Book Review: The Lost World

Book Name: The Lost World
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
First Published: 1912

Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1859. Both of his parents were of Irish descent. Given support by wealthy uncles, Doyle went to a Roman Catholic Jesuit Prep School and then onto college. Despite attending a Jesuit school, he would later reject religion and become agnostic. After college, he went on to medical school. It was during this time that he began to write short stories. He enjoyed writing adventure stories set in far away locations such as Africa or South America. He also wrote many non-fiction articles, his first was titled Posion and published in the British Medical Journal (1879).

Doyle went on to practice medicine as a doctor on a Greenland Whaler named Hope of Peterhead in 1880 and after his graduation from university, became a ship’s surgeon on the SS Mayumba that journeyed along the West African coastline. In 1882, he joined a former classmate to practice medicine in Plymouth, but eventually opened his own practice. He was unable to find many patients at first and to pass the time, he once again took up writing short stories. It was at this time that he began to develop the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, a fictional series for which he is very famous and was later knighted for.

In 1885, Doyle married his first wife, Mary Louise Hawkins, who was the sister of one of Doyle’s patients. They had two children together. Mary suffered from tuberculosis and died in 1906. Doyle met and fell in love with Jean Elizabeth Leckie years before his wife Mary died, but had simply remained friends with Jean out of faithfulness to his first wife. Once he was free, he married Jean after a year’s mourning period. They had three children together. Jean passed in 1940.

Doyle was active in the politics of his day. One of his many causes was being a supporter for the reform of the Congo Free State led by the journalist E.D. Morel and diplomat Roger Casement. During 1909 he wrote The Crime of the Congo, an article where he denounced the horrific goings on at this colony. It is thought that these two men, along with Bertram Fletcher Robinson, were the inspiration for the characters in his serial novel The Lost World. Later, Doyle turned away from Casement and Morel when they joined the pacifist movement during the Great War. When Casement was later found guilty of treason during the Easter Rising and faced the death penalty, Doyle attempted to save him, but his arguments that Casement had been driven mad by his circumstances went unheeded.

Doyle died of a heart attack in 1930. There was some controversy about where he was to be buried since he was not a Christian and considered himself to be a spiritualist. Eventually, he was interned with his wife in New Forest, Hampshire. The inscription on his grave reads in part:

Steel true
Blade straight
Arthur Conan Doyle
Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters

The Lost World begins with Edward Malone proposing marriage to the woman he loves, Gladys Hungerton. The problem is, she does not love him. To put him off, she bids him to go prove himself in the world, to allow her to inspire him to do great deeds. If he does this, she will consent to marry him. Malone sets off to do this “noble quest” in order to win her heart.

Malone is a reporter for the Daily Gazette and asks his editor to give him a dangerous assignment. He is told to interview Professor George Edward Challenger to discover if the man’s claims of the uncharted territories of South America are true. There is some risk in Malone’s going for the Professor has assaulted other journalists that have gone before him.

After a scuffle, Professor Challenger admits to his discovery of living dinosaurs in South America and he invites Malone to join him on another expedition into the area in order to prove his story. Malone accepts and they set off along with Professor Summerlee, another scientist, and Lord John Roxton, an adventurer and guide. After a great deal of travel, they reach the jungle plateau where Challenger claims the dinosaurs live. As the team enters the plateau, one of their Indian guides, who’s brother was killed by Roxton, destroys the bridge back to the base camp, trapping them with no way back. The other Indian guides, who were superstitious of the plateau and didn’t wish to go further, all leave. Only Zambo, their “devoted negro” remains at the base.

The exploration team meets several challenges in “the lost world” of the jungle plateau. They are attacked by pterodactyls in a swamp, Roxton finds a blue clay that fascinates him, finally part of the team is captured by a race of ape-men. They discover that the Doda ape-men are at war with a tribe of humans, known as Accala, who live on the other side of the plateau. The Doda hold them captive because they are interested in the guns that the team owns. The Doda rightly feel that these weapons would tip the war in their favor.

Roxton manages to escape the Doda, and meets up with Malone. They mount a rescue for their party and the other humans that are held captive by the Doda, and arrive in time to prevent the execution of one of the professors. The reunited team travel to the human Accala tribe and help them defeat the Doda. The Accala now control the entire plateau.

The Accala are as impressed with the traveler’s guns as the Doda were. They do what they can to prevent the team from leaving, however a tunnel is discovered that leads to the outside world. Challenger, Malone, Roxton and Summerlee are able to escape the plateau and return to their base camp where Zambo and a large rescue party awaits.

The quartet return to England and present a report including pictures and the journalism report by Malone. Challenger brings a little more proof for his story this time, a living pterodactyl. It escapes and flies out over the Atlantic Ocean. The quartet meet for dinner some time after the dinosaur debacle. Roxton explains his interest in the blue clay. It was filled with diamonds. He proposes that they split the gems between them.

Challenger plans to open a private museum with his share. Summerlee decides to retire and categorize fossils. Roxton wants to return to the plateau for more research and adventure. Malone returns to Gladys to tell her of his great deeds and new wealth, only to find that she had married a clerk while he was away. Malone then decides to join Roxton’s new expedition since there is nothing left to keep him in London.

The Lost World has been an influential book over the past century. It was one of several novels during this time period that concerned the subject of finding a lost world filled with dinosaurs. Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot (1918) are the three main examples. These novels were all very popular in their day and have inspired other novels down through the years including Michael Crichton’s The Lost World (1995) that became the basis of the Jurassic Park series of films. Doyle’s book is credited as being the spark for the television series Land of the Lost as well as several movies down through the decades.

The novel itself has not aged well, but if you are a fan of retro science fiction, it is likely to become a favorite. There are problems with continuity in the book, the lack of female characters except as sexual objects is disconcerting, and the treatment of other races as inferior to whites certainly shows that the Imperialist English mindset is very much part of the narrative of this book. All of these issues are something that you need to keep in mind if you decide to read this novel. I feel that the historical qualities of this retro science fiction story outweigh these issues.

You need to remember that there are still parts of the Amazon that are uncharted and unexplored even in this modern day and age. Looking at satellite maps of Brazil you see little more than solid green where the national parks are. In these plateau areas, where visitors can only enter on foot, you might look at the photo map and think to yourself “there be dragons”….or perhaps, even dinosaurs! The spirit of adventure is still very much alive in this retro science fiction novel.

The Lost World Book CoverIf you are interested in reading The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you can download a free copy of the novel at Project Gutenberg.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Lost World”

  1. Interesting. I had no idea Doyle wrote children’s books. I don’t know if I am a fan of retro science-fiction or not, but I kind of want to give this book a try. Thank you for writing about this book, and for letting us know it’s available on Project Gutenberg!

    1. It is not a children’s book. It was written for adults. The genre might be better called “adventure”. I think of it as science fiction because it deals with animals that might have existed. Anyway, give it a shot. It is a fun read even though it is a bit dated. :)

  2. Oh hey! I read this last year. I agree, it is a product of its time, and the reader has to set aside modern sensibilities in order to accept the story itself. I appreciated the idea that there are places on Earth that are as remote and unknown as other planets.

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