Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the great Sherlock Holmes) probably inspired Michael Crichton’s famous Jurassic Park series. In fact, upon learning that I was going through The Lost World, most people assumed that it was Crichton’s version. This is a sad commentary. (Not that Crichton’s book The Lost World is bad; on the contrary, it was better than his original title in the famed series – Jurassic Park.) It’s just a bit sad that the original inspiration is being lost to time.
Unlike Crichton and other variations on this theme, Doyle’s work is not an adventure/thriller. Instead, Doyle wrote The Lost World as a polemic for evolution. I overheard a PBS documentary commenting that Doyle was intertwined with the finding of one of the first “prehistoric man hoaxes.” Doyle always attempted to portray it as the genuine article and was apparently shunned from scientific communities because of it. Then Doyle wrote this story in which a character claimed that “with enough skill, anything could be made to appear real.” This line caused Doyle’s critics to accuse him of developing the first “prehistoric man hoax.”
It was these facts that made me interested in The Lost World. I am frequently fascinated by books that are written as polemics. I enjoy trying to figure out what an author believed. So I picked up this story to learn more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In this story, Professor Challenger has challenged the scientific community with the announcement that on a plateau in South America existed a prehistoric world. During a great (and heated) debate, a proposal is made: a team should be appointed to go and verify the Professor’s claims. This team consisted of a newspaperman (Malone) who authors the story in the form of letters to his editor, a professor (Summerlee) who ardently denies the possibility of dinosaurs surviving to the present age, and a great hunter-explorer (Roxton). When the three reach South America, Professor Challenger makes a surprise appearance to lead the expedition.
The story tracks the tale of the four men as they make their way down the Amazon to the hidden plateau. On top of the plateau, they find a prehistoric world with a variety of surprises that I won’t spoil for you here.
The most interesting part of the book is the identification of the “bad team.” While many bad characters and creatures come and go in the pages, the main threat to “truth” is the established scientific community. It is not a story of religion suppressing science, but of science supressing diverse points of view. Ironically, Doyle stands in strange company. Creationists and to a lesser extent the Intelligent Design group find themselves discriminated against by the establishment.