Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Lost World part 3: "For Once I was a Hero"

Continuing our look at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World

Edward Malone and his companions in the Challenger Expedition have reached Maple White Land, the mysterious plateau in the Amazon jungle where antediluvian creatures have survived to the present day. Yes, I like that word. Antediluvian. But thanks to the treachery of the vengeful half-breed Gomez, they group are now stranded on top of the plateau with no way to get down.

The native guides who had accompanied the expedition thus far have had enough of the Curupuri-infested forest and are ready to go back home, but Zambo, the party's faithful black servant, is willing to remain. So they have him chuck what provisions he can across the gulf separating the stone pinnacle by which they accessed Maple White Land and the plateau; keep a couple months worth of food and supplies for himself; and send the rest back with the Indians in payment for their service.

Malone also tosses a packet containing his journal to date across to Zambo for the Indians to take down the river so it can be mailed back to London. This narrative device which Doyle uses is an effective one. Usually, a first-person narration carries with it the unspoken assumption that the writer survives to write the story down, which tends to mitigate the suspense. But here, Malone writes only one chapter at a time, and neither he nor the reader are sure what the next installment will bring. He can utilize foreshadowing -- and he does, quite well -- but only up to the end of the chapter. For now, Zambo is their only link with civilization.

Since the party is trapped for the immediate future, they scout around for a camp site. They encounter their first new species of creature; not a dinosaur, but a giant blood tick which Malone discovers feasting on his leg. Professor Challenger names it Ixodes Maloni in tribute to his discovery, but Malone fails to appreciate the scientific honor.

Under Lord John Roxton's direction, they build a barricade of thorny brush around a camp site which they name "Fort Challenger." Having set up a base camp, they set out exploring.

They find footprints resembling those of a giant three-toed bird. Challenger recognizes them as similar to fossil footprints found in Sussex.
"Wealden!" cried Challenger, in an ecstasy. "I've see them in the Wealden clay. It is a creature walking erect upon three-toed feet, and occasionally putting one of its five-fingered forepaws upon the ground. Not a bird, my dear Roxton, not a bird... No, a reptile. A dinosaur."
As expected, the trail leads them to a group of iguanodons, grazing in a peaceful glade. "If ever we get out of this alive, I must have a head with me," Roxton says. "Lord, how some of that Somaliland-Uganda crowd would turn a beautiful pea-green if they saw it!"

Further exploration leads them to a marshy pit which a gaggle of pterodactyls are using as a nesting place. They are a noisy and frightful bunch of harpies, and Malone does not share the scientific interest of Challenger and Summerlee. When the creatures spot Challenger, the entire flock rises up and attacks, and the party barely escape with their lives. Challenger, who came off relatively uninjured, is quite pleased by the scientific data they gathered. Lord John is more interested in the clay in the pit where the pterodactyl's nested, but does not say why.

During their explorations, Malone has a feeling that they are being watched, but Challenger dismisses his premonition. Nevertheless, Roxton keeps reminding the party that they are invaders in foreign territory and there may well be natives on this plateau who won't appreciate their encroachment. Lord John's warnings come home when they return to Fort Challenger and find that their camp has been ransacked; several crates have been smashed open and some of the tins of food battered to extract the contents.

The following night, they are awoken by the sound of a hideous shriek in the forest; the sound of some battle for survival between two prehistoric creatures. Challenger imagines the tableau of what must have happened and muses solemnly.
"It was surely well for man that he came late to the order of creation. There were powers abroad in earlier days which no courage and no mechanism of his could have met. What could his sling, his throwing stick or his arrow avail him against such forces as have been loose to-night? Even with a modern rifle it would be all odds on the monster."
Lord John isn't sure he agrees entirely, having a great confidence in his own rifle, but concedes that the dinos would have "a good sporting chance." And this conversation, I think, captures a part of what makes dinosaur stories like The Lost World so compelling. We like to see puny man pitting his intellect against the terrifying behemoths of an extinct era.

Within minutes, one of those behemoths, possibly the one responsible for the killing they had heard, approaches their encampment. Lord John warns his companions not to shoot; he is still concerned about their firearms attracting more attention. When the beast lunges at the thorny hedge the party has built around their camp, Roxton snatches a flaming branch from the campfire and waves it in the brute's face, driving it off.
The learned professors hesitate to identify the creature; they did not get a good enough glimpse of it to give a firm classification, and Summerlee admits that not all the creatures that lived in prehistoric times have come down to us in the fossil record and so they could hardly expect to identify every creature they meet. But from the beast's bloody maw, they can safely say that it is a carnivore, and the following morning, looking at the dead iguanodon they find near the camp, they hypothesize the it was likely an Allosaurus, or perhaps a Megalosaurus -- "one of the larger carnivorous dinosaurs."

The party continues its explorations, but Summerlee is becoming impatient. They have very little to show for their few days of scouting. Shouldn't they be devoting their energies into finding a way home?
"Let me remind you that we came here upon a perfectly definite mission, entrusted to us at the meeting of the Zoologiacl Institute in London. That mission was to test the truth of Professor Challenger's statements. Those statements, as I am bound to admit, we are now in a position to endorse."
For that reason, he insists, their primary goal now should be to return home so that they may transmit their findings, and leave a more thorough exploration of the plateau to a larger and better-equipped expedition. "Professor Challenger has devised means for getting us on to this plateau when it appeared to be inaccessible; I think that we should now call upon him to use the same ingenuity in getting us back to the world from which we came."

Challenger can hardly argue with Summerlee's reasoning, especially as it is couched in deference to Challenger's intellect, but he's reluctant to leave his Lost World just yet. Lord John would also like to know a bit more about the place before leaving, and Malone says that his editor would "never forgive me for leaving such unexhausted copy behind me." Challenger flat out refuses to even think about the problem until they have at least performed a rough survey of the plateau.

Malone comes up with an idea to do just that. He spots a tall ginko tree nearby and proposes that he climb it to get a better view of the land and draw a rough map of the plateau. His companions approve of the idea, and soon he is scrambling up the tree with his notebook in his pocket.

Partway up the tree, as Malone makes his way through the foliage, he encounters a rude shock: a face peering into his own, about a foot away, with brutish, simian features. It snarls at him and then flees. Malone was correct; something had been watching them from the trees.

Although shaken, Malone presses on and reaches the top of the ginko, from which he has a splendid view of the entire plateau. It is bowl-shaped, as the professors surmised, with a large central lake occupying what was undoubtedly once a volcanic crater. (And no, the volcano does not eventually erupt; Chekov's Geology notwithstanding, The Lost World is one of those rare instances in fiction where a long-dormant volcano remains dormant.) He sees the glade where they encountered the iguanodon herd and the pit of the pterodactyls. Beyond the lake, Mallone sees a distant cliff face along the inside lip of the plateau's edge. There are a row of black dots in it which he guesses might be caves.

Returning to his companions, Malone makes his report. Challenger wants to know more about the ape-man in the branches: "Tell me, now... did you happen to observe whether the creature could cross its thumb over its palm?" He is all for pursuing the mystery of the ape-man, but Summerlee reminds him that they need to return home.

"The flesh-pots of civilization," Challenger groans.

"The ink-pots of civilization, sir," Summerlee corrects him.

But all of his friends are pleased with Malones map, (which appears in most editions of the novel). Lord John suggests that since Malone was the first to sight the lake, that he should have the honor of naming it.
"Then," said I, blushing, I dare say, as I said it, "let it be named Lake Gladys." 
"Don't you think the Central Lake would be more descriptive?" remarked Summerlee. 
"I should prefer Lake Gladys.' 
Challenger looked at me sympathetically and shook his great head in mock disapproval. "Boys will be boys," said he. "Lake Gladys let it be."
It is only fair to observe, however, that in the published map the lake bears Summerlee's more prosaic suggestion.

That evening, Malone is pretty flushed with his accomplishment. Up to this point he's been, in his view anyway, the least useful member of the expedition. The professors are far more intelligent than he, and Lord John far braver and more experienced in jungle survival. Malone's role in the expedition has hitherto been as its Boswell. But now, having won his comrades' approval and admiration, he's feeling pumped and he's itching to do more. That night, while he's on watch and his companions are asleep, he decides to do a little exploring on his own.

He barely gets a hundred yards from the camp when he realizes that this was a mistake, but he presses on. Further into the forest he realizes that when he grabbed one of the guns on his way out, he grabbed the shotgun and not a rifle, so that the rifle cartridges he filled his pockets with will do him absolutely no good. Not a mistake Lord John would have made. But if he returns back now without accomplishing anything he'll look and feel a total fool. John Carter in A Princess of Mars said that he did brave things because the prudent alternative never seemed to occur to him; Malone admits that he does brave things because he's deathly afraid of being thought a coward.

