Monday, 17 August 2009

D is for Doyle

For my D I read “The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle. According to my trusty tool, Wikipedia, it was first released in 1912, which is pretty cool when you think about it, as it’s quite a long time ago and people can still read it! Unlike this new-fangled internet thing, where people skim read/look at pictures once and then forget about it. However, I shouldn’t bite the hand that’s feeding me, so to speak, so I’ll move on.

The Lost World tells the tale of Edward Malone, a journalist roped into meeting the awesome Professor Challenger by his gruff Scottish boss. Challenger challenges (arf) accepted scientific theories about evolution by maintaining that dinosaurs are alive and well in a remote part of the Amazon jungle. He’s also a bit of a livewire, which is a bit like saying that Mother Theresa was quite nice. Challenger is described almost exactly like Brian Blessed, except that he’s quite short. On Malone’s first meeting, Challenger rassles around his study and eventually out of the front door, where he is admonished by a passing policeman.

In a relatively short space of time, Malone finds himself agreeing to be a neutral party on the expedition to (dis)prove Challenger’s theories once and for all. Unsurprisingly, he volunteers for this mission to win the heart of a lady. When you think about it, there are lots of books and films where the driving force is love. James Bond’s raison d’etre is arguably to avenge the death of his wife. It also explains his rather offhand way with women in subsequent stories. Gladys tells Malone that she wants a man who’s adventured, experienced and can basically sweep her off her feet with a pinky.

I couldn’t help equating Challenger to Doyle himself while reading the book, mashed in with Brian Blessed. This was even harder to do when you add in what’s on Doyle’s epitaph:


…which is basically what I want, along with Oscar Wilde’s “Wit”. Maybe a ‘Woman of letters’ instead. It is interesting that he has patriot on his tombstone but is buried in England. Perhaps he’s a British patriot. Either way, I reckon Doyle was a bit of a ‘character’.

Once the intrepid explorers actually arrive at the location, they pick up some guides to help them on their way. Aside from the phoenetic Scots accent, this is the bit that made me a bit uncomfortable, as my PC conscience started shrieking at me. The ‘natives’ are jolly nice red fellows, while the nonedescript cowboy types are villains, caught up in a blood battle which endanngers all of the nice white men. I suppose the book was written nearly one hundred years ago, and perception has changed a lot since then. It does beg the question though: Should I turn a blind eye to that part because Doyle created Sherlock Holmes and was a pretty decent writer, or should I shun all of his work because he didn’t think as equally as the majority of people do in this century? Rather like Fleming’s work (Mr Charming should be happy, lots of Bond references) , I don’t believe that you should ignore a body of work because you don’t agree. It represents a snapshot in time and society which can be kept forever, if we’re careful.

Aside from that, reading The Lost World’s a bit like reading a Famous Five novel where they are all tipsy from lashings of ginger beer. Proper beer, not that wimpy fizzy stuff. There’re lots of “jolly odd” and “fine chap, that one” as well as an Awfully Big Adventure in the form of a long journey, betrayal and obviously – dinosaurs.

Two things impressed me about this book. The first thing is that there was what appeared to me to be a plausible explanation for a previously undiscovered land where dinosaurs roam. In a nutshell, it’s that earthquakes moved the tectonic plates at some point, so that a section shot skywards. The animals stranded on the high clifftop went happily about their business for hundreds of years, rubbing shoulders with two sorts of humans and lots of creepy crawlies. That may not seem likely now, but there are still sections of the Amazon we do not know about, along with Australia, Russia and indeed, the sea. I like that idea more than the amber theory, anyway.

The other thing that impressed me was the sheer eloquence of the written words. Doyle manages to pack a lot into a relatively short novel – around three hundred pages. The characters begin in London, travel all the way to The Lost World, spend months there and travel all of the way back to London. Added to that, they also relate their tale to sceptical Londoners and there’s even room at the end to set up a sequel! Not a word was wasted, and I never felt like I was reading the same things over and over.

It’s not really my cup of tea, but I did enjoy it and would recommend it to people looking like a good old-fashioned adventure story, akin to Verne.

No comments: