It’s time for the final stop on our Lost World World Tour (though I may do more down the line, if I’m in the mood). I’ve had a great time learning about all the various dinosaur-populated regions of our fictional world, but it’s time to move on to new topics. So, let’s celebrate by examining the first Lost World — the Lost World that gave its name to the genre — by spending some time mixing it up in Maple White Land, which was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1912 novel The Lost World.
Maple White Land sets the standard for all the Lost World stories that followed it. The Lost World is in an isolated place, on an inaccessible plateau in the wilds of South America, which separated it from time and evolution. It includes extinct, prehistoric creatures, a pack of violent Ape Men and a human Indian tribe that battles them. Maple White Land sits apart from time until super scientist Professor George Challenger, hunter Lord Roxton and a few other characters come to explore. There are a few earlier examples — Jules Verne’s 1864 Journey to the Center of the Earth has prehistoric creatures in a hollow earth and Edgar Allen Poe’s 1838 Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym has an Antarctic filled with savage monsters — but Doyle’s contribution is the one that’s been etched in our pop cultural memories. He did name the genre after all and every writer who does a Lost World story (including me) owes him a debt.
The actual narrative of The Lost World is pretty simple. Professor Challenger and his companions explore Maple White Land, survive prehistoric beasts and Ape Man natives and eventually escape with a live pterodactyl as proof — only to have the pterodactyl fly away. Luckily, they found some diamonds as well and are determined to go back.
The Lost World’s been adapted many times. The adaptation which I enjoyed the most is the first — the 1925 Lost World that opens with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself (and his dog) addressing the audience. I wish more movies did that. The Lost World film also changes the ending. Instead of bringing a pterodactyl back, the expedition returns with a hulking brontosaur (which still existed back then). The brontosaur wastes no time in breaking free and going on the rampage. Willis O’Brien, who would later make cinematic history with King Kong, does the special effects here and it’s probably the first time a monster has marauded through a city. It’s worth seeing, just for that.
You can see The Lost World’s legacy whenever you see a dinosaur in popular culture. The 1925 Lost World was part of this great love affair with the primitive that filled the Twenties, especially in the movies. Nanook of the North, Chang (created by King Kong director Merian C. Cooper) and countless others became huge hits just by showing primitive cultures. Most of them are disgustingly racist, but they exist as a testament to a fascination with primitive ‘savage’ places that exists to this day.
The Lost World and its ilk even became the subject of parodies. Have a look at O’Brien’s prehistoric comedy of matters here:
Looney Tunes even got into the act with their 1935 cartoon Buddy and the Lost World. This kind of merry play with dinosaurs seems a good place to end our journey. Dinosaurs can be majestic and terrifying, but they — like other animals — can also be fairly ridiculous. Sometimes, it’s good to look at the ancient owners of the Mesozoic world and enjoy a good laugh.
I couldn’t find a link to Buddy and the Lost World, but I did find Bosco the Doughboy, which features terrible racist caricature Bosco experiencing the hilarity of trench warfare in the Great War. If you ever need proof that people in the past had different — and completely insane — views, enjoy the good-natured maiming, hellish artillery and starvation in this ‘fun for the whole 1930s family’ cartoon: