From video games to television shows to books, chimeras often make appearances in popular culture. One of the most recent chimeras to creep into readers’ imaginations was the Chiamera in Fanstastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling. This Muggles’ guide to Harry Potter and magic warns that the Chiamera, which has a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a dragon’s tail, is extremely dangerous. It is classified as XXXXX, which means “known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate.” Only one wizard has ever killed one, and he died from exhaustion soon after. Rowling clearly portrays an image of the “Chiamera” as elusive, mysterious, and most prominently frightful.
This characterization seems related to the chimeras illustrated in The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells. In the novel, the mixed species Beast Folk come across and terrifying and dangerous.
A mad scientist similar to Dr. Moreau appears in the movie Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. Probably based on The Island of Dr. Moreau, a crazed Romero tries to creature mutated and miniature animals that he can sell to children. He accidentally pours a growth serum on the miniature animals, and madness ensues. Once again, the effect of the chimeras is to produce chaos and fear.
These scary images are what popped into my mind when I first heard the word “chimera.” Though the mythological chimera is different from an actual genetic chimera, such visions can cloud public thought when they hear the word. A combined embryo of a goat and a sheep to use for scientific research is much less intimidating than a fire-breathing, wizard-slaying creature. Popular culture has inculcated society with a fictitious realm that can be distracting from the real scientific research.
This overlap of science and the entertainment industry is similar to the discussion on human cloning. Movies brought up unrealistic scenarios and portrayed debates about the ethics of cloning without strong underlying scientific research. Though chimeras are not as controversial as human clones, they both demonstrate the potential gap between scientists and the general public. It leads one to wonder how much effort should be put into educating people about science. Does it really matter that people may only associate the word “chimera” with the fantasy world of Harry Potter? Or should a more realistic portrayal be emphasized in popular culture?