Monday, April 18, 2011

Old Books: The Lost World

An interesting book by an even more interesting author. The Lost World takes you from London's more fashionably scientifically-oriented drawing rooms and smoke-filled Explorer's Clubs packed with hunting trophies and testosterone, and drops you right in the midst of the Amazon on a plateau (not Leng...though one does wonder...) where the dinosaurs still roam and not a discouraging word is allowed as all must maintain a suitable stiff upper lip. And a loaded high-powered hunting rifle.

When you first look for Sir Arthur's novel, should you ever decide to go do such a thing, you'll find that there are quite a few other entries for Lost World out there. The Lost World page at Wikipedia is rather useful for a jumping-off point to go hare-ing about looking into all the various other forms and versions of the Lost World concept/trope. In fact the Lost World theme is an entire genre unto itself. And it's a very fun one to go exploring as a reader and literarily-excavating as an exercise in data-mining and research as an author/game master/game designer as well. There is also a list of Non-Fictional Lost Worlds at Wikipedia, which we only discovered by chance. That might come in handy down the road...

The Plateau within the Amazon where the Lost World takes place might have been inspired by Mount Roraima, or the tepui or table-top mountains found in South America. It is interesting, and potentially useful to a worldbuilder to take a look at the page on Table (landforms) at Wikipedia in order to get a feel for all the options that are available for developing these sorts of terrains and geographies in a fictional or game-oriented setting. There are such things as tuyas, mesas, potreros, buttes, plateaus, and Fluvial Terraces to consider, many of which we've been adapting for use on Riskail. Plateaus have a lot to offer in terms of creating isolated communities, pockets of lost civilizations or lost races, providing niche ecologies of monstrous survivals from primordial epochs, etc. They're well worth considering in your setting. Look at Blair's excellent Iridium Plateau at Planet Algol for an example.

For $30 you can get your hands on Bradley Deane's article: Imperial Barbarians: Primitive Masculinity in Lost World Fiction via Cambridge Journals Online, or you could save the beer money and go over to Jessica Amanda Salmonson's amazingly erudite and wonderfully useful site Aunt Violet's Book Museum and click on the links she provides to her compilations of reviews and notes regarding various forms of antiquated literature including her very handy Lost Race Check-list, her excellent essay A Meditation on Lost Race Literature, and her piece on Mr. Machen is rather interesting as well--though we'll be getting to Machen soon enough in another post, probably several.


Professor Challenger, the star of the show in the novel The Lost World is one of those daring, dashing, intrepid two-fisted  Man Of Science who also happen to be very handy with a rifle. Claude Rains played Prof. Challenger in the 1960 movie (directed by Irwin Allen and including a lot of his infamously  over-recycled footage from his various TV productions), John Rhys Davies took up the role in the 1992 adaptation, and Bob Hoskins took over in the 2001 version. The character is right up there with Alan Quartermain, Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes and Lord Greystoke.

Here is how Professor Challenger was described initially in The Lost World:
His appearance made me gasp. I was prepared for something strange, but not for so overpowering a personality as this. It was his size, which took one's breath away-his size and his imposing presence. His head was enormous, the largest I have ever seen upon a human being. I am sure that his top hat, had I ventured to don it, would have slipped over me entirely and rested on my shoulders. He had the face and beard, which I associate with an Assyrian bull; the former florid, the latter so black as almost to have a suspicion of blue, spade-shaped and rippling down over his chest. The hair was peculiar, plastered down in front in a long, curving wisp over his massive forehead. The eyes were blue-grey under great black tufts, very clear, very critical, and very masterful. A huge spread of shoulders and a chest like a barrel were the other parts of him which appeared above the table, save for two enormous hands covered with long black hair. This and a bellowing, roaring, rumbling voice made up my first impression of the notorious Professor Challenger.
Now that's one heck of an initial impression. They don't build them quite like that anymore. Perhaps they ought to. Haven't we suffered through enough morally ambiguous whiny weaklings? Where's the great grand-daughter of Professor Challenger? What's she up to these days? Is anyone writing about her adventures? They ought to be. We'd read them. In a heart-beat. Hey, whatever happened to Section Zero--there was a female descendant of Professor Challenger in that super-group...too bad Gorilla Comics folded...maybe we should further develop a few other descendants of the good Professor, possibly as special or Displaced NPCs for various nefarious gaming purposes...the idea does have a lurid sort of Wold Newton allure to it.

