A project of the heart begins now, which I have planned for a long time: A journey to the Lost World including dinos, snakes, giant insects, a highly scientific expeditionary force and more. Maybe you’ll even meet a giant gorilla in the jungle? I’m really hyped because this project allows for a whole lot of cool stuff from movies/TV/literature/comics/…. makes possible.
The Lost World
Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. He was a prolific author and also wrote a great deal more, most of which is hardly known in Germany. His novel “The Lost World”, which is the prelude to a series of books about the choleric Professor Challenger, is probably best known in this country. In the original, the novel is called “The Lost World” and has already been distributed in Germany with the more accurate translation “Die verlorene Welt”. Why “forgotten” is considered better than “lost” is beyond me. Published in 1912, Challenger quickly became the second most popular figure next to Detective Holmes.
The Lost World is primarily an adventure novel, but it can also be classified as science fiction. If one understands science fiction as the original form of a story that deals with exploring and transcending known boundaries on the basis of science, then it is even more of a science fiction novel. Stylistically and in terms of content, it fits in wonderfully with comparable works by Jule Vernes or even H.G. Wells. I knew the theme and had also seen a loose series adaptation in part, but did not know the novel until now. I urgently wanted to make up for that on the occasion of my project and ordered the book without further ado.
There are not many options for such an old book – apparently only a German translation is currently on the market. As so often with classics, the Anaconda publishing house distributes a dirt-cheap edition* – that’s the german translation, but you can find english versions, too. Simply made and certainly not newly translated, it serves exactly its purpose – especially since I prefer an older translation for such stories anyway. Sometimes these are a bit wooden or awkward and use an “old-fashioned” language, which fits perfectly into the time. Often this adds to the atmosphere.
The dinosaurs that survive
The story of the “lost world” is quickly outlined: After a controversy among scientists, an expedition sets out for South America. Prof. Challener claims to have discovered a previously unknown plateau there during an earlier expedition, where dinosaurs would have survived until today. Of course, no one in England believes him, so now there is to be an expedition to prove otherwise. Participants are people selected by an assembly, including the respected and daredevil Lord John Roxton and Professor Summerlee – the biggest critic of Prof. Challenger. The hero of the novel is the reporter Malone, from whose point of view it is reported. He also accompanies the expedition and his eyewitness accounts constitute large parts of the novel.
Of course, Challenger’s reports were correct and the expedition eventually encounters dinosaurs on the hidden plateau. By then, however, a good half of the novel has passed and the few encounters are described rather vaguely. As an explanation, the theory is put forward that due to earthquakes and shifting of the continental plates ages ago, this plateau was lifted up into the sky, so to speak, and all living beings on it were cut off from the rest of the world. Thus on the plateau a completely own evolution took place – or it remained evenly without. Not only dinos and other prehistoric animals live there, but also primitive humans. Science fiction.
Of course, our expedition group has many adventures to go through and not all participants will return. Eventually, however, the heroes make it and are able to confirm Prof. Challenger’s reports in England and save the reputation. Classic story, happy ending.
How did I like it?
I liked the story because it didn’t come across as naive at all, as I had expected. You can tell that Doyle had already written most of the Sherlock Holmes stories at this point and was a seasoned author. The characters are interesting, if cliched. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of the vain, quarrelsome professors. As mentioned earlier, almost half of the book consists of back story, but I liked it even better than the actual experiences on the plateau. Indeed, while the beginning is a vivid development of the different motivations and scientific controversy, the rest is, of course, naive fiction.
I read the book primarily out of interest in dinosaurs, knowing of course when it was written. In 1912, the state of research on the subject of dinosaurs was still quite rudimentary. The vast majority of species known today had not yet been discovered or systematized at that time. Consequently, only a few species like the Iguanodon are concretely described in the book. However, the description also turns out to be rather superficial and is inevitably enriched with a lot of fantasy. For the dino fan there is no gain in knowledge, but at least you can read how people imagined dinos 100 years ago.
Another negative aspect is that the only woman in the book only appears in the margins and is not relevant to the plot. Our heroic reporter plunges into this adventure only to impress this woman – she wants a brave man! So the woman is classic love interest. Fortunately, we are spared a romance.
