Monday, September 21, 2009

B.W.'s Book Report: The Lost World

If Professor George Edward Challenger was the only memorable character he ever created, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle still would be a mighty figure in the field of adventure literature. Instead, of course, Challenger is — rather than being the main achievement of Doyle’s career — simply further evidence that the man who invented Sherlock Holmes was a creative genius.

The Lost World introduces this remarkable amalgamation of bombast, persistence and confidence and conceit with a flair: He engages the narrator, reporter Ed Malone, in a fistfight, largely for no other reason but that Malone is a reporter. The altercation leads to the street, where a police officer breaks up the fight. When Malone chooses not to press charges, a friendship of sorts begins. Doyle brings Challenger, Malone and two other adventurers — Lord John Roxton and Professor Summerlee — to South America in this first and most well-known of five tales about G.E.C.

Creators of the film versions of this tale usually feel the need to introduce a woman into the cast of four men in pursuit of Challenger’s fantastic tale of dinosaurs living in the South American jungle. In the fabulous 1925 film we are introduced to Paula White, daughter of the late Maple, played by the charming Bessie Love. She adds a point of conflict, as both Roxton and Malone have their eyes on her. But as you’ll see if you’re encountering the story for the first time, there’s hardly time in this lost world for such matters.

The scenes of a brontosaurus walking the streets of London and creating general havoc have inspired countless films ever since, but the filmmaker’s reinterpretation of a brief moment in the story’s climax marks another departure from Doyle’s original vision. That one might have been necessitated by technical realities, as the group’s return to England does have a lot of talking in it, and “talkies” were a couple to three years away.

The modern reader needs to make a few accommodations to Doyle’s era, as the author introduces a supporting cast that includes a loyal, friendly and simple-minded “negro,” as well as shady and “swarthy” foreigners. These references date the narrative a tad, but there’s a good reason The Lost World has remained a legendary tale for nearly a century now, generating at least three more film versions and even a television series: It’s a wonderfully rousing adventure story.

You may have noticed that the book cover pictured does not match any of the editions that have been available over the years. That's because I've been reading The Lost World as I prepare it to take a place next to the other print-on-demand publications in the growing Richardson & Bluhm stable. It will be available within a few days.

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Blogger Wally Conger said...

You know, what? The other Challenger stories are just as good -- in one case, BETTER! Check 'em all out!

9:10 PM  

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