You can find out more about the further adventures of the original Professor Challenger, as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the following links: The Poison Belt, The Land of Mist, When the World Screamed, and The Disintegration Machine.

You can read these stories by clicking over to these sites: The Poison Belt at Ye Old Library or Project Gutenberg, The Land of Mist at Classic Literature Library, When the World Screamed at the Classic Literature Library, and The Disintegration Machine, again at the Classic Literature Library site.

The handy Wikipedia page on Professor Challenger also has a lengthy list of Other Author's uses and abuses of Sir Arthur's bombastic master of the direct application of scientifically correct brute force that you can examine and use to rationalize your own use of the guy--or his offspring--in your own stories or game scenarios. He is in the Public Domain, so the issue of canonical depictions and authorized interpretations are not only moot, they're spurious and silly. Anything past Doyle is open to question and completely disposable and eminently dis-regardable.  None of it is necessary nor required to be adhered to, nor adopted. It's all subject to your personal veto or emendation, or adaptation depending on how you want to deal with other people's potentially copyrighted sub-creations and spin-offs. Personally, we tend to opt to ignore everything past the original source materials and forge ahead along our own lines, in our own direction. You decide what works best for you.

The Lost World is an amazingly fun romp through the jungle-like backwash of discredited scientific theories that were once taken seriously by very, very earnest authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is a great example of how to further elaborate and expand upon out-moded and exploded, spurious or superceded scientific theories such as the perennial Bierce-Machen-Lovecraft crowd-pleaser about primordial survivals, Preformationism, Aristotelian Physics, Luminiferous Aether,  or the Hollow Earth, amongst a plethora of other debunked and discarded theories left lying broken and abandoned along the minefields of scientific orthodoxy and its rigorous enforcement of conformity, compliance and circumspection.

Crack-pottery and pseudoscience can be a writer's and a game designer's and a game master's best friend. All you need is a good guide like Professor Challenger or his grand-niece to lead you through the dense undergrowth to some of the Lost Worlds that have been just waiting to be re-discovered and explored. Just be sure to pack plenty of extra ammo and don't forget your tooth-brush.

There are a lot of other Old Books out there worth taking a look at--and we've just gotten started...


  1. In a clever bit of speculative geneaology (based on their personalities and physiognomy) Farmer has Challenger be an ancestor of Monk Mayfair, of Doc Savage's 5.

  2. @Trey: That's a pretty good fit, actually. But even so, we're still kicking around the idea of a group of descendants, one of whom traces their lineage back to the good Professor. Might have to consider linking back into Monks while we're at it. That would give us a connection to Doc while we are at it...hmmm...thanks for the lead/idea. This just might work really well...

  3. I greatly enjoy Conan Doyle's "The Lost World". There are some passages of true beauty therein. But I especially love the book's ending. Damn women! :D

  4. Very cool article. It's been ages since I've read the Professor Challenger stories, I really need to revisit them.
    I just watched David Attenborough's "The Private Life of Plants" yesterday and he visits Mount Roraima in the last episode. That is probably worth watching for anyone who wants to get a feel for the place, it really is unique.

    Come to think of it, the whole series is worth watching and you will never look at plants the same way again. There might be some RPG monsters there.

  5. @Geoffrey: It is a fun novel, not at all as painful to wade through as some of the older fiction can sometimes get (cough Zanoni cough, cough). The ending works...

    @Jedidiah: Attenborough's Life on Earth was great stuff. We'll have to check out his latest work. Thanks for the link. Plants make for excellent monsters...


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