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The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Land of Terror by Kenneth Robeson are tales of scientific discovery and exploration. They are both great adventures with male protagonists who rely on their intelligence to see them through danger and uncertainty. However, they are entirely different from each other in multiple ways which relate to the time of their publications. While these science fiction tales are relatively similar, they are novels heavily influenced by their respective centuries as exemplified by their writing style, character development, and the themes they explore.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published The Lost World in 1912. At this time, novels were still exploring relatively Victorian and Romantic ideas like courtship and adventure. The main character, Edward Malone, is madly in love with Gladys Hungerton. When Malone begins to propose to his beloved, she begs him not to because she envisions herself loving a man who actively seeks adventure and notoriety. While this essay will extensively explore The Lost World’s theme of adventure later on, it is worth noting that the impetus for the entire novel is Malone’s devotion to his lady-love. Another pointed feature of Doyle’s style is that it has a relatively dry, plodding pace. The novel is rife with tangents both of a narrative and scientific nature. The first six chapters of the work are taken up with background information to set the course of events. The real adventure does not even begin until chapter seven!
As a direct contrast, The Land of Terror was originally published in 1944. At this point in literature, audiences demanded a fast-paced, action-packed adventure. Robeson delivers just that with his Doc Savage tales. This particular installment begins with a murder, followed immediately by a high-speed chase, then a brawl. These events are repeated throughout the course of the novel which also includes kidnapping, plane bombings, gun battles, and running from dinosaurs. Robeson refuses let his readers get comfortable and keeps the action continuous from start to finish. He uses 20th century plot ideas like murder, gangsters, drug addicts, and bank robbery to intrigue his audience. He also uses elements of overt humor exemplified in Monk and Ham’s many bantering exchanges which add levity to the serious events going on. Additionally, the author uses edgy language, full of slang and terminology. He uses the term “rods” instead of guns on page 78, as well as “bruiser” on page 83. These terms denote a pronounced modern tone in the work.
When reading The Lost World one might notice that, generally, Doyle’s characters are simple, cliché, and relatively static. Malone, the protagonist is a young reporter bent on adventure and glory in order to win Gladys’ heart; this is a character limitlessly duplicated throughout classical literature. Granted, Malone does display some dynamic traits, like realizing his folly upon returning home to find that Gladys has married a plain clerk. Overall, his archetype is one that readers had come to expect in the 19th century. Additionally, we have Professor Challenger, a zoologist described as, “a violent, dangerous, cantankerous character, hated by everyone who comes across him,” (Doyle, ch.2). He’s an eminent Brainiac with a bad attitude. He is known to the police, his neighborhood, and London society in general for violent episodes in which he has been known to brawl with those he disagrees with or takes offense from. Through the narrator, we learn that Challenger, “was quite a short man, his head not higher than my shoulder—a stunted Hercules whose tremendous vitality had all run to depth, breadth, and brain,” (Doyle, ch.3). Challenger remains just as irascible and intelligent throughout the novel, without much noticeable change.
Furthermore, it is notable that Doyle’s work only includes two women: Gladys and Jessie Challenger. These women fulfill the ideal of the time that women are meant to stay at home and maintain the domicile rather than participate in major/public events. Gladys is described as, “full of every womanly quality,” with, “delicately bronzed skin…raven hair, the large liquid eyes, the full but exquisite lips…,” (Doyle, ch.1). She displays characteristics of vanity and pride when describing the type of man that she envisions herself marrying. She states that she wants to be, “envied,” for her man (Doyle, ch.1). Doyle makes a very telling statement about the general attitude toward and expectations of women at of the 19th century when Gladys states, “I dare say I am merely a foolish woman with a young girl’s fancies… If I marry, I do want to marry a famous man,” (Doyle, ch.1).
The other glimpse at femininity within the work is Professor Challenger’s wife, Jessie. She is described as, “…a bright, vivacious, dark-eyed lady, more French than English in her type,” (Doyle, ch.3). She makes excuses for her husband’s behavior due to its reflection on her and her family. Jessie in particular reinforces an idea that was circulating at this point in time referred to as the cult of domesticity, which argued that women were morally superior to men. This concept was a major feature of men’s arguments that women belonged in the home. When she berates her husband for his awful behavior he warns her to “be good,” but when she fails to cease, he bodily picks her up and, “place[d] her sitting upon a high pedestal of black marble in the angle of the hall. It was at least seven feet high, and so thin that she could hardly balance upon it,” (Doyle, ch.4). He even makes her say “please” before he lets her down from the so-called “Stool of penance”. Professor Challenger dismisses her as a “little woman” at the end of this exchange. Overall, this isn’t exactly a favorable characterization of women, however these are exactly in accordance with the attitudes of the age.
In The Land of Terror, the main character, Doc Savage, is a modern man of intelligence possessed of exceedingly impressive skills. He is handsome and rather striking in appearance, described on page 78 as looking, “…like an animated, marvelously made statue of metal,” as well as having a, “…remarkably high forehead, the muscular and strong mouth, the lean, corded cheeks denoted a rare power of character.” There are superhuman things about him, including his gold-flaked eyes which can see incredible distances. He uses them to exert influence over those they make contact with. He is said to have studied with the, “great masters of hypnotism,” (Robeson, 80). There is also an eerie sound that comes from Doc’s lips described as, “a weird, soft, trilling sound, like the song of a jungle bird… It had a unique quality of emanating from everywhere, as though the very air in the shabby room was giving birth to it,” (Robeson, 84). This sound occurs when Doc is concentrating deeply and creating a plan. Among other things, Doc is also possessed of incredible intelligence, superhuman strength and agility, acute hearing, and hair and skin which shed water like a duck.
