The Lost World (Conan Doyle novel)

The Lost World is a science fiction novel by British writer Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1912, concerning an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon basin of South America where prehistoric animals still survive. It was originally published serially in the Strand Magazine and illustrated by New-Zealand-born artist Harry Rountree during the months of April–November 1912. The character of Professor Challenger was introduced in this book. The novel also describes a war between indigenous people and a vicious tribe of ape-like creatures.

The Lost World
Cover of the first edition of The Lost World.
AuthorSir Arthur Conan Doyle
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesProfessor Challenger
GenreScience fiction, Lost world
PublisherHodder & Stoughton
Publication date
Media typePrint
Followed byThe Poison Belt 
TextThe Lost World at Wikisource

Plot summary

Edward Malone, a young reporter for the Daily Gazette, asks his editor for a dangerous assignment to impress the woman he loves, Gladys, who wishes for a great man capable of brave deeds and actions. His task is to approach the notorious Professor Challenger, who dislikes the popular press intensely and physically assaults intrusive journalists. The subject is to be his recent South American expedition which, surrounded by controversy, guarantees a hostile reaction. As a direct approach would be instantly rebuffed, Malone instead masquerades as an earnest student. On meeting the professor he is startled by his intimidating physique, but believes his ruse is succeeding. Seeing through the masquerade, then confirming Malone's scientific knowledge is non-existent, Challenger erupts in anger and forcibly throws him out. Malone earns his respect by refusing to press charges with a policeman who saw his violent ejection into the street. Challenger ushers him back inside and, extracting promises of confidentiality, eventually reveals he has discovered living dinosaurs in South America, following up an expedition by a now-deceased previous American explorer named Maple White. At a tumultuous public meeting in which Challenger experiences further ridicule (most notably from a professional rival, Professor Summerlee), Malone volunteers for an expedition to verify the discoveries. His companions are to be Professor Summerlee, and Lord John Roxton, an adventurer who helped end slavery on the Amazon; the notches on his rifle showing how many slavers he killed doing so.

Running the gauntlet of hostile tribes, the expedition finally reaches the lost world with the aid of Indian guides, who are superstitiously scared of the area. Summerlee retains his scepticism – although being delighted at making other scientific discoveries in the field of botany and entomology: even a glimpse of a pterodactyl at a distance fails to convince him, believing it is some species of stork (the sharper-eyed Roxton is inclined to agree it is not a stork but has no clue what it really is), until a night-time encounter when it flies down and is seen by all at close range, as it steals the companions' dinner. After this, Summerlee apologises to Challenger. The cliffs to the plateau itself prove to be apparently unscalable, but an adjacent pinnacle turns out to be climbable, and moreover, has a tall tree which can be cut down and used as a bridge, which allows the four explorers to cross to the plateau. However, they are almost immediately trapped on it, thanks to the treachery of one of their luggage-porters, Gomez: who, as it turns out, is a former slaver whose brother had previously been killed by Roxton during his anti-slavery activities. Gomez takes his revenge by dropping the tree off the cliff, stranding the explorers on the plateau. Gomez himself is subsequently killed by another porter, a negro ex-slave named Zambo, who remains loyal to the party: but the latter is unable to do much more to help, other than send some of the company's supplies over by rope.

Whilst investigating the wonders of the lost world, discovering many plants and creatures thought to be extinct, they narrowly escape an attack from pterodactyls. Although barely escaping with their lives, Roxton takes great interest in nearby blue clay deposits. At night a ferocious dinosaur is about to break through the thorn bushes surrounding their camp; Roxton averts disaster by bravely dashing at it, thrusting a blazing torch at its face to scare it away. Later, all except Malone are captured by a race of ape-men. Whilst in captivity they discover that a tribe of natives, with whom the ape-men are at war, inhabit the other side of the plateau. Roxton escapes and together with Malone mounts a rescue, preventing many unpleasant deaths, including a young native who is a prince of his tribe. The rescued natives take the party to their village, then with the help of their firepower return to defeat the ape-men. After witnessing the power of their guns, the tribe wish to keep them on the plateau but, helped by the young prince they saved, they eventually discover a tunnel leading back to the outside world. During their time with the tribe, Roxton plans how to capture a pterodactyl chick, and succeeds in doing so.

