The Plot

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Seeking to win the hand of fickle Gladys Hun-gerton, Edward Malone, a twenty-three-year-old newspaper reporter in London, interviews notorious professor of zoology George Edward Challenger. Challenger has startled the scientific world by asserting publicly that prehistoric creatures of the Jurassic period still exist.

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Challenger and Malone travel to the wilds of Brazil with Professor Summerlee, a quarrelsome and skeptical comparative anatomist; Lord John Roxton, an accomplished hunter of big game; two “halfbreeds”; several South American Indians; and a faithful assistant named Zambo. Challenger and Malone overcome a series of vicissitudes to reach a mysterious volcanic plateau that had been upthrust from the jungle floor and now preserves unique flora and fauna. When a pterodactyl swoops down to grab some meat cooking on the group’s campfire, Summerlee realizes that Challenger was right.

Eventually, Challenger, Summerlee, Roxton, and Malone reach the top of the sheer-sided mesa, only to be stranded and seemingly trapped when their makeshift bridge is destroyed by one of the treacherous halfbreeds, who is promptly shot. While on the summit plateau, Challenger and the others discover docile iguanodons, rapacious pterodactyls, dangerous bipedal carnivores, and a number of other Mesozoic creatures. Eventually, they also discover primates of two kinds: ape-men who are apparently the “missing link” called for by evolutionists, and their successors, early human beings. The two hominid groups appear to be constantly at war. Intervention by Challenger and his well-armed group ensures the extermination of the ape-men. A grateful human prince directs Challenger to a cave escape route that takes him and his party down from the mesa.

The expedition eventually returns to London, where Challenger confounds his remaining critics by displaying a carefully preserved pterodactyl. Malone, now a hero, returns confidently to Gladys only to find that she has married a wimpish legal clerk. Malone and the adventurous Roxton determine to revisit their secret prehistoric world in South America.

Setting

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The two principal locales for the novel's action are England and South America. In England the action takes place amid the closed-minded and stodgy scientific establishment. The outrageous Professor Challenger seems out of place among these small-minded, boring people and the continent of South America seems better suited to his expansive personality. The jungles there are dense and dangerous, and the native inhabitants are generally friendly.

By following an old map, Challenger leads his expedition to the Lost World, a great plateau with sheer cliffs all around. On the plateau, life has changed little since the age of dinosaurs.

Literary Techniques

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The Lost World begins with a love interest: Malone must go on a quest in order to win favor with Gladys. This quickly transforms into a goal-oriented narrative. Challenger shows Malone a drawing of a strange animal; "The head was like that of a bloated lizard, the trailing tail was furnished with upward-turned spikes, and the curved back was edged with a high serrated fringe." Challenger asserts that "it is actually sketched from the life." From that moment onward, the narrative is focused on finding, exploring, and revealing Maple White Land. Humor lightens the narrative, but characters and themes are kept orderly and clear because they appear when needed in a straightforward narrative line, each in its proper place. Professor Summerlee does not appear until chapter 7; he is the expedition's skeptic, but his presence in the story is not necessary until the landing in Brazil, when his "tall, gaunt, stringy figure" is fully described.

Literary Qualities

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The Lost World begins with a love interest: Malone must go on a quest in order to win favor with Gladys. Malone is the novel's point-of-view character, and as a young man who is coming of age he serves as the young reader's representative. His eyes see everything as new and wonderful. His love story quickly changes into an adventure. Challenger shows Malone a drawing of a strange animal: "The head was like that of a bloated lizard, the trailing tail was furnished with upward-turned spikes, and the curved back was edged with a high serrated fringe." Challenger tells him that "it is actually sketched from the life."

From that moment on, the narrative focuses on finding, exploring, and revealing The Lost World. Conan Doyle uses humor to lighten the narrative, but keeps his characters and themes orderly and clear. They appear when needed in this straightforward narrative line.

Social Concerns

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In The Lost World, science is boldly advancing civilization and extending knowledge. Professor George Edward Challenger — daring, rude, and athletic — represents the arrogance of scientists who believe that science will end ignorance. Throughout The Lost World, Conan Doyle satirizes the self-assured belief that scientists are noble men seeking out nature's truths. For instance, when Challenger and Edward Dunn Malone — a journalist and the novel's narrator — first meet, they brawl: "We did a Catherine wheel together down the passage. Somehow we gathered up a chair upon our way, and bounded on with it towards the street. My mouth was full of his beard, our arms were locked, our bodies intertwined, and that infernal chair radiated its legs all round us." The brilliant Professor Challenger loves a good fight, and thus he and Malone become companions in the hunt for The Lost World discovered by Maple White.

Searching the jungles of Brazil for a land of dinosaurs would seem to be serious business. Danger lurks at every step, yet Challenger, Malone, and their companions bicker and slight one another. Challenger foresees opportunities to grandstand with his discoveries and eventually does so, substituting showmanship for learned discussion. His scientific colleagues are so close-minded and downright dense that Challenger almost needs to grandstand to get their attention. Throughout The Lost World, humor points out that even scientists tend to prefer comfortable platitudes to discoveries that shake their beliefs.

Additional Commentary

Conan Doyle's satire on the closed-mindedness of science may instill a healthy skepticism of dogma, scientific or otherwisea good trait for young minds to develop. Most young adults will recognize that Challenger's highly individualistic behavior is humorous. Besides, Challenger actually does what good scientists dohe seeks out empirical evidence that will either prove or disprove his theories. He even accepts as a member of his research expedition someone who is skeptical of his ideas. In spite of his arrogance, Challenger practices the scientific method and recognizes the value of skeptical observation of his efforts to prove his hypothesis.

Literary Precedents

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In 1912, the acknowledged master of the exotic adventure tale was H, Rider Haggard, whose novels are still widely read today. His King Solomon's Mines (1885) most closely resembles The Lost World. In it, adventurer Allan Quatermain leads an expedition into the African wilderness to find ancient treasure. It and The Lost World are part of a well-defined literary subgenre sometimes called "boys' books" because they supposedly show how to become men. Conan Doyle's book has been often imitated, most notably by Edgar Rice Burroughs in The Land That Time Forgot (1924), a collection of three novellas about the land of Caspak in which evolution has taken a course independent of the rest of the world.

For Further Reference

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Beacham, Walton, ed. Research Guide to Biography and Criticism. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, 1985. The entry on Conan Doyle summarizes and evaluates the important biographies and critical books.

Beetz, Kirk H. "Arthur Conan Doyle." In Popular World Fiction: 1900-Present, edited by Walton Beacham and Suzanne Niemeyer. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, 1987. Although it repeats some of the analysis in the present article, this article covers Conan Doyle's life and career in more detail and offers in-depth analyses of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries The Hound of the Baskervilles and "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." It also includes a lengthy discussion of the numerous adaptations of the Holmes stories.

Conan Doyle, Arthur. Memories and Adventures. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924. Autobiography.

Higham, Charles. The Adventures of Conan Doyle: The Life of the Creator of Sherlock Holmes. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. Higham sets but the facts of Conan Doyle's life and career in this well-written biography.

Nagel, Ira B., and William E. Freedman, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography: Victorian Novelists After 1885. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. In spite of the condescending tone of the first page, the rest of the article on Conan Doyle is a fine summary of his life and work.

Stableford, Brian. "The Lost World" and "The Poison Belt." In Survey of Science Fiction Literature, edited by Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1979. Stableford summarizes the merits of the two novels.

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