So he keeps going until he reaches the shores of Lake Gladys. He sees several unfamiliar creatures including a colossal type of elk and a live stegosaurus; perhaps the same one Maple White drew. Looking across the lake he sees the caves he spotted earlier, but now instead of black dots in the cliff face, he sees light coming from the openings. He doubts this can be the glow of volcanic activity; it can only come from fires lit by inhabitants.

On his way back to the camp, Malone hears the noises of something large following him. He hopes that it is a gentle Iguanodon, but as it hops into the open he sees that it is a toad-faced horror like the one which attacked their camp on the earlier occasion. Malone's shotgun with the wrong cartridges is useless. He runs, and the beast chases him until Malone finds the ground disappear underneath his feet.

Earlier Challenger had stated that puny humans could not possibly vie against the gigantic beasts of the Jurassic Era. He forgot to consider man's intellect. Malone has stumbled into a pit trap, dug by some human hunters with a sharpened nine-foot spike at the bottom to impale colossal prey. The sides of the pit are not terribly steep and he has no difficulty climbing out again, although he does spend some time fretting about whether the beast which chased him has wandered off or if it's cunning enough to lie in wait for him.

Having escaped from the pit and recovered the shotgun, Malone hears a gunshot from the direction of Fort Challenger. At first he fears the worst; then he realizes that his friends have probably discovered his absence and assumed he was lost. He hurries back to the camp as quickly as he can. Dawn has come by now and the early morning light filters through the leaves as he arrives.

His first reaction was correct. The camp is in a shambles; a large area of blood lies on the ground, and his friends are gone.

NEXT:  When Ape-Men Attack! Separated at Birth? The Rescue of the Professors, the Battle for the Plateau and the Triumphant Return! "Our Eyes Have Seen Great Wonders"

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Lost World part 2: "To-morrow We Disappear Into the Unknown"

Continuing our look at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.

Edward D. Malone, an eager young reporter for the London Daily Gazette, seeks adventure, in order to win the respect and the love of his girlfriend Gladys. This quest has led him to interview Professor George E. Challenger, a bellicose zoologist with a colossal ego and a temper to match, as apt to break skulls as he is to measure their cephalic indices. Challenger has recently returned from a trip to the Amazon where he claims to have discovered a plateau in the jungle where creatures of the prehistoric past have survived to the modern day.

At a meeting of London's Zoological Institute, Challengers faces down his critics, who call him a fraud, and challenges the Institute to mount a new expedition to test his claims. A call goes out for volunteers, and Malone answers. This is his chance.

Malone is not the only volunteer from the audience. A tall, ginger-haired man identifying himself as Lord John Roxton also accepts the Call to Adventure. Lord Roxton is a well-known hunter and sportsman who has traveled extensively in South America and will make a fine addition to the expedition.

After the meeting breaks up, Roxton invites Malone to come to his place for a chat. "We are to be companions -- what?" He asks Malone for help with a little problem. A friend of his named Ballinger, who lives in a suite upstairs from his own, is suffering from the DTs after a massive drinking binge. The friend is holed up in his rooms with a pistol and threatens to shoot anyone who comes in. Needless to say, the service staff is declining to intervene. Roxton reckons that if the two of them rush the guy together, they might be able to subdue and restrain him before he can plug anybody.

All things considered, Malone would rather not charge a drunken maniac with a gun; but then neither does he want to look a coward. So he steels his nerve. "Talking won't make it any better," he says rising from his seat. "Come on."

Roxton laughs and pats him on the back.
"I saw after Jack Ballinger myself this mornin'. He blew a hole in the skirt of my kimono, bless his shaky old hand, but I got a jacket on him, and he's to be all right in a week. I say young fellah, I hope you don't mind -- what? You see, between you an' me close-tiled, I look on this South American business as a mighty serious thing, and if I have a pal with me I want a man I can bank on. So I sized you down, and I'm bound to say that you came well out of it."
The two men sit down and chat a bit. Malone tells him about his earlier interview with Challenger, and Roxton tells him he believes the Professor's story to be quite plausible. He has traveled through the Amazon basin himself and has an appreciation for how truly unknown most of it is. Roxton shows off his collection of rifles and talks bit about his own experiences in South America. He has a deep, intense love for South America and never tires of expressing its wonders.
"Now here's a useful tool -- .470, telescopic sight, double ejector, point-blank up to three fifty. That's the rifle I used against the Peruvian slave-drivers three years ago. 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."
Although Malone never says so -- it never seems to occur to him -- the reader can't help but note that Roxton is exactly the kind of man Gladys would swoon over. Luckily, Roxton and Gladys never meet.

