Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Lost WorldThe Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lost World is a classic work of action/adventure that has a lively feel that made for a very fun read. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best known for his Sherlock Holmes stories, has a way of writing an engaging tale. For readers who fear reading books published prior to the later 20th century out of the desire to avoid dry, stale language, I would offer up this book. Although it shows the sentiments, good and bad, for the period in which it was written, the writing tone could easily be as modern as a work published in the recent years. It doesn't have much of a dated feel to this reader, except in one way that I will address later. Mr. Doyle takes the scientific debates of the later Victorian, early Edwardian period, and gives us vivid characters to speak for the different viewpoints, making what could be a dry discussion of evolutionary biology and the various proponents or antagonists therein, and instead crafting a diverting read.


Challenger is by far the most hilarious character in this story. He is completely pompous and arrogant, assured that he knows everything, and of his utter superiority in every way. He is oblivious to the idea that anything should shake his massive self-confidence. Although he is right a lot of the time, sometimes he's very, very wrong (or his way of analyzing and approaching things is just skewed), not that he lets that bother him much. Mr. Doyle created an iconic figure here, so it doesn't surprise me that he wrote other stories about Challenger. He's too good a character to let go of.


Summerlee is mostly a foil for the more vibrant, and sometimes often obnoxious Challenger. He doesn't come off quite as vivid as either Challenger or Roxton, but he adds to the scope and detail of this story with his acerbic, strong, but not bull-like in the way of Challenger, personality. He turns out to be a very valuable member of the exhibition, both for his counterpart role as the voice of reason to the more bombastic Challenger, but also for his scientific knowledge and rationality in the face of very eye-raising events in the Lost World.


Goodness, I did love this character. I have seen and encountered those in popular media who exhibit the Great White Hunter stereotype, but Roxton didn't strike me that way at all. He's an alpha male in all the good ways. He wasn't one-dimensional, only driven by the hunt and sport (as I feared), although those were important things to him. He's a man's man, but he's also a thinker and a doer. He is a man who lives life to the fullest, and doesn't let fear or 'can't dos' stand in the way. He is a lot more compassionate and crusading that I expected. I thought he would be self-serving and superior. That's not him at all. Roxton is another iconic, larger-than-life character, that no doubt fueled many of the adventurer types that have populated later literature and cinema/television stories in this genre. In his own way, Roxton is also a foil for Challenger. Challenger is convinced of his self-importance, and ever ready to take credit for what he does. Roxton likes the thrill and the challenge. He claims his trophies, but it's not about the right to brag. It's about the doing for him. His very apt, if "school of hard knocks" wisdom saves the day many a time on this journey.


Malone is the point of view of this novel. We see everything through his eyes, and his wry observations make for some very humorous moments. Doyle also uses Malone to convey the wonder of the Lost World. He describes both the dangerous and fearsome aspects of the lost world, and the rare and eye-opening beauty in a way that pulls me into the narrative head first. Malone and Roxton seem to be contrasted in ways in that Malone is a bit more of the thinker, who wishes he was the doer. He has quite a case of hero worship for Roxton, but Malone proves to be very valuable on this expedition, both as a source of information, and by his own feats that save and protect the various members on the expedition. He turns out to be a character that one should not underestimate or dismiss.

You take the good with the bad:

When it comes to older books and stories, one prepares to see some rather disappointing exhibitions of racism come into play. As a reader of classic and pulp literature, I have had it hit me very badly with some authors, and others where I was surprised at how enlightened their attitudes seemed. For the most part, this wasn't as bad as it could have been in that sense. However, it did bother me and made me wince how the one Negro character was referred to as 'our faithful' and as though he was an unintelligent object or possession pretty much every time. I found it very patronizing and offensive. His speech was very stereotyped (poor English and using the word 'Massa'), and showing slavish devotion to his white 'betters'. He was even referred to as being as intelligent as a horse. You could take that in the manner in which it was intended (which I did), as the man being less intelligent than white men, or you could take that as Doyle believing horses are smart cookies. Out of this whole book (which I had mainly favorable reactions to), this aspect left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed as though the views of the South American natives were more enlightented than the black man. Yeah, that smarts. Also there is a tone that speaks of the inherent superiority of the white man and Europeans. I'm not beating up Doyle. I'm telling it like it is and how it affected me as a reader of color. I realize that this were the prevalent thoughts of the time. But this is not something that makes me a happy camper. Thus, it dulls the shining light of this story somewhat for this reader.

On the good side....:

The science, botany and zoology, exhibited in this story seemed quite knowledgeable, showing that Doyle did attempt to do his homework. I am no dinosaur expert, but I did recognize many of the older names for dinosaurs which probably came into common knowledge around the period in which this was written. This story also conveys a detail about the South American rainforests and tropical environs that made for a seemingly credible read. I felt like I was along for the journey, but immensely glad that I was just reading this book on my Kindle when it came to encountering vicious carnivorous species and the rather vile apemen.

End Verdict:

The Lost World is a piece of classic literature that no respectable adventure fan should go without reading. If you enjoy movies like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider, or any other of the many treasure hunting/lost world expedition movies and tv shows, then take a little time to explore one of the forefronts in this genre of literature. I give it a thumbs up.

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