Monday, March 17, 2014

The Lost World, by Arthur Conan Doyle

"Did you think you could match cunning with me -- you with your walnut of a brain?"
 -- Professor Challenger, from The Lost World

I've been a bit bogged down in work and a few deadline projects lately, which has left me less time than I'd like. Anne Fuller's The Convent has been on my front burner, and that slowed me down too. At firft, its typography flowed me down fomewhat. It feemed quite diftracting. Now I'm fort of ufed to it, but the terrible quality of the "reprint" pages -- fome of the copies totally flanting and fome almoft completely illegible, has grown increafingly irritating. It's ftill a good ftory, and I plan to finish, but I really felt the need for a good, clean text, so I've taken a brief hiatus from the adventures of Miss Sophia Nelson. 

I turned to the straightforward adventure plot of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, which has given me less to sink my teeth into, review-wise, but it's been a revitalizing change of pace.

A young reporter, hoping to prove himself to a lady who's clearly not that into him, goes to interview one Professor Challenger, an eccentric scientist notorious for his violent temper, which is often provoked by the disbelief in his story about a journey to an isolated land he believes is full of surviving prehistoric creatures.

A near-riot at a scientific lecture ends with a plan to send another expedition, led by Challenger and his biggest skeptic, along with the reporter (our narrator, conveniently enough) and Lord John Roxton, a level-headed adventurer and big-game hunter. The men struggle through the jungle, and do indeed discover a nearly-inaccessible plateau that's home to all sorts of dinosaurs. Not to mention a whole society of "Missing Link" ape-men at war with an Indian tribe who got stranded there in bygone days, leading to a priceless commentary by stuffy anatomy expert Professor Summerlee: "I assure you that I little thought when I left my professorial chair in London that it was for the purpose of heading a raid of savages upon a colony of anthropoid apes." (p. 200)

Along the way, there is much lovely, lengthy (and I daresay wildly inaccurate) description of South American flora, and vividly imaginative descriptions of fantastic fauna.

While I never thought Doyle's Sherlock Holmes came off as misogynistic as his reputation sometimes makes out, there's an odd plot thread here about the fickleness of women, and I can't tell whether it's an attempt to throw in a little traditional human interest, or a jab he couldn't pass up. Either way, I enjoy a lot of books while still remembering they were written by people of their time, and I don't suppose Conan Doyle is any different.

Speaking of Holmes, he's actually a much subtler character than this book's Challenger; even that name seems awfully allegorically on-the-nose. His physique and personality are a bit over the top, but it's fun to hear him roaring insults at his intellectual inferiors -- which is, everybody. And his physical similarity to the "missing link" ape-men the expedition discovers is quite humorous, and also points out that greater and lesser intelligences exist despite commonality in anatomical make-up -- thus casually passing over any Victorian angst over the idea of being descended from apes and cave-men.

Obviously, Jurassic Park owes a debt to this novel (as seen in the title of Crichton's sequel), and I wonder what terms I'd have to Google to find out if Doyle gave us pop culture's first pterodactyl in a modern city (a la Torchwood and The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec). He certainly makes his pterodactyls into terrifying alien creatures, reminding us more of the sheer primitive strangeness of his survivals than a lot of modern special effects do. I'm definitely on board for reading more Challenger stories down the line.

Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Lost World. London: Vintage, 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment