“If in 100 years I am only known as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes then I will have considered my life a failure.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This review will contain minor spoilers.
Although Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, Mycroft Holmes, and Professor James Moriarty are Doyle’s most known creations, Professor Challenger, the hot-tempered scientist is another character that many readers will be familiar with. This is the first of the Professor Challenger series and the only one that I had read previously. I started reading religiously in 2012 and The Lost World was one of my favourite stories from my pre-review era. I decided to revisit this exuberant and vivacious science heavy adventure tale that features dinosaurs – and I’m truly glad that I did.
This narrative begins with journalist and international rugby player Edward Dunn Malone as he finally tells the love of his life Gladys about the emotions and feelings that he has been harbouring. Unfortunately, it is soon revealed that she doesn’t share the sentiments that Malone has been feeling and therefore he remains in the ‘friend-zone.’ He just isn’t exciting enough. She wants an adventurer, essentially so she can bask in the glory of her partner’s deeds. As the archetypal example of a member of the friendzone guild, he doesn’t even consider thinking that maybe she is a “bad apple” and not the right woman for him. The antithesis is what he thinks. Malone races down to the office of the Daily Gazette and begs his editor for an exciting, dangerous assignment… war correspondence perhaps? His superior states that there is no task more high risk or hazardous for a reporter than to interview the infamous scientist Professor Challenger.
After an eventful and volatile first meeting between the duo, the emotions cool down and Edward ends up sharing a cigarette with the incredibly intelligent, agog, slightly unorthodox and idiosyncratic scientist. I pictured him as being like an early 20th century Brian Blessed with the presented attitude, extravagance, and description. He divulges information about a potential Lost World which he has visited and the last time he was there, although only for a brief period, he shot a pterodactyl and presents the wing to the journalist. As the next few chapters progress it transpires that a team of three very different individuals will attempt to retrace Challenger’s steps to visit this plateau that seems to have ignored the laws of science that the rest of the world’s environments have adhered to.
In Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant characters take the concepts from being good to often phenomenal. The same is true here. The trio attempting this escapade (which has been mostly ridiculed by the science community as nothing but fancy and absurd), are Malone, adventurer, and Amazon exploration expert Lord John Roxton, and Challenger disparager and rival Professor Summerlee. They also have Zambo who is described as a “negro Hercules” and he acts as their Amazonian guide.
The beginning of the novel runs at a steady pace as the characters are introduced, foundations are set and the plan is set in motion. It really gets going when the ensemble reaches the infamous plateau. If I had to summarise this tale in a few words it would be “a gripping and electrifying dinosaur-fuelled adventure.” It features suspense, betrayals, surprising revelations, horror, and elements of mystery. Add into the mix a plethora of dinosaurs including Iguanadons, Allosaurus’ Plesiosaurus’ amongst many other assumed extinct species. Doyle must have done an immense amount of research for The Lost World regarding the science of the Jurassic period and also of his current day. Throughout, the story never comes across as if it was a dull science text. Complex discussions about plants, creatures, and the environment are often humorous as Professor Challenger and Professor Summerlee debate the facts – very rarely agreeing with each other’s hypothesis. The players also end up in the middle of a war fought between ape-people and the indigenous tribes of this raised island. The novel also features amazing set pieces that appear as bewildering yet exhilarating for the characters to behold as they were for me to read. There is always the nagging doubt in the back of the ensemble’s minds about how on earth they are going to escape the plateau and if they are sitting on one of science’s greatest ever discoveries that the world will be oblivious to if they don’t succeed and return to London.
“But surely no man had just such a day since the world began.”
Simply put, this is one of my favourite stories from when I started reading properly. It will always have a special place in my heart and I’m sure I’ll read it again in another seven years. An absolute classic.