Famous film versions (1925 and 1960) and innumerable further imitations, including King Kong (1933), have made The Lost World one of the most influential books in its genre. Willis O’Brien provided the special effects for both versions of The Lost World and for King Kong. The Lost World was adapted freely for the screen, with a female love interest added, changes in plot and characters, many new dinosaurs, and a culminating volcanic eruption. Exciting as animated dinosaurs and geological disasters may be, they obscure several thematic undercurrents important to the original story.

As Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the novel, there was no fundamental conflict between science and religion, though Challenger once equated himself with Galileo; rather, conflict arose between two groups within science, both of which supported evolution. One group affirmed the ideas of Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Henry Walter Bates. The other supported those of distinguished German theorist August Weismann, whose “germ plasm” theory of heredity opposed Darwin’s, though he strongly endorsed Darwin’s theory of natural selection in other respects. The conflict between these two closely related groups underlies chapters 2, 3, and 4 of Doyle’s novel. Outside both groups were prominent life scientists who rejected Darwin’s theories altogether. Originally a Darwinian himself, Challenger is forced to reconsider his position somewhat.

Besides Darwin and Weismann, another important scientific...

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