sending letters not to us but to the building in London, England.
Signed: Workers of the Scientific Animal Culture in Russia
The Monseur family applauded Corian for such a discovery.
By the time Corian was 17, five years later, he had almost forgotten about the fossil he had discovered when he was 12. He had not received a letter since—nothing but the reassurance that it would come. On the day that Corian was getting ready to go to his great-uncle’s mansion, a letter arrived at last. Corian was thrilled to open it, but this time his family was not present to hear its words. Corian read aloud as if he were in front of an audience:
These past five years have gone by so quickly that we were caught up in examining the fossil very closely, delaying our writing to you, and we beg your pardon. We are proud to say that this discovery is a real one, and we do believe that it is the tooth of a baby dragon. We hope to have another good year of examining the fossil. I gladly write that you, son of the designer of the King of Spain’s chambers, are granted with our permission to display this fossil in the Baton Museum in Spain with your name as the sole discoverer! We congratulate and thank you for this discovery that we hope may go down in animal history!
Signed: The Society of the Museum of Spain’s Discoveries
Sam Peters and Carson Coom
Corian was amazed.
Another year went slowly by as the scientists continued to study the fossil. That it was a dragon’s tooth was confirmed, and the fossil was put in the Baton Museum, where it was placed in a large glass container and was viewed by many. After 10 years, the fossil was transported to England and Italy, where skilled scientists studied it more. After another decade passed, it was known all over Europe, Russia, China, India, and North America.
Corian’s discovery was put down in history, and when he died at the age of 92, his story, along with his background, was recorded in more detail. Corian Monseur’s actual life was of little account aside from this famous discovery; however, he did follow his father as the architect for the chambers of the Kings of Spain.