Monday, November 05, 2012

Book Review - The Lost World

As a teenager, I had a lot of fun when Jurassic Park came to the theaters in the '90s. After enjoying the movie, I sought out and read the book which I also found very enjoyable. Spurred by its success, a sequel was created, The Lost World: A Novel. Like many sequels, it wasn't as good as the original. It still had its fun elements but for me at least, it lost a good deal of the charm and fun from the first book.

I think in part it was the Jurassic Park sequel that kept me from seeking out and reading the far earlier book The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. Not only was I not terribly impressed by the 1990s book/movie of the same name, but I was a little unsure of the transition Conan Doyle would make going from Sherlock Holmes to a world of dinosaurs. Fortunately, I finally gave it a try.

Not surprisingly, the Conan Doyle book is considerably slower paced than the Michael Chrichton adventures. The book was serialized in 1912 is set in the late 19th or early 20th century. The story is told through a series of newspaper articles and letters written by Malone, a newspaper reporter eager to impress his girlfriend and make a name for himself in the news world. Malone's editor McArdle gives Malone the assignment of interviewing Professor Challenger. Challenger is a scientist making outrageous claims and evoking his violent temper against anybody who questions them. Before long, Malone finds himself on a journey deep into the jungles of South America in search of a world which Challengers claims is inhabited by prehistoric creatures.

As you might expect from the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, this book is filled with lengthy and very detailed descriptions of settings, characterizations, behaviors and motivations. Malone has a reporter's eye for detail taken to the extreme. He painstakingly describes the minute details of Professor Challenger as well as the various traveling companions with whom Malone sets off in search of the Lost World. The early parts of the book are set in London and involve weighty scenes of research and discussion to decide what's what and what's to be done about it all. When we finally do start winding through the jungles, we are still given intense descriptions of the surroundings and the actions.

For those looking for adventure, you'll finally find it about midway through the book once the characters have finally found passage into the elusive Lost World. Though even once they finally reach their destination, there are still many pages of suspenseful investigation before any major confrontation with prehistoric adventure. Their investigation and exploration is careful and methodical. As they are confronted with challenges, they quietly and calmly attempt deduce solutions as efficiently as possible even amidst deadly time constraints.

Looking back over my thoughts, it may sound that this is a dry travel narrative rather than a rousing adventure. While it does have elements of a 19th century travelogue, the book also does a good job of amazing the reader with new ideas and concepts as well as taking us on an exciting adventure with unexpected twists and turns. I admit that it was sometimes hard to imagine that these adventurers would be so calm and level headed among all the troubles and adventures they encounter, but part of that is just the style of the era. The other part comes from the distinct characterization of these individuals. Each of the travelers possesses a personality prone more to smart, strategic level-headedness than rash and frantic running around.

The first portion of the book was an interesting read and well crafted. I enjoyed the style and pacing overall but often found myself wanting to skip ahead to "where the real action was." Once we got into the adventure portion of this adventure novel, the style of writing remained precise and well defined while still providing us with surprising new elements and mysteries. I think that if you were to start reading the book at the midpoint, without first becoming accustomed to Conan Doyle's narrative style, the adventure would have felt more strained. You gain a greater sense of the style after plodding along with Malone and the others as they dealt with the minutia of getting the journey underway and slowly reaching their destination.

I suspect that Conan Doyle's "Lost World" was for its time what Jurassic Park was for ours…a fun and exciting tale of fantastic adventure set along the edge of speculative science and imagination. I really enjoyed this story. After finishing this book, I learned that Conan Doyle wrote a number of other stories featuring Professor Challenger. I'm looking forward to reading those and some of his other non-Sherlockian works.

4 out of 5 stars

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1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

nice....i love this book...and the stories of this age....some really pure science fiction back then...