Upon return to England, despite full reports from Malone many detractors continue to dismiss the expedition's account, much as they had Challenger's original story – although Summerlee, having been on the expedition, has now switched sides and is supporting Challenger. Anticipating this, at a public meeting Challenger produces the young pterodactyl as proof, transfixing the audience and leaving them in no doubt of the truth. The explorers are instantly feted as heroes, and on a wave of adulation find themselves carried shoulder-high from the hall by cheering crowds. The pterodactyl, in the confusion, makes its escape and is witnessed several times at different locations around London, causing consternation wherever it goes, but is last seen heading off to the southwest in the probable direction of its home.

At a private celebratory dinner, Roxton reveals to the others that the blue clay contained diamonds – he had been tipped off to the possibility, by the recollection of a similar feature in South Africa – and that he managed to extract about £200,000 worth, which is to be split between them, Challenger plans to open a private museum with his share, Summerlee plans to retire and categorise fossils. Malone returns to his love, Gladys, hoping she will recognise his achievements. Instead, he finds she has now selfishly changed her mind and married a very ordinary man instead, an insignificant clerk. Astonished at this turn of events, and with nothing to keep him in London, he decides to accompany Roxton back to the lost world.


  • Professor George Edward Challenger, a zoologist
  • Edward D. Malone, a reporter
  • McArdle, Edward's editor
  • Professor Summerlee, a scientist
  • Lord John Roxton, an adventurer
  • Gomez, brother to a slavemaster Roxton killed
  • Manuel, Gomez's friend
  • Zambo, South American black guide
  • Gladys Hungerton, Edward Malone's selfish love interest
  • Jessie Challenger, Challenger's wife
  • Maple White, a deceased explorer who discovered the lost world
  • The Accala Indians, the natives of the lost world
  • Ape-men, vicious ape-like creatures who live on the lost world

Non-avian dinosaurs

Other extinct reptiles

Other prehistoric animals included



Other creatures on the Plateau

  • Ixodes maloni, a species of blood-sucking tick; named after Malone, the first to be bitten by one
  • Moths; some large specimens were seen flying around the expedition's campfire.
  • A 50-foot-long black snake was seen by the expedition.

Creatures outside the Plateau

References in other works

The idea of prehistoric animals surviving into the present day was not new, but had already been introduced by Jules Verne in Journey to the Center of the Earth. In that book, published in 1864, the creatures live under the earth in and around a subterranean sea. In 1915, the Russian scientist Vladimir Obruchev produced his own version of the "lost world" theme in the novel Plutonia, which places the dinosaurs and other Jurassic species in a fictional space inside the hollow Earth connected to the surface via an opening in the Russian Far North.

In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs published The Land That Time Forgot, his version of The Lost World where lost submariners from a German U-Boat discovered their own lost world of dinosaurs and ape-men in Antarctica. Two other books in the series followed.

Author Greg Bear set his 1998 novel Dinosaur Summer in Conan Doyle's lost world.

A 1994 release for the Forgotten Futures role-playing game was based on and includes the full text of the Professor Challenger novels and stories.

Conan Doyle's title was reused by Michael Crichton in his 1995 novel The Lost World, a sequel to Jurassic Park. (Its film adaptation, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, followed suit.) Both the book and its movie adaptation share a somewhat similar setting with the Conan Doyle story, involving a journey to an isolated area filled with living dinosaurs. At least two similarly named TV shows, Land of the Lost and Lost, nod to this source material, although the latter draws more from Doyle's short story "The Lost Special". At least two of the characters in Michael Crichton's novel The Lost World mention a palaeontologist called John Roxton. However, Crichton's Roxton, who is never seen, is something of an idiot, wrongly identifying one dinosaur and publishing a report stating that the braincase of Tyrannosaurus rex is the same as that of a frog and thus possesses a visual system attuned strictly to movement.

In the Valiant Comics series, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Turok meets Professor Darwin Challenger, a descendant of Professor George Edward Challenger, who accompanies him during the several adventures. Darwin bears strong resemblance to his ancestor in both character and appearance. He is seen to be in possession of a Dimorphodon specimen shot by his grandfather and mentions that Maple White Land had since been destroyed in a cataclysmic event prior to the 1990s.

One of the Neopets plots, "Journey to The Lost Isle" is based on this book, with Roxton A. Colchester III, Hugo & Lillian Fairweather, and Werther as the adventurers, with Captain Rourke and Scrap as the guides.

