My rating: 4 stars
Arthur Conan Doyle will forever be remembered as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, one of the most famous characters in the literary sphere and popular culture. But he also wrote other stories, including The Lost World, which served as inspiration for the film Jurassic Park. This crossover novel mixes a perilous adventure in South America with an examination of alternative evolutionary viewpoints.
The story is narrated by 23-year-old Edward Malone, a reporter for a newspaper in London. He was sent to interview Professor Challenger, who had been to South America on an expedition which he had given up talking about, since no one believed in his discoveries. During their meeting, Professor Challenger confirmed himself to be an arrogant man prone to violence. Malone’s black eye attested to that. However, he didn’t lose his time entirely. He ended up having a glimpse of the evidences collected by Challenger at the time of his infamous expedition. They could prove the existence of a lost world where dinosaurs, such as the pterodactyl and stegosaurus, still lived.
Malone believed what Professor Challenger told him, but other people made him start pondering his position. After a subsequent public presentation by Challenger, he volunteered to go on an expedition whose aim was to prove the veracity of his claims. He chose to embark on an adventure! That was particularly significant for him, seeing that he had been wanting to pursue one to please the woman he loved, Gladys. In this quest for a lost world, he was to be accompanied by Lord John and Professor Summerlee, who was particularly sceptical about the current existence of any prehistorical creatures.
Throughout the book, there are many allusions to the scientific community. The rivalry between scientists was one of the reasons why they were reluctant to accept new discoveries. The characters also had conversations about the recognised theories on the evolution of the species, including that of Darwin. But Professor Challenger went further and took the opportunity to present alternative scientific theories that could possibly explain the existence of the lost world.
Although the reader is aware of the existence of certain prehistoric creatures at a hidden plateau nearby the Amazon rainforest since early on, there is still a sense of adventure and peril throughout. Some of the descriptions of the sounds that the characters heard, while pursuing their mission, are poetically fear-inducing.
“All the woes of tortured life, all its stupendous indictment of high heaven, its innumerable sorrows, seemed to be centred and condensed into that one dreadful, agonized cry.”
The main characters in this novel are physically described by the narrator and their personalities are not overlooked. Malone (dully) lists certain qualities of his companions, which he was able to identify while on their journey through the Atlantic. However, it is the perilous situations the characters had to face at the area of the lost world and their reactions to them that end up giving us a solid knowledge about their personalities. Several of the previously mentioned characteristics are then corroborated by their actions, while some of their opinions and distrust are reconsidered.
Some xenophobic and racist vocabulary is used throughout the book, particularly when the characters are dealing with people who are not from European descent. This didn’t surprise me at all because these ideas were still prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century, when the novel was first published. Professor Challenger, for example, referred to some of the inhabitants of the Amazon forest in a certain occasion as “underdeveloped savages”. But he was in a way proven wrong when their advice was worth following, showing how the ideas of the time about European superiority were not accurate.
Despite the pacing of the narration near the end feeling slightly rushed, overall it was with excitement that I followed the journey of the characters into a dangerous land worth exploring. The Lost World reminded me how interesting books about the natural world can be.