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Literature / The Lost World (1912)

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle moved from detective stories to more fanciful fare with this 1912 novel of adventure and discovery.

Pugnacious Professor Challenger claims that he's found a place in the Amazon cut off from the rest of the world and housing all kinds of species previously believed to be extinct. He sets off on an expedition to prove his find, accompanied by a skeptical colleague, Professor Summerlee; the cool-headed sportsman Lord John Roxton; and the narrator, young reporter Edward Malone. They soon find Professor Challenger's lost world, an isolated plateau inhabited by dinosaurs, primitive humans, and savage ape-men, but when the bridge back to the outer world collapses, their journey of discovery becomes a fight for survival.

Inspired a bunch of films and TV series, including a 1925 film adaptation that featured groundbreaking Stop Motion animation and was a Trope Maker for movies about dinosaurs, as well as the television series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and The Lost World (2001).

Followed by two sequels: The Poison Belt and The Land of Mist.

This book contains examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Ned Malone is rejected by the girl he loves because he's never done anything adventurous, so he joins the Challenger expedition to prove himself. She marries someone else (a solicitor's clerk!) while the expedition is away.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Professor Challenger is an Adventure Palaeontologist, who goes off into the depths of the Amazon jungle to find dinosaurs.
  • Agent Scully: A few. Chief among them is Professor Summerlee, who is Challenger's most ardent detractor and believes him to be nothing more than a fraud. He comes around halfway through the novel once they actually get to the lost world. There's also Malone's friend Tarp Henry, a bacteriologist who dismisses Challenger as a huckster just looking for attention.
  • Anachronism Stew: The plateau is populated by otherwise extinct animals from various different eras of the past, ranging from Living Dinosaurs (themselves from different periods) to Pleistocenic megafauna and early hominids. Challenger and Summerlee theorise that the ancestors of all those creatures must have been simply stranded in this remote area by chance through the ages.
  • Avenging the Villain: The expedition's treacherous guide Gomez wants to kill Roxton in order to avenge notorious slave trader Pedro Lopez, who was Gomez's brother.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Challenger is described as having monstrously bushy eyebrows.
  • Bluff the Impostor: When Malone is trying to gain Professor Challenger's trust by pretending to be a fellow scientist, Challenger quizzes him on various scientific terms, all of which Malone claims to be familiar with. Challenger then informs him that he had been speaking gibberish and tackles him out the door.
  • Bold Explorer: Professor Challenger is a man of science who has no hesitation to set off and explore a mysterious plateau in the Amazon.
  • Break the Haughty: At the scientific conference, Challenger and Summerlee's Smug Snake of a mutual rival Illingworth tries to discredit them, insisting only a living specimen of prehistoric life would convince him their story is true. Cue Challenger unveiling the captured pterodactyl, and Illingworth promptly shutting the hell up.
  • Bridge Logic: The explorers reach the otherwise inaccessible plateau by felling a large tree to bridge the gap.
  • Bring It Back Alive: A Pterodactyl is dramatically unveiled in London, proving that Challenger was right.
  • Cannibal Tribe: The expedition briefly passes by one on their way to the plateau, but they never actually encounter them.
  • Cassandra Truth: Professor Challenger knows there are Living Dinosaurs on a remote plateau somewhere in the Amazon jungle. He just can't make anyone believe him, no matter what sort of evidence he brings up (including hauling back a living dinosaur).
  • Contagious Cassandra Truth: Members of his expedition, while initially sceptical of his claims (Summerlee joins it solely to prove to Challenger personally that he's a charlatan and a fraud), end up sharing Challenger's predicament - nobody buys their story.
  • Cool Guns: Roxton is a gun collector and has quite a few rifles. He gives Malone a Bland's .577 axite express to use on the expedition, while he himself is always armed with his personal .470 ("telescopic sight, double ejector, point blank up to three-fifty"), the gun he killed Pedro Lopez with.
  • Da Editor: McArdle, the Scottish editor of the Gazette who suggests Malone interview Challenger.
  • Darkest Africa: It's the Amazon delta, but otherwise played pretty straight, with intrepid white people plunging into the depths of the jungle.
  • Did Not Die That Way: When recounting their adventure at the conference, Summerlee comes to the point where Gomez and Manuel betrayed the group and were killed. He glosses over the details and simply says they "died faithfully in our service," as opposed to "they doublecrossed us and we killed them," so as to avoid having to give awkward and potentially incriminating questions about how the two died.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Pretty much the whole reason Malone goes on the expedition is to impress Gladys, who claims that she is holding out for some kind of brave hero to fall in love with. When he gets back, he finds out that she's married a boring clerk.
  • Disney Villain Death: Upon being shot by Roxton, Gomez plunges screaming to his death off of the pinnacle.