Malone reports back to McArdle, his editor, who is so pleased with the expedition that he calls the Gazette's publisher to get authorization for the paper's backing. And about this point Malone addresses the reader and explains that this has all been preface, and that the remainder of their adventures shall be told through dispatches, sent back to England as opportunity presents itself. The story originally appeared in magazine serial form, making this narrative device particularly effective.

A couple days later Malone, Roxton, and Professor Summerlee who is the Zoological Institute's official representative, embark on a steamer for South America. Challenger meets them at the dock and gives them a sealed envelope containing the plateau's exact location. He instructs them not to open the envelope until they reach the town of Manaos and not until the time and date written on the envelope.

He then bids the three farewell. "You have done something to mitigate my feelings for the loathsome profession to which you unhappily belong," he tells Malone; and compliments Lord Roxton on the splendid hunting field which awaits him. As for Summerlee, he says "If you are still capable of self-improvement, of which I am frankly unconvinced, you will surely return to London a wiser man."

The voyage to South America and up the lower reaches of the Amazon occurs with little incident. Here Malone describes his fellow travelers in more detail. Professor Summerlee is a thin, gaunt man with an acidic wit of which we received a taste in his verbal fencing with Challenger at the Zoological meeting. Although Roxton worried that the man might need baby-sitting, Summerlee has field experience, having served on scientific expeditions to New Guinea. Lord Roxton, we have already met; but when the party arrives in Brazil, we learn that he has quite a reputation among the natives for having broken a network of slavers who provided forced labor for the rubber plantations of the upper tributaries. Roxton also speaks the blend of Portugese and native dialects commonly spoken in the region.

The party also hires additional servants for the party: three Mojo Indians, a couple of Spanish half-breeds and a large black named Zambo, whom Malone describes as "a black Hercules, as willing as a horse, and about as intelligent." That Malone evidently regards this as a compliment speaks volumes about Victorian attitudes towards race.

Eventually the party reaches Manaos, and on July 15th they gather in their hotel veranda to open the envelope with Challenger's instructions. The hour of Noon approaches. Despite Summerlee's grumbles, Roxton insists on waiting until the specified hour. "We must play the game accordin' to rules," he says placing his watch upon the table. On the hour, Roxton takes his penknife and opens the envelope.

The paper inside is blank.

At this moment, Challenger himself barges in. He gruffly apologizes, at least as far as he is able, for arriving at the last minute. He always intended to guide the expedition there personally, and arranged the drama with the envelope so that he wouldn't be forced to share a steamship with the rest of the group, whose company he finds odious. Here we have a rare point of agreement between him and Summerlee.

They continue up the tributaries of the Amazon, now with Challenger as guide; first by steamboat until the river becomes unavigatbale; then by canoe through the denser canopied forest. The sound of Indian drums follow them through much of this part of the journey. "Yes, sir, war drums," says Gomez, one of the half-breed porters. "They watch us every mile of the way; kill us if they can." Malone finds this unnerving, and in his imagination he hears the drumbeats repeating "We will kill you if we can. We will kill you if we can."

They leave the drumbeats behind, however, as they enter Curupuri territory. The "Currupuri" is some sort of spirit of the woods, feared by the Indians. Now the party has left their canoes behind and continue on foot. One day they catch a glimpse of a large winged creature flying over the treetops in the distance.

"Did you see it!' Challenger cries. It is a pterodactyl, he says. Summerlee disagrees. "It was a stork if ever I saw one," he insists. But even Summerlee becomes more subdued when soon afterwards they cross another ridge and sight the great plateau which Challenger has named Maple White Land.

The plateau ranges from five hundred to a thousand feet in height, and its sides are too sheer to climb. Challenger believes that Maple White, the American who first found the plateau, must of discovered some way up, because of the stegosaurus he drew in his sketchbook. The party agrees to circumnavigate the plateau and see if they can find any means of ascent.

They find the remnants of one of Maple White's campsites, which is encouraging. Then they find a less encouraging site: a human skeleton in a bamboo grove which seems to have a tall bamboo stalk growing through it's shattered ribcage. From the skeleton's effects, Challenger identifies it as James Clover, a companion of Maple White's. Roxton guesses that the man fell off the top of the plateau and became impaled on the bamboo. But how did he come to fall?

