THIRTY DAYS OF MEME: -Day 4: Your Favourite Book
There was going to be here the book that for ten years has held the honour of being that which I name when asked for my favourite book, rather than that book which I have enjoyed most. I'll still talk about that book, but I think it's better fitted to tomorrow's topic.
Today's, then, is a book that was my favourite book long before I actually read it. How is that possible? Well, with the help of Ladybird Classics - these abridged books which streamlined the story, simplified the words and added pictures, as well as providing a word-for-word audiobook so I could read along with the tape. I learned to read on those things, and in doing so discovered that a) stories are a great place to go when you're bored of Real Life and b) dinosaurs are great. The specific book I have in mind today is Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.
E.D Malone, "Daily Gazette." Prof. Summerlee, F.R.S. Prof. G.E. Challenger, F.R.S., F.R.G.S. Lord John Roxton
THE MEMBERS OF THE EXPLORING PARTY
Copyright. From a Photograph by William Ransford.
I love the framing element of this book and many of its contemporaries as being, not just written in the first person, but presented as something written by a character in context and packaged in the book's universe. Dracula does it excellently as a collection of diaries and letters compiled separately, but Ed Malone writing The Lost World as a sequential feature for his newspaper is also a great touch, enhanced as it is with sketches and photos like the one above, posed for by Conan Doyle and friends.
The plot is that adventure story best described by the genre 'Boy's Own' - a phrase which never occurred to me as being exclusive of myself - girls' stories are about schools and relationships and being nasty to each other and while I didn't mind them, I never thought that was all I was allowed to like. The four protagonists of The Lost World are men, who go on an exhibition to South America and see dinosaurs. It's very exciting for the science fiction adventur-y ness, but I also like it for the characters.
Professor Challenger is one of the great characters in literature: Sure of himself, opinionated, hairy and violent, he's a great and highly enjoyable caricature of a self important scientist out to prove to the world that he's right about this story of dinosaurs in the Amazon. He is, of course, and that's what's so great, to see him laugh rudely in the face of Professor Summerlee, the uptight representative of the Royal Society and the academic status quo, desperate to prove that the consensus belief is right and to silence Challenger's outrageous... well, challenge.
The viewpoint character is Edward Malone - a young rugby prodigy at the base of his career as a journalist, who throws himself at the controversial figure of Challenger and the exhibition in an attempt to impress a girl - Gladys. It is he who documents the journey and discovers in himself a great deal of courage and love of adventure he didn't know he had, but which is already obvious in the fourth member of the exhibit.
Lord John Roxton part funds and comes on the exhibition out of a passion for adventure and a deep love of the area in question. He's an ex-soldier and a hunter with history in the area as a committed anti-slaver. Disappointingly for me, the book is of its time and a chunk of racism creeps in as Roxton's portrayal as the brave white man who rescued noble Indians from treacherous half-breeds, but if I squint past the racial stereotyping (the book also contains a faithful black servant, I'm afraid) I like the character for his moral convictions and his unwavering courage when revenge for his anti-slavery actions leaves the party stranded on the plateau.
This part is unfailingly altered in moving picture adaptations - for obvious reasons in terms of recent ones, but it still disappoints me because I think it lessens his character somewhat. The other thing that every single adaptation changes, which changes the story altogether, is the addition of a girl.
There are two female characters in the book: Mrs Challenger, who is a small, argumentative woman perfectly capable and willing to stand up to her vicious husband. There's a power dynamic in their relationship that the husband usually wins, but with no diminished affection, and they're very deeply in love and partners in their life. Then there's Gladys, with whom Edward starts the book in love, or at least convinced he is so. She is fickle and a little bit silly, and tries to dismiss him with 'you're just not adventurous enough'. He goes off and finds adventure, only to find out that Gladys has married someone who's never left London. I guess you could read this as 'women are silly and don't know what they want', but I'm guessing she just found someone she actually loved, and her fault lay in not telling Ed a definite 'no'.
In the book it doesn't really matter, anyway. Ed has discovered a passion and a love for adventure - and apparently for Lord Roxton, as there's a very touching moment at the very end of the novel when the two men say 'phooey to women!' and head off to have their own adventures. Making them the first couple I ever slashed (I was preschool when I read this book)
My habit being to lace myself in the protagonist's role regardless of gender, I always took an affirming message from that. Not 'women are silly and to be scorned' but 'romance is silly and to be scorned. Let's play in the dirt and have adventures instead'. I'd've been quite happy if Ed or John were a girl and they were off having platonic adventures; it didn't matter to the baby brat, who in hindsight, shouldn't have surprised anyone by growing up to be a whopping lesbian.
Moving picture adaptations, IMO, always ruin this dynamic and Ed's storyline by introducing a woman on the exhibition for him to fall in love with rather than Gladys. so it ceases to be adventure > romance and becomes accidental romance > the woman you know, which I like rather less. Sometimes they also include a female love interest for Roxton, to prove that all a brave, adventurous, anti-slavery crusader really needs is to settle down - maybe with a warrior princess he meets on the plateau? It's one of the few times that the addition of female characters counts as a bad thing in my eyes, because frankly the book doesn't need romance, but what are you going to do?
I was the flail of the Lord up in those parts, I may tell you, though you won't find it in any Blue-book. There are times, young fellah, when every one of us must make a stand for human right and justice, or you never feel clean again. That's why I made a little war on my own. Declared it myself, waged it myself, ended it myself.This book and one of the adaptations are in the public domain, so: FULL TEXT | 1925 silent movie (in its entirety)