Of critters

DINOSAURS, it appears, are making a comeback. Not in their original, outsize reptilian form, but as stuffed toys, as T-shirt motifs, or in plastic miniatures, ready for battles staged on the furrowed landscape of a child's bedclothes. There are dinosaur toy departments at science museums and toy stores, such as the ``Toys of Extinction'' section in the offing at F. A. O. Schwarz. Then there are shops like the Dino Store, in Cambridge, Mass., attesting further to the boom in these ``terrible lizards.''

But when in modern times have dinosaurs been out of favor?

In many cases, ``brontosaurus'' or ``tyrannosaurus'' is the first polysyllable out of a small mouth. Then there are other childhood favorites, such as the benign, leaf-munching diplodocus, or the stegosaurus, whose distinctive plates evidently made it look like an ambulatory artichoke with a few rows missing.

They were huge and yet helpless against whatever forces eventually did them in. Is it paradoxically reassuring to children, who so often feel helpless in their smallness, to know that huge creatures are sometimes helpless too?

Or perhaps the toy dinosaur is the counterpart to the nighttime monster in the closet, the bear under the bed. The dinosaur is the fear faced and, for being faced, found not to be so terrible.

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