Further along, they find markings on the cliff face, evidently left by Maple White, which leads them to a cave, high up on the side of the cliff. This is evidently the route by which Maple White reached the top of the plateau, but going up the passageway, they find that a cave-in has blocked the way. Exiting the cave, a large rock falls from above, narrowly missing them. Gomez and the other half-breed claim that it fell from the edge of the plateau.

So far they have not seen any definitive proof of prehistoric life, until one evening when pterodactyl swoops down and steals the wild pig they were roasting for dinner. Summerlee is forced to concede that he was wrong and makes a quite handsome apology; which Challenger accepts with uncharacteristic grace. Summerlee does not stop making sarcastic comments when Challenger's pomposity warrants it, but from this point on the two men become -- if not exactly friends, then at least no longer enemies.

Finally, they complete their circumnavigation and return to where they started, near a tall pinnacle of rock right next to the plateau. Here, Challenger gets an idea. Although the plateau is impossible to climb, the spire is less precipitous. Challenger was only able to climb part-way up the spire during his first visit because he didn't have any climbing gear with him. This time, he does. The spire of rock has a tall beech tree growing on its summit, taller than the distance between the rock and the top of the plateau. All they have to do is climb to the top and have Malone chop the tree down and they have a bridge.

The plan works splendidly; but Roxton cautions Challenger before allowing the latter-day Columbus to set foot in his New World. "We all have our professions, and soldierin' is mine. We are, accordin' to my ideas, invadin' a new country, which may or may not be chock-full of enemies of sorts." He has the party assemble all their rifles so that someone can be covering them as they cross over one-by-one; and a good amount of provisions in case they might need to remain some time.

No sooner have the four explorers set foot in Maple White Land, however, then they their first catastrophe. They hear a crashing sound behind them, and see that the tree which they had used as a bridge has fallen away. Gomez, the half-breed whom they had left on the pinnacle laughs and shouts at them.
"Lord Roxton! ... Lord John Roxton! ... We nearly killed you with a stone at the cave," he cried; "but this is better. It is slower and more terrible. Your bones will whiten up there, and none will know where you lie or come to cover them. As you lie dying, think of Lopez, whom you shot five years ago on the Putomayo River. I am his brother, and, come what will I will die happy now, for his memory has been avenged."
And die he does. Taking the time to taunt them gives Roxton the opportunity to ready his own rifle and shoot the fleeing traitor. Zambo kills the other half-breed, but without the tree-bridge is unable to cross over to the plateau or to help the expedition back.

The Challenger Expedition is trapped.

NEXT: The Glade of the Iguanadons; the Pterodactyl Rookery; the Siege of Fort Challenger and more! "For Once I Was the Hero"

Thursday, September 19, 2013

BACK FROM ONLINE SLEEP

Back to life, back to the here and now.

When I was beginning my time as a writer online, I tried to read every forum, read every comic, understand every news release, I tried to pay attention to the newest books released in the genres of horror, science fiction, fantasy… I tried to be aware of everything so that I would not become what I very quickly became, overwhelmed, outdated, and writing only about the things that I knew about, or trying to write about things I didn’t know about and doing so badly.   I grew tired, stale, of writing online, and my writing online made me weary of criticisms that were fair, usually mean, sometimes cruel.   People online rarely would say the same things in person that they do online, unless they are complete assholes.   And, there is of course that possibility, that I just wasn’t aware of the immense number of assholes in the world.   I know that having been published, having signed contracts with companies, both in comics and book publishers, some people think I know how to write, so I am not altogether believing the critics in every aspect of their criticism.   But I do take stock in the well meant and honest words, and do take stock even in the mean things, because if people don’t respect your views, they won’t read your commentary. 

But, I think I’ve been misunderstood.    I never really was a critic of the art of comics, I was a lover of comics.   I wasn’t as much reviewing them as suggesting these are my impressions after experiencing reading them.   My interviews weren’t hard hitting/cut to the bone, they were meant to expose a side of the creative talent that maybe had been ignored by other interviewers.   The fact that I like Larry King's interviews, that I grew up looking at JC Penny Catalogs and such should give you a clue, my mindset is to be happy with things, I am not interested so much in controversy…  I wasn’t there to criticize them or tear them new assholes, I was there to enjoy them.  

So why the comments now?   Well I am going to come back monthly or even twice a month.   I am going to read books and maybe comics, TPBs, and similar materials and tell you what I thought.   I might run some PR but more or less, I’ll be writing commentary on the industries of comics and books, probably not games or movies as I don’t really get much thrill from them, and I am going to try to do so, interestingly.  