Not only does Doc routinely perform extraordinary physical feats, but he was trained, “from the cradle for a certain goal in life. That goal was a life of service…helping those who need help, punishing those who deserve it- that was Doc Savage’s noble purpose in life,” (Robeson, 80). While Doc is a relatively stagnant character, he is one that constantly defying the odds and astounding his reader. Doc is a physical marvel as well as a genuinely good person, in this way, he keeps the novel interesting while embodying the standard of the 20th century protagonist.
There are a number of themes in The Lost World, but some of the most prominent are idolized heroism and adventure as well as racism which mark it as a distinctly 19th century work. After deciding that he wants to win Gladys’ heart, Malone seeks out his editor, McArdle, who informs him that, “The big blank spaces in the map are all being filled in, and there’s no room for romance anywhere,” (Doyle, ch.2). This was a very true statement when Doyle penned the words; the world had pretty much been discovered already. However, contrary to McArdle’s statement, Malone seeks adventure to “justify” his life (Doyle, ch.2). Malone states that, “…men ought to MAKE their own chances, and not wait until they are given,” (Doyle, ch.1). This attitude was one which had circulated through the Western world for years and had led to rampant Imperialism, particularly by the British Empire by the time this work was published.
In-keeping with the concept of Imperialism, comes the theme of racism in The Lost World. This is exemplified in a dismissal of minorities which begins with Austin, the chauffer at Professor Challenger’s home. As Malone listens to the Professor’s account of his previous trip to the Amazon, he states, “The natives were Cucama Indians, an amiable but degraded race, with mental powers hardly superior to the average Londoner,” (Doyle, ch.4). This is hardly a complimentary statement, but it was typical of the century’s perspectives. Also, at the beginning of the novel, several remarks are made in regard to Malone’s Irish heritage. He references his “Irish effervescence” in chapter one, as well as his “Irish wits” in chapter three. As the Professor gets to know him, he says, “Round-headed…brachycephalic, gray-eyed, black-haired, with suggestion of the negroid. Celtic, I presume,” (Doyle, ch.4). The Protestant English of the 19th century were engaged in centuries old battle to colonize and “tame” the Catholic Irish.
An analysis of racism in this novel would be incomplete if it did not include the men with which the expedition travels the Amazon with. The company is comprised of, “Three white men, then, two half-breeds, one negro, and three Indians,” (Doyle, ch.7). There are Gomez and Manuel who act as their servants and are described as, “swarthy fellows, bearded and fierce, as active and wiry as panthers,” (Doyle, ch.7). Additionally, there is, “…a gigantic negro named Zambo, who is a black Hercules, as willing as any horse, and about as intelligent,” (Doyle, ch.7). Not to mention, the three “Mojo Indians” one of whom is not even called by his own name, he is simply called Mojo after his tribe. All of these references reinforce a disregard for the humanness of other ethnicities that was very characteristic of the time it was written.
The Land of Terror is characterized by the theme of justice. The murder of Doc’s mentor and friend, Coffern, at the beginning of the novel sets events in motion and elicits a sense of obligation in Doc. The main character, personally hurt by the loss and the heinousness of the crime, pursues answers and justice for his friend. Doc was raised to combat injustice wherever it may be found. Doc is said to dole out justice in certain terms, either the criminal can learn their lesson or else he kills them. When a group of Kar’s minions are rounded up after attempting to kill Doc and his friends, Doc has them shipped to a psychiatric rehabilitation facility in upstate New York. He asserts that criminals all have mental issues that can be worked out with a world-renowned therapist; eventually the impulse to commit crimes can be removed from a person’s disposition. Doc tries not to kill those who may be helped instead, but repeatedly, he is forced to kill in self-defense. This is exemplified in the death of Kar, aka Oliver Wording Bittman at the end of the novel.
Another prominent theme in the novel is that of hegemonic masculinity. The brotherhood displayed by Doc’s close group is the primary ground for this claim. These men were first united as brothers in arms in World War I. They remain close pals, who guard each other’s backs from danger throughout the series. On page 127 of this novel, the men are in the jungle while facing a dangerous dinosaur who might kill them all when Monk courageously offers to sacrifice himself in order to afford the others a chance to escape. Brotherhood and courage were central to the average male ideals of masculinity in the early 20th century. Moreover, the previous theme of justice could be argued to be another central feature of this hegemonic masculinity.
Both The Lost World and The Land of Terror are exemplary works of science fiction. Both novels fulfill an audience’s desire to explore the unknown in glorious adventures. However, the works are distinctly defined by the centuries in which they were written. The Lost World is defined by popular literary style of writing, development of stereotypical characters, and themes relating to political and social sentiments of the 19th century. The Land of Terror is a fast-paced novel, with a modern, superhuman main character who explores themes that defined both 20th century literature as well as the average 20th century man. These features make these novels two science fiction works belonging entirely to their respective time periods.
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