“Some believe what separates men from animals is our ability to reason. Others say it’s language or romantic love, or opposable thumbs. Living here in this lost world, I’ve come to believe it is more than our biology. What truly makes us human is our unending search, our abiding desire for immortality.”
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, for those that haven’t heard of this famous classic, is about an expedition to South America to verify claims of a discovery of an area in which dinosaurs and other ancient creatures continue to live. I gave the book a try because (1) I was looking for inspiration for some travel/nature writing that I’m attempting, (2) Arthur Conan Doyle and this book are famous, and (3) the digital download of the book was free.
It was written over a hundred years ago, and I’m still trying to work out how I feel about it.
The book feels simultaneously modern and incredibly out-of-date. The language of the book is easy-to-read, with a style sort-of similar to books by HG Wells or Jules Verne. The author’s descriptions of the environment are so vivid and the characters are so well-drawn that I was able to easily imagine the goings-on. At times it felt as though I was on the adventure as well. Written from the first person point-of-view of a newspaperman sending reports back to the London, there’s not a ton of dialogue, being instead a series of actions and impressions made by that reporter.
This first-person point-of-view rendition of the tale is why I am so vexed as to the appropriate reaction to the work. The reporter and the rest of the adventurers make certain (sometimes violent) decisions that might have been in keeping with the “Let’s Subdue Nature!” spirit of the time in which the novel was written but leave me, a hundred years later, somewhat horrified. The reporter’s dispatches are also fairly casually racist. However, it appears that the author mocks his own characters throughout the book, signaling that he is not necessarily in agreement with their actions. Arthur Conan Doyle was friends with the real-life explorer Percy Fawcett, who, according to the film The Lost City of Z, had some pretty modern ideas relating to the abilities of native tribes.
After I finished the novel, I couldn’t decide HOW to process what I had just read. Was it an author criticizing his society and the current scientific atmosphere, mourning a Lost World caused by his contemporaries? Or should it just be read as a straight adventure story, written in and of its time?
That duality of possible interpretations is one of the reasons for me to recommend this novel. I like complicated stuff. Another reason is that Doyle does put on a freaking clinic for detailed, descriptive travel writing, even if in this case, the traveling didn’t occur and the destination doesn’t really exist. It is also heartening to see that even a century ago, dudes whined about women in much the same way as they do today, with lines like “She could but refuse me, and better be a repulsed lover than an accepted brother.” Those little time-capsule moments, to me, show a kind of shared human experience, that make long-ago actions and characters and authors and HISTORY just that much more real. Maybe you guys would like that too.
My rating: 4 stars
Apologies for the lateness of this review. For about a year, I was able to crank out one review a week, but lately I’ve missed that target a few times. Sometimes life, and new fun things, just gets in the way of desire and old favorites. Anyway, it’s nice to be back in the realm of spouting my opinions on stuff. I’ll try to get back to being more consistent.