The book was adapted in Czech comics by Vlastislav Toman/Jiří Veškrna (1970, 24 pages), followed by a sequel The Second Expedition (Vlastislav Toman/František Koblík, 26 pages) (reprinted together in Velká kniha Komiksů, ISBN 80-7257-658-5).

The 2002 animated adventure Dinosaur Island is an attempt to blend the original story with the popular reality series format, and was written by John Loy, writer of similar productions such as The Land Before Time.

Rafael Chandler's 2016 supplement "The World of the Lost" for the OSR Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing game system references the Doyle book not only in its title, but also in its contents and setting themes, including prehistoric creatures on a plateau and a savage war forming the setting's background.

References to actual history, geography and current science

The characters of Ed Malone and Lord John Roxton were modelled, respectively, on the journalist E. D. Morel and the diplomat Roger Casement, leaders of the Congo Free State reform campaign (the Congo Reform Association), which Conan Doyle supported.[1]

The setting for The Lost World is believed to have been inspired by reports of Doyle's good friend Percy Harrison Fawcett's expedition to Huanchaca Plateau in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia. Fawcett organised several expeditions to delimit the border between Bolivia and Brazil – an area of potential conflict between both countries. Doyle took part in the lecture of Fawcett in Royal Geographical Society on 13 February 1911[2] and was impressed by the tale about the remote "province of Caupolican" (present day Huanchaca Plateau) in Bolivia – a dangerous area with impenetrable forests, where Fawcett saw "monstrous tracks of unknown origin".[3]

Fawcett wrote in his posthumously published memoirs: "monsters from the dawn of man's existence might still roam these heights unchallenged, imprisoned and protected by unscalable cliffs. So thought Conan Doyle when later in London I spoke of these hills and showed photographs of them. He mentioned an idea for a novel on Central South America and asked for information, which I told him I should be glad to supply. The fruit of it was his Lost world in 1912, appearing as a serial in the Strand Magazine [sic], and subsequently in the form of a book that achieved widespread popularity."[4] Additionally, a 1996 Science Fiction Studies review of an annotated edition of the novel suggested that another inspiration for the story may have been the 1890s contested political history of the Pacaraima Mountains plateaus, and Mount Roraima in particular.[5]

The dinosaur that attacks the camp during the night is vividly described (‘In the deep shadow of the tree...a crouching form full of savage vigour and menace... not higher than a horse, but the dim outline suggested vast bulk and strength). Identified as an Allosaurus, in real life it would have been more fearsome still, though the book also allowed the possibility of it being Megalosaurus or a juvenile Allosaurus, which would be closer to the description.

The novel also details a brief encounter with a giant snake, estimated by Challenger to have been over 50 feet long. Though not based on any known snake at the time, its inclusion likely came from reports by Fawcett. In 1907, Fawcett claimed to have witnessed and killed a giant anaconda of a similar size, though his report was unverified. However, the recent discovery of Titanoboa, which could easily fit the description given in the novel, indicates snakes of gargantuan size did indeed exist in prehistoric eras.

Following the stereotypes of the time in which the book was written, the dinosaurs are described often as extremely stupid; For example, at some point an Iguanodon pulls down the tree in which it is feeding, being injured and frightened in the process. This idea is generally omitted in the modern film versions.

Film, television and radio adaptations




  • The Lost World (1944; radio)
    • John Dickson Carr as Narrator (all characters)
  • The Lost World (1949; BBC Light Programme radio serial)[6]
    • With Abraham Sofaer, Ivor Barnard, Lewis Stringer, Cyril Gardiner
  • Dinosaurs! (1966, an audio dramatic version of The Lost World adapted and directed by Ronald Liss and recorded by permission of the Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; MGM/Leo the Lion Records C/CH-1016)

(the character of Lord John Roxton was not included in this adaptation)

See also


  1. Daniel Stashower. Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle. Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1999, pgs. 321-22
  2. "B. Fletcher Robinson & 'The Lost World'". Paul Spiring. Archived from the original on 25 June 2009.
  3. Harold T. Wilkins. Secret Cities of Old South America. Cosimo Inc., New York, 2008, p. 199
  4. P. H. Fawcett, Brian Fawcett. Exploration Fawcett. 1953, p. 122
  5. Bleiler, Everett (November 1996). "Lost Worlds and Lost Opportunities: the Pilot-Rodin Edition of The Lost World". Science Fiction Studies. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  6. Radio Plays 1945–1997: Serials by Roger Bickerton and Nigel Deacon
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.