Discoveries in ‘The Lost World’ « Z W »

2. Discoveries in the Novel's Perspective

The novel draws on the same suppositions that characterised the innovating tendencies of its historical epoch. Scientific discovery is vividly conveyed as an ideal, supporting general progress. This includes elements of possessiveness, as the influence of the explorer grows with his discoveries. Accordingly, the focus will be on these two issues.

2.1. Discovery and Apprehension

The land in the focus of the novel seems so alien even to the fictional contemporaries that its existence has to be asserted in the first place. In two ways it
has to be sundered from ‘mere’ legends. On his initial expedition, it is the ancient traditions of the indigenous population which, combined with the chance discovery of an American traveller’s legacy (cf. LW 22ff.), incite Challenger’s revolutionary findings. The status attributed to the tales is revealing: in effect, they are deplored of as insubstantial, mental step-stones at best to the rational researcher. (1)

By patient inquiry, however, the Professor is succeeds in extracting the truth from a cluster of mysterious tales. Reconstructing the traveller’s experiences, he is able to provide a satisfying explanation for his end but also to detect a route to the unknown terrain for others to follow (cf. LW 28ff.). This is achieved exclusively by linking apparently diverse elements of the outside world in a rationally conclusive way. Upon returning his findings – somewhat incompletely – back home, the Professor becomes a subject of inquiry, since his report appears to be plainly incompatible with established knowledge (cf. LW 8, 25, 32 et al.) The reply to this, however, is characteristic: personal delusion or fraud are considered the only alternatives to the veracity of the report. Its validity, it is agreed, can be ultimately judged as soon as sufficient (empirical) evidence is available (cf. LW 38f.)

This attitude is metaphorically expressed in the treatment of the photograph: The objection is that the image itself is defect and fuzzy beyond interpretation;
the fidelity of an intact photo remains unquestioned. Moreover, the decisive information has been lost accidentally – in the strictest sense of the word – on
the backward journey. (2) Thus it is the casual and transient circumstances which are shown to bar the advancement of knowledge, not any such factors inherent
in the observation process itself.

In the face of Challenger’s notorious and possibly ground-breaking claims, a likewise characteristic decision is taken. When the conflict over his assertions
escalates at a lecture for the interested public, three ‘persons of character’ are chosen out of the audience to go on an expedition to probe them (cf. LW 39).
Following his lead, they “disappear into the unknown” (LW, chapter 7, 49ff.) and at every point of their unsettling enterprise offer their various individual talents (3)
on behalf of the common Good Cause, ever aware that it “was [their] clear duty to give [their] first report to the body from which [they] had received [their]
commission of investigation” (LW 159) – a report which necessarily is to be unimpeachable and factually accurate.

Challenger’s surprise announcement that he insists on leading the expedition personally (cf. LW 53) then only highlights the general sense of personal
obligation and the implicit trust that respectable delegates will, in accordance with their status in society, guarantee accuracy.

During all of their journey, the explorers gain new insights and impressions. In this process, science functions as a device to sharpen the senses and provide
orientation – besides being the initial, higher motive for the enterprise.

When in the forest, Malone is awe-struck at the diversity of life forms, but relies on the scientists’ pronouncements for details (cf. LW 58). Once successfully
ascended, the plateau is gradually explored from the home base (cf. LW 88).

Scientificness inevitably commands a highly specific attitude on the part of the observer: He has to be sufficiently detached (4) from his own present circumstances – even when in peril or pain (5) – and struggle constantly to reach accuracy.Furthermore, he needs a profound knowledge base (cf. LW 61) and an analytical framework to serve as a basis for his own conjectures. This implies that scientific knowledge is independent of view-points (6), which, however essential they may have been to the researcher, do not interfere with the actual result. Their special disposition sets the scientists apart from their fellows (7).

