Throughout history humans have had a strong fascination with extinct animals. From the vanished creatures that roamed the Earth before us to the fresh death of a species that has walked with us, we hold on to the lasting impressions that they leave us with, and to the mystery that clings to their memory.
Nevermore: A Book of Hours by David Day takes the reader through the first glimpses, the last sightings, and the wonders associated with some of the world’s extinct species. Over thirty years of research have been poured into the text, which gives detailed and gripping accounts of animals long lost and forgotten. The book is written to mirror a twenty-four hour clock, with each of the extinct species Day writes about given its own hour, which is in turn divided into four sections: Illustration, Reportage, Commentary, and Elegy. Within this structure we are able to discover, learn about, and mourn each mammal, fowl, and reptile in the book.
The organization and style of Day’s book are fascinating. Through the vivid graphics and the accounts of both first encounters and last deaths, we walk in the shoes of those who long ago experienced these animals in reality. The extinction of each creature became much more real for me as I was taken on a journey through time, and I felt guilty for being a member of a species that killed so many of them. Our own mortality as humans became a focal point as well as I turned each page to find the death of another species not so far removed from our own.
But not every part of this journey through twenty-four hours of death is depressing. In fact, many species within the book’s pages can still be found in some way throughout the world through subspecies that bear similarities to their departed ancestors. As I turned the page on the last animal, the Heath Hen, the elegy Day included called out not just to this forgotten fowl, but to all the creatures listed through the pages and the hours of his book: “All around us nature is full of casualties, but they do not interrupt the stream of life…. We are in touch with the reality of extinction.”
The fact of extinction is not something that we can avoid or ignore. It is something that threatens every creature on this planet, and may one day claim humanity itself. I think the most important lesson within these pages is that we must never forget this, and that we should cherish every day, every hour, and every memory of those creatures that linger with us on this Earth.
- Cassie Leigh Clancy