Oh, and since my mom has died, I’ve grown more comfortable saying the word FUCK online.   I guess I don’t worry that she’ll see my words and tell me I have a dirty mouth.  

For those who don’t know my past I’ve written online in a great number of places, some for a while, some for a moment.   I began writing online under a pseudonym and did a great number of restaurant reviews.   These weren’t popular so much, but they were highly read.    Let me just say, as a fat guy, don’t mess with my food.  When I wrote something that the site owner took issue with I said he had a choice of publishing it or deleting my archive.   Well that was the last time I made a threat like that.

Then I had a chance to write a column about comics for a number of different retailers, but primarily Robin Goodfellow of Duluth Minnesota, a comics, books and games store.   It was great and a learning experience, and led to my column being picked up at Slushfactory.com and other larger outlets.  Eventually my work appeared, if only here and there at Comicon.com/pulse, Comicbookresources.com and Ugo.com .   There are, in fact, more than I can remember.   The main body of work of mine has appeared at PopThought.com before Chinese hackers destroyed it.   After Popthought.com died, my work has appeared here at Poplitiko.blogspot.com where we work towards doing things for the good of things, not the glory, or the gold.   I did over 200 interviews, reviewed or considered products from over 50 companies, and liked what I did.   But it was brutally unrewarding financially, and people who are in the industry look upon you as a welcome serving boy.   There are clearly those who don’t, but most don’t realize how hard it is to get through, while doing them the favor of publicity and service.

I’ve since moved into the creative world, and my poetry blog is found Here 
And my published works are found Here
And I have an author page at Facebook found Here

Publishers seeking reviews can contact me, but I am not open to JUST anything, it has to be a print product, and on my terms… contact me at AlexanderNess63@gmail.com for my mailing address and to see, perhaps, if it is worth your while to send me your product.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Lost World part 1: "There are Heroisms All Around Us"

Strictly speaking, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not invent the idea of modern-day explorers finding a remote region where dinosaurs still exist. That honor probably goes to Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth. But Doyle's adventure novel The Lost World did much to establish the "Land Out of Time" as a sub-genre of speculative fiction.

We begin the story by meeting our narrator, Edward Malone: a likable, energetic young reporter for the London Gazette. He is in love with a girl named Gladys, who, sadly for Malone, regards him solely as a Good Friend. She thinks he's a nice guy and all, but deep in her heart she pines for the rugged, adventurous types like Henry Morton Stanley or Richard Francis Burton who explored the deepest reaches of Darkest Africa.

Desperate to prove himself, Malone goes to his editor, McArdle, and begs for a dangerous assignment; "the more difficult it was, the better it would suit me."

McArdle has nothing like that for him. "I'm afraid the day for this sort of thing is past. ...The big blank spaces in the map are all being filled in, and there's no room for romance anywhere." But he does have an idea. "What about exposing a fraud -- a modern Munchhausen -- and making him rideeculous?" (The spelling is Doyle's; McArdle is Very Scottish; if Kipling had rendered is speech the dialect would have been nigh unreadable)

He gives Malone the task of interviewing Professor Challenger "Professor Challenger, the famous zoologist! Wasn't he the man who broke the skull of Blundell, of the Telegraph?" McArdle smiles grimly. "Didn't you say it was adventures you were after?" This Challenger had returned from a trip up the Amazon with outlandish stories of incredible creatures he had discovered. "Had some damaged photographs, said to be fakes. Got so touchy that he assaults anyone who asks questions, and heaves reporters downstairs." As far as McArdle's concerned, the man is "a homicidal megalomaniac with a turn for science" but promises Malone that the paper will compensate him for any injuries he sufferers.

