Book Review: The Lost World

After finishing Dracula on audiobook from my library, I immediately sought out another audiobook to listen to.  Why not, after all?

Since my library’s audiobook selections tend to have enormous waiting lists, I found that my best option was to continue through another classic.  Thus, I went for some very classic sci-fi, The Lost World.  

The Book

51k2nege9hlThe Lost World
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1912
Amazon Link (Free edition for Kindle!  It’s public domain!)

Sometimes I’ll enjoy a good classic, and other times I won’t.  This may be the first classic I’ve read in a long time that I’ve felt extremely ‘meh’ about.  It had a nice, wonderfully romping plot wherein the characters went on a marvelous adventure.  At the same time, it was moderately childish, had little unexpected development, was poor scientifically (Twain supplied better approximations of evolution in Connecticut Yankee), and next to the film Endless Summer was one of the most casually racist things I’ve ever experienced.  That being said, it had an enjoyable tone, and wasn’t altogether terrible.

Non-Spoiler Review

The best part of the book was how it was written as a nearly real-time journal.  It made the whole thing seem even more adventurous, even more a part of the time it was written.  I enjoyed the English-ness of the thing, and it hearkened to some of the aspects of English society that I find so odd.  The society of professors, as well, reminded me of today’s professors, their jealousies, and their eccentricities, and I found that an interesting part of the book.

Another part of the book I liked was Conan Doyle’s style.  It was understandable, and he used understatement with perfect aplomb.  I thought the characters voices fantastically distinct.  All this came together to make a rich book full of exciting adventure with dinosaurs and ape-men that really was fun (even if his ideas on evolution were garbage, even for his time frame).

But then, every once in a while, they’d remorselessly kill an Indian (native South American, for those of us who now know better) or speculate on the closeness to monkeys of the various actual races of people.  Sometimes this would catch me off guard and I would laugh because, from a modern perspective, it was so insipid.  Because of the day and culture in which it was written, I’m willing to forgive Conan Doyle for the awful racism, but it still drew away from my experience.

Worse, it drew away from the majority of the book’s characters.  From Zambo to the half-breeds to the Indians to the ‘ape-men,’ all of them were stupid and either hateful or completely innocent.  Of those that were hateful, it was only the half-breeds, which reminded me of stuff I read during my most recent Andrew Jackson phase.  Remember, Andrew Jackson was something on the order of 100 years before this book.  Anyway, it felt like Conan Doyle took the easy route out and made some flat-as-a-pancake non-white characters, and that REALLY sucked for the book.

SPOILERS REVIEW

Most of this book is spoiled by its summary, but there are a couple things I’m going to just wreck for you.

First, the reason the narrator – Malone – goes on the adventure is to win his dearly beloved Gladys.  While he is gone to South America, however, Gladys marries a clerk and moves on.  From the tone, Gladys is blamed, and Malone gets upset.  I found this ridiculous; it felt like such a forced romantic tension in the first place.  I just laughed when Malone found out he’d been defeated.

At the very end of the book, Malone asks Roxton, the hardass adventurer who loved guns and saved their butts a few times in the book, to take him on another adventure.  I thought this was a great ending, and it prodded me to look for sequels.  There were sequels.

About the intolerable Professor Challenger.

Challenger, who had made the initial discovery, was always a character I rather loathed.  Bullish, hateful, violent, and yet deemed inexhaustibly intelligent by author and narrator, he was everything I hate in a character.  I thought I was supposed to hate him, but apparently he was the entire point of the book!  I was shocked and appalled, and I will not read another book in the Professor Challenger series!

Next week:

 

14 thoughts on “Book Review: The Lost World

  1. D. Wallace Peach says:

    What an interesting review. I haven’t read the book and don’t know if I could stomach it. It’s interesting to evaluate the “classics” according to today’s standards. Some are timeless, as relevant and enjoyable today as the day they were published. While others, if handed to a modern publisher, would never have seen the light of day. 🙂

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I often wonder how some of the classics ever got published. Sometimes I believe it’s just change in taste, but other times I believe it’s because so few people could read, write, or be supported at the time. I’d rather face a tough market now than a pompous, falsely self-righteous one.

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