  • Dumb Dinos: The various prehistoric animals, including the Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and pterodactyls, come off as backwards, grotesque monsters that need to be subjugated for progress. Since they're so stupid, however, they can soak up a lot of damage and die slowly.
  • Evil Gloating: Upon trapping the expedition on the plateau, Gomez stops to give his Motive Rant, allowing Roxton to blow him away. Lampshaded by Malone, who points out that if Gomez had simply wreaked his vengeance and escaped, he (and Manuel) would've survived.
  • Frazetta Man: The ape-men on the plateau, who become the primary antagonists for much of the novel. This example is perhaps a bit less Mighty Whitey than some others, because the outsider main characters would be toast without the army of the more human natives of the plateau. Much is made of Professor Challenger's resemblance to the chief of the ape-men.
  • Genius Bruiser: Professor Challenger is a distinguished scientist, and also an enormously strong, musclebound individual.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: Lord John Roxton goes off on the expedition for fun.
  • Great White Hunter: Lord John Roxton is an expert hunter. One of the chief reasons why he's interested in the expedition is the perspective of hunting game nobody else has ever hunted before, and his skills, along with his stock of guns, become invaluable once reaching the plateau.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Many disparaging comments are made about the villains being "half-caste" (i.e. mestizo, of mixed European and Indigenous South American ancestry). It's made uncomfortably clear that the heroes who say this think mixed race people have unpleasant traits inherently.
  • Hate Sink: Scottish scientist James Illingworth, who both Challenger and Summerlee hate. Summerlee considers him his arch-enemy. Their mutual dislike of Illingworth is one of the two rivals' earliest bonding moments.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • A semi-inflated hot air balloon is described as a "flaccid organ".
    • The explorers are described as tossing "faggots" onto their campfire.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Challenger sneers at the others' disgust with the blood tick found on Malone, saying "You should cultivate the scientific eye and the detached scientific mind." Summerlee promptly tells Challenger that a tick has crawled down down Challenger's shirt, whereupon Challenger screams with fear and rips his shirt and coat off.
  • I Am One of Those, Too: Early on, Malone pretends to be a paleontologist to gain Challenger's confidence, but the Professor suspects something is up and asks him if he is familiar with several completely made-up theories, to which Malone answers in the affirmative.
  • I Don't Want to Ruin Our Friendship: "Oh, Ned, our friendship has been so good and pleasant!". It seems like Gladys just isn't in love with Edward, but he doesn't take the hint.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The ape men throw their victims off of a high cliff to get impaled on bamboo poles. One of the first things the expedition finds upon arriving is the skeletal remains of Maple White's partner James Colver stuck to them.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Edward Malone, who goes on an expedition to the unexplored wild of South America for a story—and to win Gladys' love.
  • Jerkass:
    • Professor Challenger is vain, egotistical, obnoxious, and condescending. The fact that he's right about the dinosaurs only partially mitigates this.
    • Dr. Illingworth is such a Hate Sink that virtually nobody sides with him in his efforts to discredit Challenger and Summerlee at the end.
  • Last-Name Basis: Professor Summerlee is the only main character whose first name is never mentioned.
  • Living Dinosaurs: One of the earliest examples. Dinosaurs survived in the South American jungle.
  • Lost World: The high altitude and physical isolation of the plateau is the justification for why all kinds of weird things survive there.
  • Mammal Monsters Are More Heroic: The prehistoric mammals that appear —the Megaloceros and glyptodonts— do not get the Prehistoric Monster treatment, unlike most of the dinosaurs, with the Megaloceros in particular described as a fairly majestic creature.
  • Men Act, Women Are: This trope is almost described word-for-word in this novel. In the first chapter protagonist Edward proposes to his girlfriend, who rejects it and basically says she is going to dump him. He asks why and she describes that she wants her boyfriend to be a man of action and heroism who is constantly acting, and she then says that women are meant to sit on the sidelines being proud of their pro-active boyfriends, and she says she feels he is not a man of action. This prompts him to undertake the journey which forms the plot. As this novel was written in 1912, it shows this trope is well over a century old. That being said, even here this trope is somewhat subverted as, while the party is away, Gladys ends up marrying a decidedly non-active legal clerk instead. Perhaps she was just trying to let him down gently.
  • Mighty Whitey: The brave white folks with guns help the local tribe of Homo sapiens to defeat the ape men. And Roxton gives a bit of backstory exposition about how he helped end slavery in South America.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: None of the dinosaurs encountered (Stegosaurus, Iguanodon, Megalosaurus/Allosaurus) are species known from South America. At one point, a sighting of a "scaly ant-eater" (another name for pangolins) is mentioned, but those are native to the Old World (real anteaters are native to South America however). Partially Science Marches On in regards to the dinosaurs, since the Mesozoic fossil record of South America was very poor at the time.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: A rare literary example. The plateau is explicitly somewhere in the Amazon basin. Even in Doyle's times it was common knowledge the basin has no plateaus and being, well, a basin, is almost completely flat. Ironically, there are places all around it in South America that would easily match the descriptions Doyle was going for.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Professor. Challenger. Certainly fear-inducing in how he's first described—and he doesn't disappoint. "Pugnacious" barely scratches the surface of just what sort of enormous tool he is. Malone's first interaction with the man ends up with being physically assaulted, and he has to cover for Challenger just so the guy won't get arrested again for getting into yet another brawl.
  • Not Helping Your Case: As McArdle points out, Challenger's rudeness and short temper caused him to alienate anyone who might have taken his claims seriously.
  • Not So Extinct: Professor Challenger brings a pterodactyl back to civilization to prove the expedition was real. It escapes while it's being shown off, resulting in a case of species lost and found and then lost again.
  • Oblivious to Hints: Gladys, right from the start, makes it clear that she has zero interest in Malone. He is so oblivious to it, he embarks on what she meant as a Snipe Hunt with full dedication and is genuinely shocked when she simply marries another when he's away.
  • Off the Record: Prof. Challenger, who hates the hell out of journalists, tells Malone that nothing Challenger tells him can be printed without Challenger's permission.
  • Oh, Crap!: The normally unflappable Roxton is momentarily frozen in shock when he finds the "rookery of pterodactyls."
  • Old Retainer: Austin, the Challengers' chauffeur. He's the only one of their servants who hasn't quit because of Professor Challenger's Hair-Trigger Temper.
  • Only Sane Man: After the war with the ape-men, Zambo advises that the explorers get off of the plateau before they get themselves killed. "It is the voice of sanity!" cries Summerlee.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Roxton's standard M.O. when dealing with slavers is to shoot them. He has a notch on his rifle for every single one of them he's killed.
  • Red Herring: As the gang is trying to figure out how to escape from the plateau, Challenger finds a mudpot that is venting hydrogen. It seems like a Chekhov's Gun, and in fact he does later start building a balloon, but they never use it, instead escaping through a secret way in one of the caves. At least two different adaptations use it, each for different purposes.
  • Red Is Heroic: Roxton is a heroic Gentleman Adventurer who kills slavers for fun and has red hair. The natives even refer to him as "The Red Chief."
  • Scenery Porn: Malone waxed rhapsodic about the "green, pellucid river" and beautiful country that they are sailing through.
  • Secret Test of Character: When he and Malone first meet, Roxton explains that his flatmate Sir John Ballinger is suffering from delirium and hasn't eaten. He's armed with a gun and will shoot at anyone who comes near him. Roxton asks Malone to help him tackle the guy and "give the old dear the supper of his life" in order to save him from starvation. After some hesitation, Malone agrees, only for Roxton to explain he already did it and he just wanted to see whether Malone would rise to the challenge or back down, in order to see whether he can depend on him on the trip. Malone passed with flying colors.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Inverted. Malone accidentally takes the group's shotgun instead of a rifle to explore the jungle in the middle of the night. He describes the shotgun as "useless" (it's loaded with bird-shot) and throws it away after a megalosaurus begins chasing him.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Roxton certainly thinks so, and makes a hobby out of killing slavers.
  • Small, Secluded World: The plateau, which became a Lost World full of otherwise extinct creatures as a result of its isolation and the climate zone it is in.
  • Staircase Tumble: Upon learning Malone is a reporter, Challenger attacks him, and the two men go tumbling right out the front door of the Challenger house and down the front steps.
  • This Is My Boomstick: The humans native to the plateau are impressed by the white folks' weapons.
    "...the natives looked upon us with a mixture of fear and gratitude, since by our strange powers we had aided them to destroy their hereditary foe."
  • Title Drop: "You are a Columbus of science who has discovered a lost world", says Malone to Challenger.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Gomez and Manuel, who are "treacherous half-breeds".
  • Unbuilt Trope: The heroes discover Lost World. However, they never get any validation or recognition for their deeds, end up mostly mocked by the outside world and their biggest achievement is Roxton hauling back a small fortunenote  in form of a pocketful of diamonds. The Sequel Hook in the end is more about the characters' desperation to prove they were right than And the Adventure Continues - and despite Doyle writing books using the same characters, it is never turned into an actual sequel or the subject even brought up again.
  • You Killed My Father: Gomez wants revenge on Roxton for having killed his brother Pedro Lopez.
  • You No Take Candle: Zambo, the faithful black servant who waits for the heroes on the other side of the canyon, talks like this. "What I do now?"