Malone manages to snag an appointment with Challenger by pretending to be an admirer. Arriving at Challenger's home in Kennsington, Malone is met by the Professor's wife, who warns him of her husband's temper. "You won't believe a word he says -- I'm sure I don't wonder. But don't tell him so, for it makes him very violent. ... Remember he believes it himself."
I was prepared for something strange, but not for so overpowering a personality as this. It was his size which took one's breath away -- his size and his imposing presence. His head was enormous, the largest I have ever seen upon a human being. I am sure that his top-hat, had I ever ventured to don it, would have slipped over me entirely and rested on my shoulders. He had the face and beard which I associate with an Assyrian bull; the former florid, the latter so black as almost to have a suspicion of blue, spade-shaped and rippling down over his chest. The hair was peculiar, plastered down in front in a long, curving wisp over his massive forehead. The eyes were blue-grey under great black tufts, very clear, very critical, and very masterful. A huge spread of shoulders and a chest like a barrel were the other parts of him which appeared above the table, save for two enormous hands covered with long black hair. This and a bellowing roaring, rumbling voice made up my first impression of the notorious Professor Challenger.
The interview goes badly. Malone has many fine and admirable qualities, but dishonesty is not one of them. Challenger immediately identifies him as a fraud, and worse than that, as a journalist. He threatens to physically throw Malone out of the house, and when Malone protests, the Professor grabs him and the two go rolling down the hallway, out the door and down the steps onto the street.

A policeman happens by and breaks up the fight. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened at the Challenger address, and he asks Malone if he wishes to press charges. Having a moment to catch his breath and consider, Malone declines. "I was to blame myself. I intruded upon him. He gave me fair warning."

This impresses Challenger, and he tells Malone to follow him back into the house.

Mrs. Challenger meets them and berates her husband for assaulting the reporter. In our first glimpse of her, she seemed rather timid and apprehensive, but she has the guts to stand up to him if necessary. Mrs. Challenger is neither a timid doormat, nor a nagging scold. She has incredible admiration for her husband and regards him, as he does himself, as a towering genius -- indeed, it is difficult imagining Challenger marrying anybody who did not, or for anyone who did not to put up with him -- but she believes that his constant bouts of temper and bullying prevent others from recognizing that genius.

There follows a truly bizarre scene. "Stool of penance," Challenger growls. He physically picks up his wife and sets her atop a high pedestal in the room and does not help her down again until she says "please". Malone -- and the reader -- is shocked by this display of spousal abuse, and Challenger comments that doubtless the incident will appear in the morning papers for the amusement of the multitudes. "He's a foul feeder, is Mr. Malone," he tells his wife, "like all his kind." But then he takes a more tender tone.
He placed a huge hand on each of her shoulders. "All that you say is perfectly true. I should be a better man if I did what you advise, but I shouldn't be quite George Edward Challenger. There are plenty of better men, my dear, but only one G.E.C. So make the best of him." He suddenly gave her a resounding kiss, which embarrassed me even more than his violence had done.
This is all we see of Mrs. Challenger in this story. She and Gladys are the only women in the book, and of the two she is the more interesting character. We see more of the relationship between her and her husband, and in a better light, in The Poison Belt, which is set mostly in the Challenger home as the Professor and his close companions await an apocalyptic doom from space. There we see more of the deep affection they feel for each other.

Since by declining to press charges against Challenger, Malone has demonstrated moral sensibility higher than usual for a "porcus ex grege diaboli -- a swine from the devil's herd" as he calls the Mainstream Media, Challenger deigns to give Malone the story he wants -- but extracts a promise from him not to publish the story without Challenger's consent. Malone doesn't like that stipulation, but agrees.

Some two years earlier, Challenger had been on an expedition to the Amazon Basin, "to verify some conclusions of Wallace and Bates, which could only be done by observing their reported facts under the same conditions in which they themselves had noted them." In a native village, he had encountered a dying American named Maple White. Although Challenger was unable to speak with the man before he perished, the man's sketchbook contained drawings of a large plateau rising out of the jungle, and of a grotesque, gigantic lizard with bony ridges on its back and large spikes on its tail. Challenger recognized the creature as matching scientific reconstructions of a stegosaurus.

He traced the artist's path back through the jungle and found the plateau. Challenger was unable to scale its sheer sides, but he took photographs of it. He also spotted, and shot, a pterodactyl.

Unfortunately, the specimen, and most of the photographs, were lost in an accident descending some rapids in the river on the way home. What evidence that remained was so damaged that when he returned to England he was ridiculed as a hoaxer.

Malone, however, finds the evidence as Challenger presents it quite convincing. "You are a Columbus of science who as discovered a lost world. I'm awfully sorry if I seemed to doubt you." Pleased by the young man's praise, Challenger invites Malone to attend a lecture that night at the Zoological Institute's Hall. A noted naturalist will be speaking on "The Record of the Ages", and Challenger has been invited to be present on the platform in order to move a vote of thanks for the guest. He hints that he may "throw out a few remarks" which might be of interest to the general public.

