The Lost World

It’s a shame that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t do more non-Sherlock Holmes stories. His sci-fi is fun. The Lost World, published in 1912, follows a scientific expedition who go to verify the wild claims of Professor Challenger. Challenger had gone to South America and discovered information about a place where dinosaurs still roam. He finds where the hidden plateau is but is unable to get up to it. Back in London, Challenger manages to convince Zoological Society to sponsor the expedition to prove him wrong. The members include Professor Summerlee, skeptic; Lord John Roxton, sportsman; and Edward Malone, reporter.

Malone, the narrator of the book, goes because his girl says she won’t marry anyone who hasn’t had some adventures. Roxton is a wonderful example of that old time real man, someone who has already had numerous adventures. Summerlee’s main purpose seems to be as a foil for Challenger, while Challenger himself is a hoot. Malone’s first encounter with him goes very badly when Challenger discovers why he is there:

It was at that moment that he rushed me. It was lucky that I had opened the door, or we should have gone through it. We did a Catharine-wheel together down the passage. Somehow we gathered up a chair upon our way, and bounded on with it towards the street. My mouth was full of his beard, our arms were locked, our bodies intertwined, and that infernal chair radiated its legs all round us. The watchful Austin had thrown open the hall door. We went with a back somersault down the front steps. I have seen the two Macs attempt something of the kind at the halls, but it appears to take some practise to do it without hurting oneself. The chair went to matchwood at the bottom, and we rolled apart into the gutter. He sprang to his feet, waving his fists and wheezing like an asthmatic.

While the story is not quite as action packed as it could be (the set up is rather long), our heroes are still men of action. Roxton, on a previous trip to South America, decided to free a tribe of Indians from slavery by starting a revolt and killing the evil half-breed slavers. Because he could.

”There are times, young fellah, when every one of us must make a stand for human right and justice, or you never feel clean again. That’s why I made a little war on my own. Declared it myself, waged it myself, ended it myself. Each of those nicks is for a slave murderer—a good row of them—what? That big one is for Pedro Lopez, the king of them all, that I killed in a backwater of the Putomayo River.”

“Sportin’ risk” he tells Malone is the “salt of existence…. We’re all gettin’ a deal too soft and dull and comfy. Give me the great waste lands and the wide spaces, with a gun in my fist and somethin’ to look for that’s worth findin’.” I love this kind of character.

Our heroes find the lost world and promptly get trapped in it. But it’s not just dinosaurs to contend with. The plateau is inhabited by warring races of primitive men and ape-men, a sort of missing link species.

The science aspect is mainly focused on evolution. A creationist may have trouble with is for this but the adherents of the theory probably won’t be able to read it without a roll of the eyes either since Doyle puts forth the notion that dinosaurs died out because they were too stupid to live:

The sloping wall of the pit was not difficult for an active man to climb, but I hesitated long before I trusted myself within reach of the dreadful creature which had so nearly destroyed me. How did I know that he was not lurking in the nearest clump of bushes, waiting for my reappearance? I took heart, however, as I recalled a conversation between Challenger and Summerlee upon the habits of the great saurians. Both were agreed that the monsters were practically brainless, that there was no room for reason in their tiny cranial cavities, and that if they have disappeared from the rest of the world it was assuredly on account of their own stupidity, which made it impossible for them to adapt themselves to changing conditions.

The book was made into a silent movie in 1925 which is interesting for the stop motion work of Willis O’Brien better known for his work a few years years later on King Kong.

It’s not in the book but who doesn’t want to see an brontosaurus run amuck in London?



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