Review: The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (the original dinosaur book)

Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World has inspired some great movies and further works of fiction, and for my part I understand the effect it has had.

Most people know Arthur Conan Doyle more famously from his Sherlock Holmes novels. The Lost World was actually written in 1912, after Conan Doyle had killed his character and before he was pressured into resurrecting him. It appealed to me not just because I love the Sherlock Holmes story, but because I still harbour a lingering fascination from childhood about all things dinosaur related.

The writing in The Lost World is far more formal than it is in any of the Sherlock Holmes novels. It is very Victorian one might say. It has a very dry and scientific tone and moves along rather slowly.

The plot itself though is definitely more than dry. Each for their own reason, four explorers set off, with "native half-breeds" and "blacks" in tow (yes, it's a tad racist!), to an unknown plateau in South America where they believe they will find prehistoric life. Find prehistoric life they do. They also find themselves in a horrifying predicament when they are isolated on the plateau with seemingly no means of escape. On the plateau they find dinosaur life in abundance. Strangely enough, they also find both ape-like and homo-sapien-like men who are coexisting with the dinosaurs.

The writing and the characters are not what is enjoyable about this book. As said, the writing was dry and uninspiring and the characters were too two dimensional to be interesting.

It is the depiction of prehistoric life that is fascinating and brings the book to like. We now know that Conan Doyle's depiction of prehistoric life in The Lost World does not all reflect the reality of what it must have been life, but it does depict the beliefs that were held at the turn on the twentieth century. This knowledge does not at all detract from the story. From the beginning, the reader is forced to use their own imagination to picture what the creatures and landscape looked like.

Our imaginations are so activated that there isn't space to remember that what we are imagining in our minds is unlikely to be close to what we know the world back then would really have been like.

What we are reminded of though, is that in the past men like these really did set off on great expeditions and really did make significant scientific discoveries. Without real men like these fictional ones, we wouldn't have been able to develop the knowledge that mankind currently has. It is perhaps this theme of the persistent search for knowledge that has meant that Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World has proved to be so inspiring.



5.5 / 8
Good and worth reading if you have the opportunity.

Do you think the appeal of a book like this lies in its depiction of the lengths that man will go for knowledge, or more simply in the excitement of getting a glimpse of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life?

22 comments

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