"The Lost World" marks my second foray into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work outside of the Sherlock Holmes canon (The first being the incredibly tedious "Mystery of Cloomber"...but more on that in a later review.) Almost from the start, I had an incredible Love/Hate relationship with the story. Overall, I did love the book. The narrative was evenly paced, as was the action. Conan Doyle has a way with visulaizations that put you right in the driver's seat, rather than as a spectator. Although the story would occasionally get bogged by stopping for a moment to study one kind of flora or fauna, the lecture never lasted very long before starting off again on the trail (much the same sort of thing one would run into while reading Michael Crichton's work.) And the language- oh, the language! If you read this book for no other reason, read it for the rich, precise, and absolutely lucious command of language Conan Doyle has. Most of the characters are wonderful and lovable in their own respects. There's Malone, the love-lorn reporter, out ot make a name for himself and win the heart of the woman he loves by proving himself an adventurer (Who among us has not done something stupid in the name of infatuation?). Then there's Summerlee, the cantankerous zoological professor (and resident fussbudget) who acts as the level-headed Devil's Advocate for the mission. By far, though, my absolute favorite character was Lord John Roxton, who was essentially the Allan Quartermain stand-in for the story. Game Hunter, Adventurer, Capitalist, Moral Conscience, Devoted to Duty, and Stiff-Upper Lipped in the Face of Certain Doom, John Roxton is truly A Man among Men. Seriously, if Roxton could be anymore of a quintissential Englishman, Gilbert and Sullivan wouldv'e written him into H.M.S Pinafore. But, that is what is so wonderful about him. He is just unapolgetically awesome at what he does.
...And then there's George.
I don't know whether he is a walking metaphor for turn-of-the-century British Imperialism, a subtle satire of some of the prominent scientists of the day, or simply an amalgimation of the kinds of character traits Conan Doyle found hilariously offensive. Maybe he isn't any of these things, but instead a character Conan Doyle well and truly thought would be appreciated and now stands as an example of how lack of character development can sometimes backfire on a writer. Whatever the reason, "Professor" George Edward Challenger has got to be, in my personal estimation, one of the biggest ass clowns in all of literature. A first year psychology major could recognize the sociopath with meglomaniacal tendencies lurcking inside George (Hell, Malone's boss outright said it!) He's a terror to his long-suffering wife, condescending and verbally abusive to his peers and physically abusive to members of the press. If he is contradicted in his beliefs even slightly, he will lose his temper and engage in fisticuffs at the drop of a hat...only to regain his temper in the time it takes to pick that hat back up, if placated. He also sulks like a child when he doesn't get his way, which twice brings him into conflict with Lord Roxton- once, when Roxton suggests that he be the first to cross the bridge onto the plateau to make sure the coast is clear (as opposed to Challenger, who wanted to cross first because he thought it was his divine right), and the second time, when Challenger was yelling in the middle of a field amidst a massacre of iguanodons and Roxton told him to keep his damn voice down so as not to attract the attention of whatever killed the dinosaurs and Challenger (a grown man, mind you) decides to throw a tantrum until Lord Roxton- the guy to trying to keep him safe- apologizes (apologizes!)
...Yet, being a little bitch about everything isn't what makes George so awful.
I think the thing which disturbs me the most about G.E.C, even more than his very evident mental instability, is the fact that the aformentioned instability is the only thing which might explain away why he is otherwise so painfully bad at his job. First, instead of sending down a team of 20 or 30 trained experts with pleanty of provisions and a detailed notebooks of his findings to guide them on their journey like any self respecting peer of his day would have done (any, in many documented cases, actually did), he decided to send three dudes, only one whom (Roxton) has the slightest clue about the lay of the land. The other members of this intrepid team consist of an elderly zoologist who ought to be long past the point of any field research, and a newspaper reporter whose greatest qualification is that he's pretty good at rugby. Admittedly he also sends along some Indians and a helper named Zambo to aid them on their journey (read: carry shit so they don't have to), but two of the Indians turn out to be enemies of Roxton (who, for a master gamehunter, seems to have a poor sense of situational awareness) and Zambo (possible, the most sensible of the bunch) later decides to remain at the base camp because he probably the most sensible of the bunch. Then Challenger hands them detailed coordinates of this myterious plateau, with orders not to open it until they get to the destination point. Lo and behold, when they arrive and open the envelope, they discover a blank sheet of paper, at which point Challenger strolls in and immediately takes comand of the expedition as though that had been the plan all along. That's not simply a dick move on George's part, but also a particularly reckless one for a man of science (considering all of the things that could have gone wrong in between leaving England and arriving in South America) which says to me that he is now making it up as he goes. So, they finally reach the plateau and make a bridge out of a conveniently tall tree to corrs the chasm that separates the two land masses. Naturally, the tree collapses cutting them off from civilization, but instead of making sure they can escape the plateau again, George decides to file that little peccadillo under "Shit I'll Deal With Later" and heads on his merry way with his bewildered companions in tow. Later, the group is attacked and captured by ape-men, huge hairy anthropoids with a warlike temperament. While the others are appropriately in fear of their lives, George is busy trying to classify the damn species. No worry about escape, no concern about mortal peril. No, no, let's just have a seat and play a round "Guess the Genus." Meanwhile Roxton, of the opinion that "ain't nobody got time for that," manages to escape and get help. Ironically enough, during this captivity, we discover that the are other human beings on the plateau (Indians, specifcally), but does George give one fig about where they came from or, perchance if they happen to know a way home? Nope. Not one solitary damn given all that day to the nature of the native Indians (Way to be a scientist, George). Finally Roxton come back with Malone (who had wandered off during the initial melee) and frees them all, including the Indians, whom the gang takes back to the Indian village. There, Challenger shoots his mouth off again. First, he assumes the Indians are "unevolved," despite that fact that Malone the reporter (not a trained anthropologist) is able to figure out that they not only built their own homes, but also have a social heirarchy, as indicated by the presence of someone Malone correctly identifies as the Chief- all of which Challenger should have been able to pick up on. He then siezes on of the Indians, not bothering to ask whether grabbing one's hosts is some sort of social faux-pas punishable by death. Finally, at the end, one of the Indians takes pity on the company and shows them a way out. They manage to get back to England and present their findings, and it is there that Goerge Edward Challenger commits the greatest sin of all. Earlier in the story, the gang encounters a colony of pterodactyls, which comes close to eating them. Clearly having learned from this experience, George decides to capture a baby one and bring it back to society as proof of his findings. Anyone who's ever seen "King Kong" of any number of Tarzan films knows what about to happen here. Quite naturally, at the perfect moment, Challenger releases the creature from it box, which causes no amount of pandemonium and allows the pterodactyl to escape through a open window before George can capture it again (really didn't think that through at all, did you George?) The Pterodactyl is last seen flying out over the Atlantic, presumably trying to get home to its family before it starves to death in a hostile enviroment. That's right...George Challenger, supposed preeminent scientist of his generation, stole one of the last dinosaurs in existence from its enviroment, apparently without any real plans on how to properly care for it, brough it thousands of miles from it's home and millions of years out of it's time, and dropped it in the modern world to die alone - all so he could rub it in the faces of his opponents. Way to go, George. Way to go.
So, there you have it. On the one hand, it truly is a well written tale, chock full of danger, suspense, and adventure. Well written characters, a thrilling narrative, and a such descriptive language as I have never seen outside the works of Jules Verne and J. Ryder Haggard. Lord Roxton is a badass, Summerlee will remind you of your grumpy grandfather, and Malone is so thoroughly likeable that you immediately place yourself in his shoes, regardless of your age or sex. And, on the other end of the whole thing, is George. I gave the novel the 3 1/2 star rating and encourage you to read it. However, I also recommend you buy it in hardcover somewhere. It will stand up much better to you occasionally hurling it across the room while muttering "Goddamit, George" every once in while.