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Plot Summary The Lost World

Updated on December 28, 2014
Colin Quartermain profile image

Colin has been reading as long as he can remember, and the works of Conan Doyle were some of the early works that kept him reading.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is primarily known today for his stories based on the cases of Sherlock Holmes; and most people will not realise that the detective stories make up only a part of the writer’s bibliography.

Even in his own lifetime though, Holmes was Doyle’s most popular character; a fact which irked the author greatly. As an act of rebalancing, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would put his heart and soul into writing historical works or fantastical stories.

The Lost World is one of these fantastical stories.

The Lost World from Amazon

Publication of The Lost World

The Lost World was originally published in serial form in the Strand Magazine in 1912, before being brought together as a book by Hodder and Stoughton.

It is interesting to note that initially Hodder and Stoughton credited Conan Doyle as the author of “Sir Nigel”, “the White Company” and “Rodney Stone”, rather than any works containing Sherlock Holmes.

Portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Wellcome Images PD-life-70
Wellcome Images PD-life-70 | Source

The Lost World Storyline

Many people will know the general storyline of the Lost World, even if they have not read Conan Doyle’s original story, as the story has been adapted numerous times for both aural and visual entertainment.

The original storyline for the Lost World, though, differs, to a greater or lesser degree, from the embellishments made for the big and small screen.

The basic storyline tells of an exploratory expedition dispatched from London under the leadership of Professor Challenger; the destination of the expedition being a mysterious plateau deep in the heart of the Amazon basin. Challenger is convinced that the plateau is home to creatures that were thought to be extinct, and now he wants to silence the doubters and prove that he was right.

The Plateau

Scan from 1912 Lost World PD-life-70
Scan from 1912 Lost World PD-life-70 | Source

The Lost World Plot Summary - Spoiler Alert

The young reporter Edward Malone is a man in love; and he has set his heart upon marrying Gladys Hungerton. Gladys though has so far spurned Malone’s advances, and is critical that the journalist has never done anything spectacular or dangerous in order to prove his love for her.

Malone now finds out that he has a way to prove his love for Gladys, as being a journalist for the Daily Gazette, Malone has the opportunity to cover the expedition being undertaken by Professor George Edward Challenger. The expedition is likely to be dangerous at the very least.

The once respected Professor Challenger has seen his professional and personal reputation damaged by his insistence that creatures believed to be extinct are alive and flourishing on a plateau within the Amazon basin. To regain his scientific credibility Professor Challenger has therefore arranged an expedition to provide proof of his ideas.

Setting forth, the expedition comprises Professor Challenger, Professor Summerlee, a sceptic scientist, the Amazon adventurer Lord John Roxton, and the newspaperman Malone. As was the way with such expeditions, the numbers making up the expedition party was greatly increased by a large number of natives who would act as guides as well as packhorses.

The journey across the Amazon basin sees Professor Challenger’s expedition encounter all of the known dangers of the region, but eventually the party arrives in the region where the mysterious plateau is situated. The plateau has been all but cut off from the surrounding world; and now only a simple bridge acted as an access point to the plateau.

The local natives fear to get any closer to the plateau, but eventually the four main members of the expedition make their way onto it. Then disaster befalls them, as they find themselves trapped when one of the local guides, Gomez, destroys the bridge, trapping them upon the plateau.

Meeting A Dinosaur

Scan from 1912 Lost World  PD-life-70
Scan from 1912 Lost World PD-life-70 | Source

The act of treachery is explained by the fact that Roxton had killed Gomez’s brother on a previous expedition to the Amazon. With the four trapped on the plateau, the rest of the expedition group melts away into the forest, and only the loyal Zambo remains with the equipment.

On the plateau Fort Challenger is established as a base camp from which the explorers can search the plateau in the hope of finding an escape route. Soon though, the explorers are encountering the unique dangers of the plateau, and the threat of pterodactyls, dinosaurs, and other once thought extinct beasts, is never far away.

These beasts though, prove not to be the only dangers present upon the plateau, and soon Challenger, Roxton and Summerlee find themselves captives of a tribe of Ape-men. Malone would probably also have suffered the same fate as his companions, but the previous night he had fallen into a dinosaur trap, and was thus separated from the rest of the expedition.

Roxton manages to escape from the Ape-men, and soon the hunter has joined up with Malone; and two start to plan the rescue of their companions, and also four indigenous humans. It seems that there are other people than just the Ape-men living on the plateau. Of course, the rescue attempt is successful although one of the locals dies in the escape.

Now in the relative safety of the friendly tribe, the four explorers decide to aide their new friends in a battle against the Ape-men, to decide who controls the plateau. The battle proves to be one sided, with Challenger and his friends having guns to assist them.

One danger has now been eliminated but the four members of Challenger’s expedition still find themselves trapped on the plateau. The four now start to plan their escape, and even consider the use of a hot air balloon, but they are saved from this risk, when they are instead provided with details of a secret tunnel.

Making use of the tunnel, they four find themselves once more in the forest, and are able to meet up again with Zambo. At the same time a rescue party emerges from the forest, and soon all of them are back in England.

Malone does his job, and reports upon the expedition, even publishing photos to substantiate the printed claims. Even so, the report is widely laughed at, and it is only when a live pterodactyl is released that the story is actually generally believed.

This should be a happy end for the four; and Challenger has now regained his scientific reputation. Additionally, each of the four is now incredibly wealthy; Roxton having brought back diamonds from the plateau.

Roxton though feels that he is out of place in civilisation, and yearns to return to the Amazon basin and the Lost World; and the hunter is joined by Malone, as in the absence of the reporter, Gladys has married someone else.

Michael Crichton's Lost World

Further Reading

The Lost World would be the first in a mini-series of stories based on the adventures of Professor Challenger, with Malone and Roxton both reappearing.

There are two other novels in the series “The Poison Belt” (1913), when the earth passes through a band of poisonous ether, and “The Land of Mist” (1926), a story of life after death.

Two short stories were also written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “When the World Screamed” (1929), a story about a sentient being beneath the earth’s crust, and “The Disintegration Machine” (1929), a story of a machine that atomise objects and put them back together again.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World is often thought of as the first fiction work to depict a lost world, although Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” (1864), had already depicted dinosaurs surviving into the modern day.

Works written after 1912 though are often traced back to the work of Conan Doyle, with the most famous works being Edgar Rice Burrough’s “The Land that Time Forgot” (1916), and Michael Crichton’s “The Lost World” (1995).

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