The Lost World
In a short length rant against skeptics, Arthur Conan Doyle presents us with Professor Challenger. I jest, but almost not so much. This novel is another kind of quintessential novel we see made, remade, and parodied in a lot of other forms of culture. Think the evil the explorer character in Up, for example, as a Professor Challenger kind of character, the scientific explorer, left without proof having experienced something amazing. This book is also a kind of proto King Kong, and even has almost the exact same scene — the scientific and media community presented with documented evidence in a public forum, who then scoff, and are presented with live evidence in a spectacular manner.
So the novel itself begins with a young reporter deeply in love with a woman, proposes to her, and is rejected for missing some kind of adventurous element. He seeks out his life of fortune by meeting with Professor Challenger and trying to coax/goad him into taking him on a quest for the Lost World — ie Land of the Lost, ie Land that Time Forgot, ie the Center of the Earth etc etc. In a public forum presenting his theories, Challenger is funded and supplied with a group of objective witnesses to go with him.
What follows is a pretty by the book series of adventures going to a land of dinosaurs and “savages” as you could otherwise write yourself.
What interested me by the end though was the ways in which this book seems deeply threatened by a skeptical scientific community that doesn’t trust photographic evidence, demanding live proof. It makes me think about Doyle’s own quest for proof of fairies in years to come.
His Last Bow
Bees bees bees! Spies! His Last Bow is a “final” collection of Holmes stories in which two significant things happen: Holmes’s era of scientific deductive detection comes to an end, and so too does the world of Victorian England. We are met with an England and a Holmes preparing for war with Germany, and thus so, we see Doyle reckoning with the era of the long 19th century. It’s interesting to watch it happening live, in a way, and Holmes works the same way as other prominent 19th century figures seeing the coming war in Europe as the clear end of things. It also greatly predicts what will be coming next in thriller novels. So these figures I am thinking of: Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, and Mark Twain, to me as figures wholly associated with 19th century literature, writing from the 1850s-1910s, and Doyle, coming in late, is more of that transitional figure.
Holmes works the same way. Coming from a kind of age of scientific enlightenment, he is realizing that spycraft, statecraft, and geopolitics in a grand scale is what is happening next. So we have a few stories that focus on the state of the nation, with Mycroft acting as human algorithm, with spies and Germans and espionage taking centerstage in front of murder and detection.