Before Jurasic Park and the TV series with the same name, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came up with one of the best books a child passionate about dinosaurs can read.
Published in 1912, Doyle’s The Lost World arrived too late to accurately be labelled “Victorian”, but it has much in common with the Victorian-era science fiction literature of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, not to mention the adventure stories of H. Rider Hagard. As with Verne, the story is a sort of travelogue adventure to a mysterious land (in this case a plateau in South America, cut off from the forces of evolution that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs throughout the rest of the world). As with Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle uses the story to raise the issue of human evolution (at one point, the physical appearance of the books’ protagonist is pointedly compared to that of the leader of a tribe of ape-men, implying that the gulf separating modern man from his primitive ancestors is not so great after all). As for Haggard, he has pioneered the “lost civilization” adventure story with King Solomon’s Mines in 1885, but but Doyle went him one better by populating his lost world with dinosaurs. (To be fair, Verne had previously used the idea of prehistoric animals surviving into modern times in Journey to the Center of the Earth).
The plot summary is quite interesting
Edward Malone, a reporter for the Daily Gazette, goes to his news editor, McArdle, to get a dangerous and adventurous mission to impress the woman he loves, Gladys Hungerton.
He is sent to interview Professor George Edward Challenger, who has assaulted four or five other journalists, to determine if his claims about his trip to South America are true. After assaulting Malone, Challenger reveals his discovery of dinosaurs in South America. After having been ridiculed for years, he invites Malone on a trip to prove his story, along with Professor Summerlee, another scientist qualified to examine any evidence, and Lord John Roxton, an adventurer who knows the Amazon and several years prior to the events of the book helped end slavery by robber barons in South America. They reach the plateau with the aid of Indian guides, who are superstitiously scared of the area. One of these Indians, Gomez, is the brother of a man that Roxton killed the last time he was in South America. When the expedition manages to get onto the plateau, Gomez destroys their bridge, trapping them. Their “devoted negro” Zambo remains at the base, but is unable to prevent the rest of the Indians from leaving.
Deciding to investigate the lost world, they are attacked by pterodactyls at a swamp, and Roxton finds some blue clay in which he takes a great degree of interest. After exploring the terrain and having a few misadventures in which the expedition narrowly misses being killed by dinosaurs, Challenger, Summerlee, and Roxton are captured by a race of ape-men . While in their village, they find out there is also a tribe of humans (calling themselves Accala) inhabiting the other side of the plateau with whom the ape-men (called Doda by the Accala) are constantly at war. Roxton manages to escape and team up with Malone to mount to a rescue. They arrive just in time to prevent the executions of the Professors and several other humans, who take them to the human tribe. With their help, they defeat the ape-men, taking control of the whole plateau.
After witnessing the power of their guns, the human tribe does not want the expedition to leave, and tries to keep them there.
About the author
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930
Mary Doyle had a passion for books and was a master storyteller. Her son Arthur wrote of his mother’s gift of “sinking her voice to a horror-stricken whisper” when she reached the culminating point of a story. There was little money in the family and even less harmony on account of his father’s excesses and erratic behavior. Arthur’s touching description of his mother’s beneficial influence is also poignantly described in his biography, “In my early childhood, as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.”
After Arthur reached his ninth birthday, the wealthy members of the Doyle family offered to pay for his studies. He was in tears all the way to England, where for seven years he had to go to a Jesuit boarding school. Arthur loathed the bigotry surrounding his studies and rebelled at corporal punishment, which was prevalent and incredibly brutal in most English schools of that epoch.
During those grueling years, Arthur’s only moments of happiness were when he wrote to his mother, a regular habit that lasted for the rest of her life, and also when he practiced sports, mainly cricket, at which he was very good. It was during these difficult years at boarding school, that Arthur realized he also had a talent for storytelling. He was often found, surrounded by a bevy of totally enraptured younger students, listening to the amazing stories he would make up to amuse them.
By 1876, graduating at the age of seventeen, Arthur Doyle, (as he was called, before adding his middle name “Conan” to his surname), was a surprisingly normal young man. With his innate sense of humor and his sportsmanship, having ruled out any feelings of self-pity, Arthur was ready and willing to face the world and make up for some of his father’s shortcomings.