Undoubtedly, the entire conception takes a satirical turn in the novel: professors indulging in “incessant bickerings” (LW 57), among them “a perfectly impossible person” (LW 13), do not readily fit the picture – academic debates that turn into personal feuds and bear the marks of spectacle even less so (cf. LW 32ff., 160ff.). However, this satirical portrayal by an insider conveys rather humorous acclaim than criticism: with all their antagonisms, the professors are united in their
quest. There are no indications that the “prolonged duet” (LW 96) of unequal voices will eventually fail to arrive at the ultimate truth. – The concept itself is thus
left intact, but slightly extended: to fulfil special extraordinary and innovative tasks, it occasionally takes a rare, eccentric character, who in certain aspects
transgresses the boundaries set by society (8), only to be finally reintegrated into the system (cf. LW 167).

The novel asserts its central idea of objective science in another episthemic metaphor, when Malone hits upon the idea of drawing a map to console the expedition’s quest for knowledge with the pressing practical needs of the moment. Climbing a tree with considerable effort, he distances himself from theobject of observation (i.e. the land) to gain a more exhaustive perspective. Facing not only his own physical limits, but even imminent danger, he is nevertheless able to secure the required information (cf. LW 104ff.).

In effect, the novel evokes a supreme ideal of science. Reality, as it spreads before observant eyes, is fully accessible to the mind. It consists of  “riddles” which are to be “read” in the one correct way (9). The only limits to the investigations seem to be a lack of resources and imminent physical danger (cf. LW 104ff.) Accordingly, the image of Maple White Land the expedition lays before the community at home corresponds to its actual state.In this perspective, the Unknown (10) unites the fascinating and thedeplorable,being of value for the novel opportunities it offers and only so upon exploration (11) .This implies a characteristic sense of possessiveness.

Professor Challenger reports that he deduced from the native legends of the evil "Curupuri” spirit: “‘[...] Now all tribes agree as to the direction in which Curupuri lives. It was the same direction from which the American had come. Something terrible lay that way. It was my business to find out what it was. […] I overcame the extreme reluctance of the natives – a reluctance which extends even to talk upon the subject – […] ‘“ (lw 26); confer also lw 36.
According to Challenger, the “unsatisfactory appearance” of the picture was brought about “when on descending the river the boat was upset”, and his case for undeveloped films got damaged. Malone contends that “an unkind critic might easily have misinterpreted that dim surface”. (lw 26 f). The damage described is rather metaphorical than realistic anyway.
The expedition is conveniently composed, with Lord John Roxton as the practically inclined athlete to counterbalance the learned men, and the young journalist Malone as the expedition’s spokesman, mediating between the theoretical and the practical. Their co-operation embodies the ideal of the skilled individual serving the common good.
Bitten by an undescribed insect, Malone is admonished to cultivate a “philosophic temperament”, which estimates all “work[s] of Nature” alike (LW 86).
When the expedition believes itself in danger from cannibal tribes, Malone remarks that the Professors had the special “bravery of the scientific mind”: “ It is decreed by a merciful Nature that the human brain cannot think of two things simultaneously, so that if it be steeped in curiosity as to science it has no room for merely personal considerations. All day amid that incessant and mysterious menace our two Professors watched every bird upon the wing […] with many a sharp wordy contention, […] but with no more sense of danger and no more reference to drum-beating Indians than if they were seated together in the smoking-room of the Royal Society's Club in St.James's Street.” (lw 60f).
This is also reflected in the role of Malone, who supposedly preserves the expeditions’ “ experiences and impressions” (lw 86) without loss. The text’s few playful attempts to reflect literaryness (e.g. lw 86, 160ff.) do not alter this.
Their communication appears hard to understand (cf. lw 10 et al.), their general attitude towards the world is once even described in the metaphor of “scientific masks” (lw 138).
This line of thought may have been continued from the eminent Sherlock Holmes stories, whose genial protagonist finds it likewise difficult to lead a life in the centre of a well-established society. It also highlights the innovative potential of science.
 This imagery appears explicitly in two utterances of Challenger (cf. lw 136, 156).
Its importance is stressed by the altogether 25 appearances of the term “unknown” (computer count in full-text).
The unknown brings danger and alienates the explorer from his civilised self (cf. lw 139), yet it is wonderful and releases him a “better and deeper man” (lw 158).
Author's Logo · Author: Paul - Christoph Trüper, 2005  - 2008.
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