The Lost World

The Lost World chronicles the adventures of four men who travel to the jungles of South America. There they discover a plateau inhabited by dinosaurs and ape-men.

The Lost World

Encounter with Stegosaurus

It was Conan Doyle’s ambition to write a popular “boy’s book”, a tale of suspense and adventure. While The Lost World is that, it’s also considered an early work of science fictionThe book was published as a serial starting in March of 1912 and first appeared in book form during October of that year. Conan Doyle was enthusiastic about The Lost World and even dressed as one of the main characters, Professor Challenger, for some publicity photos. Conan Doyle was so pleased with the costume that he went to his brother-in-law’s house dressed as Challenger and pretended to be a German doctor. Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law, Willie Hornung, was initially pleased to receive the visitor. However once he realized he’d be duped, he angrily showed Conan Doyle to the door.

Inspiration for the Characters in The Lost World

The two professors in the novel were inspired by two professors from Conan Doyle’s days at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Challenger was based on William Rutherford. Professor Summerlee shared many characteristics with Sir Robert Christison.

Edward Malone and Lord John Roxton were based on Edmund Dene Morel and Roger Casement.  Morel and Casement were the founders of the Congo Reform Association. They helped bring the plight on the people of the Belgian Congo to Conan Doyle’s attention. As a result Conan Doyle wrote The Crime of the Congo. In an ironic twist of fate, both men were charged with treason during World War One.

Edmund Morel was the inspiration for the character of Edward Malone. Conan Doyle thought highly of Morel as he was working on The Crime of the Congo and The Lost World however he later changed his mind. During World War One Morel helped to form a pacifist movement, the Union of Democratic Control. Some pamphlets that Morel published in 1917 lead to charges of treason.  He was convicted and spent six months in jail.  Conan Doyle stated that Morel’s beliefs about the war “destroyed the feelings which I had for him.”

Edmund Dene Morel

The character of Lord John Roxton was based on Roger Casement.  In addition to helping form the Congo Reform Association he was a British diplomat.

Sir Roger Casement

Sir Roger Casement

While Casement did spend many years working for the British government he was also a believer in the Irish independence movement.  When World War One broke out he saw an opportunity.  Casement met with German officials and gave them an interesting proposal.  He suggested that Irishmen in the German prisoner of war camps be given the opportunity to fight for Germany.  In return for this Irish brigade, Germany would give military aid to the Irish independence movement and guarantee that Ireland would be given its freedom after the war.

The German officials were very interested in the arrangement. However Casement was caught making his return to Ireland from Germany. He was arrested and put on trial for treason.

Surprisingly Conan Doyle quickly rose to Casement’s defense. Conan Doyle knew Casement as a British diplomat, as a supporter of human rights and as a friend. There could only be one explanation for his conduct. Conan Doyle argued that living and working in tropical places had exposed Casement to diseases and extreme climatic conditions that affected his health. In short, he thought Casement was mad.

Conan Doyle tried to have Casement’s sentence reduced because of his what he considered to be Casement’s illness.  He also argued that Casement could become a martyr for the Irish independence movement.  Despite Conan Doyle’s efforts Casement was found guilty of treason in 1916 and hanged.

The Lost World and King Kong

Conan Doyle lived long enough to see The Lost World released as a silent movie in 1925.  The special effects were done by Willis O’Brian who later went on to work on the 1933 version of King Kong.

Theatrical release poster from The Lost World, 1925