“The jungle reclaims its own.”
Fans of the Sherlock Holmes series may be as surprised as I was by the complete change of style that this novel represents for its author. Gone are the formulaic and formal language, the stilted dialogue, and the gamesmanship between author and reader that characterize the Holmes novels, however delightful and successful those may be as mysteries. Instead, we see Doyle letting his imagination run free in a sci-fi romp that is both fun and funny, and often thoughtful. Written in 1912, during an eight-year hiatus from his Sherlock Holmes novels, and six years after his last “historical novel,” The Lost World is the first of five works involving temperamental Professor Edward Challenger, a scientist investigating evolution and related subjects.
Challenger is a scientific outcast, vilified for his most recent paper, in which he claimed to have seen dinosaurs and other pre-historic creatures in a remote area of South America, but which he refuses to locate on a map. Blaming the press for much of the controversy over his research, he despises reporters, and regularly assaults them. Young Ed Malone, a reporter looking for more excitement than he is getting on his regular beat, manages to make a connection with Challenger, after passing a test of his mettle.
Along with two other scientists, Elizabeth Summerlee and Lord John Roxton, they travel with Challenger to the mysterious plateau in Brazil where he claims to have seen extraordinary beasts believed dead for millions of years. Malone’s newspaper, which partially funded the expedition, expects him to send daily reports of his adventures by messenger back to “civilization. These form much of the novel’s narrative.
The place where Challenger has made his discoveries, which the other scientists are soon able to verify, is at the base of a high plateau in the jungle which has protected it from intrusion by man. This self-contained universe has protected creatures that have become extinct elsewhere. The scientists’ often death-defying thrills—with canoes going over falls, shooting by headhunters, vengeance taken by one of the guides for past crimes, a war to the death between two separate, but related, species on the evolutionary tree, attacks by pre-historic creatures, and even a love story—make this novel non-stop fun to read. Far more “relaxed” in style and more imaginative in content than the novels for which Doyle is now (justifiably) famous, The Lost World, written almost a hundred years ago, builds on our universal spirit of adventure and our never-ending fascination with dinosaurs and their behavior.
Notes: This novel is part of the Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading.
The William Henry Gates portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appears on http://www.sherlockholmesonline.org/biography/biography15.htm