Anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes will agree that Conan Doyle is a master of his art; he can craft whole incredible tales of out some ordinary detail and still make them very believable. The Lost World is no different. It was published in 1912 and has since then set the pace for the other fantasy tales that followed. This was exactly what Conan Doyle wished to achieve when he wrote this book, as Michael Crichton tells us at the introduction:
Contemplating a new character and a new novel, The Lost World, to introduce him, Conan Doyle informed his editor, “My ambition is to do for the boy’s book what Sherlock Holmes did for the detective tale. I don’t suppose I could bring off two such coups. And yet I hope it may.”
And it did. The new character was Professor Challenger, a comical man, quick to anger and with a big ego. The narrator, a journalist called E. D. Malone, was tasked with trying to interview the man and after some fighting (yes fighting! With black eyes and everything) told Malone about his infamous expedition to South America. I won’t go into details about what Challenger told Malone, don’t want to spoil it for anyone, suffice to say he thoroughly convinces Malone (and us) that somewhere in the Amazon forest there is a plateau where to this day dinosaurs still live.
Needless to say, the Professor’s scant evidence is mocked by the scientific community and especially by Professor Summerlee, who bickers with Challenger from beginning to end. And so the real adventure makes itself known to us, when a team is assembled to travel to Brazil and verify Challenger’s claims; it consists of Malone, Summerlee and Lord John Roxton.
The two first things that drew me to this book were the author and the setting. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to read this book and wonder about far off lands, of paradise lost in the middle of a great forest. For me it hits close to home, it’s having someone tell me that Jurassic animals still live in my country, and I suppose, that’s a bit harder to imagine. But Conan Doyle convinced me to try, and while he doesn’t focus much on the natives, he does mention the Indians’ superstitions of malevolent spirits inhabiting the Amazon quite a lot.
I had a lot of fun reading this, and by ‘fun’ I mean the laughing kind, it even made me startle some people sitting close to me today. The characters are comical, even the somber Summerlee when together with Challenger makes for an entertaining ride. Lord John is also great, with his various adventures in South America and his unwavering courage. I have to admit I didn’t like Malone much at first, the opening scene with Gladys left me with bad impression, but he grew on me through the story and turned out to be a practical person, always reminding the others that sometimes the simple explanations are the best ones.
One of my favorite scenes was the lecture in the Zoological Institutes’ Hall, where the idea of the team comes up and its components are chosen. It was simply brilliant, with Challenger’s megalomaniac nature making itself known and the first amusing discussions between Summerlee and Challenger.
“Question!” boomed a voice from the platform.
Mr. Waldron was a strict disciplinarian with a gift of acid humor, as exemplified upon the gentleman with the red tie, which made it perilous to interrupt him. But this interjection appeared to him so absurd that he was at a loss how to deal with it. So looks the Shakespearean who is confronted by a rancid Baconian, or the astronomer who is assailed by a flat-earth frantic. He paused for a moment, and then, raising his voice, repeated slowly the words: “Which were extinct before the coming of man.”
“Question!” boomed the voice once more.
There are, of course, some things that must be taken with a grain of salt, like the idea of the Europeans as superior beings, which comes up every so often during the narrative. Considering when it was written it’s not unusual, as it was the belief at the time, so it doesn’t make too much of an interruption. Apart from that, there wasn’t much that I didn’t like; I actually loved every second of it. I’m usually a very fast reader, but this book I savored as if it was my favorite candy. It’s definitively in my favorites list and left me wanting to read Jurassic Park, which I think I’ll do soon, after I finish A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.