Sunday, May 27, 2012

eReadings 16

The Lost World
Arthur Conan Doyle

This is a book initially serialized in 1912. It introduces the character Professor Challenger, a man of great intellectual and physical strength, who is something of an outcast in the scientific community. Challenger also figures in the subsequent story "The Poison Belt" (eReadings 11).

Professor Challenger has already made the outlandish proclamation that so-called prehistoric beasts remain alive in an isolated part of the Amazonian basin, though since various proofs of his personal expedition were lost or ruined on his way back to civilization, he is generally considered a charlatan, and therefore has isolated himself from the scientific and public community, and has been known to physically assault various members of the press who have tried to interview him.

Edward Malone, a young athletic Irish journalist, is sent to attempt an interview, already knowing about the fate of others. He is indeed assaulted, but in the process somehow manages to break the ice with the professor, who confides his experiences, and invites Malone to a public presentation where he will expound his experiences before a scientific audience.

Once again, things go badly for Professor Challenger, and another man, Professor Summerlee, steps out as his chief antagonist. In the end, Professor Challenger proposes an expedition back to South America to settle the issues, consisting of himself, Professor Summerlee, and with a couple of other volunteers, one being Lord John Roxton, an accomplished explorer and game hunter, and on an impulse, Malone.

Eventually the group, along with a number of guides and native helpers, make their way to a high plateau, somehow isolated from the surrounding jungle ages ago, and indeed, an abundance of life seen nowhere else in the world for ages is found there. The science of it seems more than a bit distorted, with a curious mixture of dinosaurs, mammals, and even "anthropoid ape-men" being found there. Challenger is vindicated, yet he and Summerlee continue to have many things to argue about as they explore the plateau.

At the time this book was written, just coming out of an era of exploring and plundering various parts of the world, it probably seemed sensible to consider how things went on the plateau. To the modern mind, it seems odd to read about how readily the group falls into killing so much of the life there, including the ape-men, who are depicted as quite savage. I suppose at the time there was thought to be little difference between studying a dead specimen and a live one.

But Conan Doyle is a good story teller, and this makes for good reading, with some well-developed characters.

I thought that I recalled that this story had probably been made into a movie, but even so was astonished on finding that not just one, but numerous movies have been made, the first a silent film in 1927! There have also been a number of radio adaptations, and other tangents, such as Michael Crichton's borrowing of the title for "The Lost World: Jurassic Park". Seemingly without exception, these movie adaptations take a number of liberties with the original story, for example finding a way for a woman to accompany the men on their expedition.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

eReadings 15

A Tramp Abroad
Mark Twain

There most likely is a double-entendre in this title word tramp, but this is not the tale of a hobo roaming around Europe, but rather the travels of a well-heeled American making his way through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

It's entertaining to a point, especially getting something of the gist of these areas as they were in the 1870s. There is a lot of great satire here, and I found myself laughing from time to time.

At the same time, because of the satire, one would need to know more specifics about Europe of those times to understand the depth of various jokes. To say the least, there is a great deal of exaggeration for entertainment purposes, and I found that this became silly and tiresome with the recounting of hiking stories about Switzerland.