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  • Yehoshua Paul

1912 - The Lost World

1912. British explorer, Robert Falcon Scott, and his men place second in a race to the South Pole. The Norwegian expedition, lead by Roald Amundsen, had beaten them there by 33 days. On their return journey, the crushing defeat (as well as lack of food and fuel, and extreme weather conditions) ends up killing Scott and four of his crewmen.

Many other areas of the world are still waiting to be explored though. South America is also still largely unmapped. In 1911, American historian, Hiram Bingham, discovers Machu Picchu, a 15th century Inca Citadel. And during 1906-12, British Army Officer, Percy Fawcett, busies himself with exploring uncharted areas in Bolivia. Fawcett is a close friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the author used his reports to write the Lost World, a story of a hidden refuge for dinosaurs and other prehistoric species.

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was a British writer, best known for his detective stories featuring the character Sherlock Holmes. Doyle wrote four novels, and over 50 short stories featuring the famous character and his assistant, Dr. Watson. Doyle wrote more than just Holmes stories, though. He was a prolific writer who also wrote fantasy, science fiction, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and many historical novels, such as the short-story, "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", which helped popularise the mystery of the Mary Celeste, a merchant ship that in 1872 was discovered with an intact cargo intact and missing captain and crew.

Originally a doctor, Doyle started his career serving as a ship’s surgeon on the SS Mayumba during a voyage to the West African coast. After leaving the navy, he tried to find independent work as a doctor, but was unsuccessful. During this period Doyle revealed himself as a staunch supporter of compulsory vaccinations, and wrote several articles advocating the practice and denouncing the anti-vaxxer views of his period. While waiting for patients he resumed writing, and in 1886 Doyle published his first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. The rest is history.

Doyle’s third most famous character is Professor George Edward Challenger, an aggressive, hot-tempered condescending genius who appears in a series of science fiction and fantasy stories. Professor Challenger’s character is based off of a physiology professor, William Rutherford, and Percy Fawcett, the British officer mentioned above.

While attending one of Fawcett’s lectures given in the Royal Geographic Society in 1911, Doyle was impressed by a report on the remote “province of Caupolican” (the Huanchaca Plateau) in Bolivia - a dangerous area with impenetrable forests where Fawcett saw “monstrous tracks of unknown origin.” This lecture and later correspondence with Fawcett, resulted in Doyle writing The Lost World, his first Professor Challenger novel.

Professor Challenger in his study (illustration by Harry Rountree)

The Lost World is a first-person narrative told from the perspective of Edward Malone, a young Irish reporter for the Daily Gazette. Malone is looking for a way to impress his crush Gladys, who is only interested in daring adventurers, men who have many heroic deeds to their credit. Malone’s desire to impress leads him to Professor Challenger, a discredited zoologist spouting wild tales of lost species, with a deep-hatred of reporters. Their meeting is violence at first-sight. When Malone declines to press charges, Professor Challenger invites him in to his study and tells him of his journey to a mysterious region in South America where he encountered dinosaurs. A few twists and turns later, Malone finds himself on an expedition to discover this “Lost World”, report it to the world, and impress his Lady Gladys.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel - both the characters and the adventure itself. Professor Challenger’s rash actions, and condescending manner which he can actually back up with intelligent arguments leads to some very entertaining moments (making up fake facts to expose undercover Malone), while the lovelorn reporter gets to serve as his more rational-minded foil. However, these are only half the expedition. The other two members are Professor Summerlee, Professor Challenger’s intellectual inferior in denial, and Lord John Roxton, the only person in the group who knows how to use a gun. The adventure itself includes betrayal, getting trapped, dinosaurs, cave-men, the ultimate triumph of homo-sapiens thanks to guns, and lots of pterodactyls. Doyle does not disappoint. Steven Spielberg may have engineered a park. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though showed us how nothing can ever beat the real thing.

Pterodactyl Attack (illustration by Harry Rountree)

The Omer today is grandeur in courage, and I think that the exploration of an untamed hidden land full of many dangers lets us experience both. Journeying to the Lost World and surviving its dangers took a lot of courage. However the reward provided the characters with a glimpse into the grandeur of some of Hashem’s great works, previously unknown to modern man. For most of us, it takes a lot of courage to leave our comfort zone, whether to explore a hidden jungle, or sometimes to just leave the house, but if you can take that first step, and open your eyes to what the world has to offer, the grandeur of what you’ll receive will take your breath away.

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