The prehistoric people are, of course, portrayed as primitive savages. But since Doyle also (partly!) acted as a critic of contemporary colonialism, I was interested in the portrayal. At least the escape from the plateau succeeds only because of a hint of a “savage”.
The lost world in film and TV
The novel has seen several adaptations for film and television. However, they all deviate more or less from the book. Most take only the basic theme and focus on action or exotic encounters. Probably because of its strong focus on science, the novel seems too ponderous for a faithful adaptation.
Remarkable is the first film adaptation from 1925: The Lost World by Harry O. Hoyt. The silent film can be considered relatively faithful to the work, but was groundbreaking especially with its special effects. None other than animation pioneer Willis O’Brien was responsible for these – he later created the spectacular special effects for King Kong and the White Woman. The Lost World can be considered preparatory work in this respect. Since the film is now public domain, you can watch it freely on Youtube. It is interesting to note that Arthur Conan Doyle is featured at the very beginning of the film. In a way, an ennoblement of this film adaptation:
There are different cut versions. This one is dubbed. I had previously seen it on Amazon Prime as a silent version, in which text panels are inserted into the dialogue.
At about minute 33, it’s worth looking at several minutes of dinosaurs. The fights actually look pretty good for the technical possibilities!
There were a few more film adaptations, but none of them are particularly worth mentioning. At most, it is interesting that they usually reflect the state of knowledge of their time about dinos. For example, the dinos in the 1992 film act differently than in the 1925 film, but can still be considered dim-witted. Steven Spielberg was already of a completely different opinion just one year later with Jurassic Park. The focus of all film adaptations (including the series) was unsurprisingly on the depiction of exotic animals and locations and the survival of humans in the wilderness.
Pulpy neighbors: Let’s go to Caprona!
The journey to the lost world naturally found many imitators and spin-offs. Especially in the film industry there are some legendary flicks that use the basic constellation: Humans (scientists/soldiers) get into a hidden land through bad weather/hidden passage/mishap/…. into a hidden land and encounter dinos and other horrible creatures. One of the most famous films of this kind might be Caprona – The Forgotten Land from 1975. However, this is not a simple copy at all, but is based on a completely independent novel. Only a few years after Doyle, none other than Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs created a similar scenario with the Caspak trilogy. In his case, however, the “land that time forgot” is in the Arctic. Can it be a coincidence that two authors who have created influential figures in pop culture have also invented expeditions to forgotten dinosaur kingdoms? No question: Dinosaurs have always been cult!
I haven’t read the Caprona books this time, but of course I’ve seen the relatively well-known movie*. Again, we’re not talking about a masterpiece, but anyone who reads these books or sees these movies knows what they’re getting into. On the subject of Caprona, the cover of the film actually says all you need to know. Doug McClure is a well-known actor who was also more or less convincing in a sequel and the even trashier spin-off The Sixth Continent.
Caprona is actually pretty watchable if you are aware that you are going to get an adventure movie from the 70s. Again, the interesting scenes are of course the ones with action and animation. The same goes for Caprona: the effects are pretty good. Unfortunately, dinos only play a very minor role and it’s primarily about the conflicts within the protagonist group and with the “savages”.
Journey to the Lost World
What does all this have to do with my project? Dino research clearly shows that the way we perceive our environment also determines our fantastic thinking. We imagine dinosaurs according to our view of the contemporary animal world. Accordingly, novels, movies, pictures, comics also reflect the current imaginary world. The idea of coming across a prehistoric place on earth in some way obviously has a great attraction. Not without reason, this has been the subject of art time and time again. Even Jurassic Park deals with this theme. The only difference is that man has simply created this quasi-prehistoric place himself through cloning.
As a big fan of such narratives and fantastic cinema, I would like to create something like that. My homage, so to speak. I already have far too many ideas and far too little time. Of course, I still want to complete the journey to the lost world. A little research is part of it. In this case, it’s actually a lot of fun: reading a few classics, watching a few films, looking at pulpy pictures. In my head, it’s an exciting mix of all kinds of adventure elements. Let’s see what we can make out of it!
I started the project with the first terrain parts of the jungle. A few more parts are still missing, but on the whole it’s already going in the right direction. All kinds of explorers, researchers and adventurers are already ready. And last but not least: I need lots of dinos, big creepy crawlies, other threatening stuff. I’d love to show what I’ve got on the workbench here, but we want to make it a little exciting, don’t we?