Themes

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1132

The central theme of The Lost World, much as it was in Jurassic Park, is that we respect Nature and life, and that if we regard them as just another commodity it will be at our greatest peril. Crichton is saying that in a world where life forms are now patentable, and where rogue organizations like the fictional InGen or Biosyn companies have the same access to genetic engineering techniques that legitimate laboratories have, we now have a moral obligation and practical reasons to make sure that these new technologies are not used recklessly.

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There is a price to pay for bringing back the many extinct species of animals and plants from the Jurassic Era, and that price is greater than the many millions of dollars sunk into the facilities on Isla Nublar (the resort island from the novel Jurassic Park) and Isla Sorna (the actual production site of the dinosaurs according to the novel The Lost World, although it is not mentioned in Jurassic Park). InGen's half-thought-out scheme involved only a couple of bright ideas, some expensive purchased equipment, some isolated real estate, just a few experts, and much grunt labor supplied by the impoverished local people—and the rewards would be immense: hoards of affluent vacationers flocking to InGen's resorts with wads of cash. But "in science there is a difference between a bright idea, and a bright idea that works" (Rob DeSalle and David Lindley in their book The Science of Jurassic Park and The Lost World, 1997). Once InGen had its dinosaurs, the corporation thought its biggest problems were over, but they were actually yet to begin.

Ian Malcolm is all too familiar with those problems, and the price that was paid in irreplaceable human lives. Now on Isla Sorna, that deadly denouement is poised to begin again. Dr. Levine's annoying predilection for dashing off into remote parts of the world simply because, as heir to an immense fortune, he can afford to travel at whim and is unencumbered by either a teaching position or a spouse, has finally gotten him into real danger. In fact, one person, a careless young local man who Levine hired as a guide, is killed within a half-hour after their arrival:

Diego was screaming as his body was hauled away, into the bushes .. . Levine caught a glimpse of a single large foot, its middle toe bearing a short, curving claw . . . He glimpsed a large animal charging him (and he) turned and fled, feeling the adrenaline surge of pure panic, not knowing where to go, only knowing that it was hopeless. He felt a heavy weight suddenly tear at his backpack, forcing him to his knees in the mud, and he realized in that moment that despite all his planning, despite all his clever deductions, things had gone terribly wrong, and he was about to die.

A cavalier attitude towards Nature and other human beings is also characteristic of the villainous Lewis Dodgson, although Dodgson's attitude is not like the nonchalance of the very rich. Dodgson, who began his career as a genetics researcher who thought nothing of ignoring FDA regulations as a graduate student and later experimenting on uninformed people outside the country, takes himself to depths of callousness that Levine never dreamed of. Levine, for example, is charmed by the sight of his first living dinosaur, a tiny upright creature with the appealing curiosity and fearless manner of a tame squirrel. To Dodgson the dinosaurs have no appeal at all, except as alternative lab animals, beings who have no protection under the law because they were wholly created by man. That he should take the next step and attempt the cold-blooded murder of Dr. Harding, a woman he has just met, is shocking but not out of character.

The toll continues to mount as more people arrive on the island after Levine and his hapless guide. Eddie Carr, Thome's young mechanic, is completely out of his element being out of the city; Isla Sorna and its strange inhabitants have him spooked. Unlike Levine he finds the compys upsetting: "They smell rotten. Like something dead. And you ask me, it's not natural, animals that don't show fear like that. What if they have rabies or something?" He even tosses a rock at them. Yet Eddie is not a cruel or indifferent person: Later in the novel he brings an injured baby tyrannosaur into camp to get its leg fixed. He does this with the same spirit that he would bring in an injured puppy, not realizing that the baby's gigantic parents may come looking for their missing offspring. Eddie dies while trying to defend himself and the kids, Arby and Kelly, from an attack by raptors, vicious pack-hunting man-sized dinosaurs. Unlike some others in this novel, Eddie Carr does not deserve his fate: He is simply a fish out of water. This is the crudest result of InGen's monkeying around with the forces of Nature without adequate oversight: the innocent die along with the greedy.

This is not to say that no one should ever take risks. Thome and others in his party take some truly hair-raising ones, but they differ from the ones made by Dodgson and crew in both intent and appropriateness. The biggest risk is coming to the island in the first place, but Thorne, Malcolm, Sarah Harding, and Eddie are there because no one else can accomplish the rescue in time. Thorne and Eddie know the equipment, Malcolm knows the inhabitants and Sarah knows animal behavior in the wild. The children were not supposed to come along, but once there, they prove to be at least as much an asset as a liability. Their flexible young brains see solutions where their elders miss them, and they are resilient in the face of extreme experiences. The strangeness of a place where the primeval past has come to life again, the constant menace of the gigantic tyrannosaurs, the single-minded ferocity and malevolent intelligence of the raptors during their repeated attacks, would quickly push many an adult into a state of nervous collapse. When the children themselves need rescue, when it would be easy for the adults to excuse themselves from danger and responsibility (as Levine tries to do), Thome's people do the opposite, even when it means following the raptors to their nests armed with nothing more than a dart gun and their wits.

Human life—to other humans, at least—is the only thing worth risking one's life to protect, the author might say. Nature herself might agree, since even the primitive dinosaurs pursue and protect their young. The profit motive is not enough, as Dodgson's crew find out as they die, one by one, in various terrible ways: Crichton has never been subtle when describing the wages of sin.

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