McArdle is disappointed when Malone comes back with no story for publication and not even the prospect of a juicy lawsuit against the pugilistic professor; but he encourages Malone to attend the lecture. "We may get a scoop yet, if we're lucky."

The topic of the evening's lecture is nothing less than the origin of the planet and the development of Life on Earth, as far as can be determined by the science of the day. The speaker is informative and entertaining, with a dry wit which he demonstrates by demolishing an anti-Darwisit heckler in the audience. He is less prepared, however to deal with interruptions from the stage by one of his colleagues. "Question!" Professor Challenger booms every time the speaker alludes to prehistoric creatures being extinct.

The speaker concludes his lecture and Challenger takes the podium.
"I have been selected to move a vote of thanks to Mr. Waldron for the very picturesque and imaginative address to which we have just listened. ... Popular lectures are easiest to listen to but Mr. Waldron ... will excuse me when I say that they are necessarily both superficial and misleading, since they have to be graded to the comprehension of an ignorant audience."
And in case he hasn't insulted both the guest and the audience enough, he condescending continues on to explain that popular lecturers are by nature parasitic, since they merely regurgitate known science for the masses and do not actually discover anything new. That is why, Challenger says, he felt justified, and indeed obliged, to correct the good Mr. Waldron on a couple statements of fact.

This leads to some heated back-and-forth between Challenger and the audience, culminating with this audacious... well, I have to say it, challenge:
"I will not detain you," he said. "It is not worth it. Truth is truth, and the noise of a number of foolish young men -- and I fear I must add, of their equally foolish seniors -- cannot affect the matter. I claim that I have opened a new field of science. You dispute it." (Cheers.) "Then I put you to the test. Will you accredit one or more of your number to go out as your representative and test my statement in your name?"
A professor of comparative anatomy named Summerlee rises to accept the challenge. Challenger then asks if any younger volunteers will accompany Summerlee to aid in the expedition and corroborate Summerlee's findings.
It is thus that the great crisis of a man's life springs out at him. Could I have imagined when I entered that hall that I was about to pledge myself to a wilder adventure than had ever come to me in my dreams? But Gladys -- was it not the very opportunity of which she spoke?
"Sit down, Malone! Don't make a public ass of yourself," a friend who accompanied him to the lecture whispers. But it's too late. The die is cast.
"I will go, Mr. Chairman," I kept repeating over and over again.
NEXT: Meet Lord John Roxton; The trip up the Amazon; a last-minute surprise; and the Plateau at last! Pack your bags; we're off to the Amazon!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Lost World - Introduction

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for his Sherlock Holmes stories, but he wrote many other books as well. His own favorite was The White Company, a medieval adventure set during the Hundred Years' War. He also wrote science fiction and horror tales such as "The Horror of the Heights" and "The Terror of Blue John Gap", which anticipate the Cosmic Horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft.

Probably the best-known of his non-Sherlockian works, The Lost World, was written in 1912 and had a lasting influence on adventure fiction. I think it's safe to say that every tale involving dinosaurs in the modern age, from Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Land that Time Forgot to Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park owes something to Doyle. If the book did nothing more than present the idea of a remote plateau in the jungle where prehistoric creatures have survived to the present day, it would be a significant landmark in speculative fiction; but The Lost World did more than that; it introduced the world to the belligerent and bombastic George Edward Challenger.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a special fondness for Professor Challenger. Like Holmes, Challenger was based on a former teacher of Doyle's; in his case a professor of physiology named William Rutherford whose striking, broad-shouldered and bushy-bearded appearance and outgoing manner, Doyle ramped up to eleven. If Huxley was called "Darwin's Bulldog", then George Edward Challenger, (or "GEC" as he likes to call himself), is certainly a charging Rhinoceros.

Doyle had himself photographed dressed up as Challenger to accompany the publication of The Lost World, and I suspect that even more than Holmes, Challenger was a wish-fulfillment character for Doyle. Professor Challenger gave him outlet to rail at all the things that annoyed him. If Sherlock Holmes is pure intellect, then Professor Challenger is pure Id -- combined of course with a massive intellect.

Challenger was the central character in two novels, a novella and a couple short stories. The first, The Lost World (1912), is an exciting adventure story about a trip to the Amazon basin to explore a remote plateau where prehistoric creatures still survive. We'll be discussing this book further in coming weeks.

Doyle followed up The Lost World with The Poison Belt (1913), a novella with a completely different atmosphere, if that's the word I want. The action travels no farther than Challenger's country home outside London with an excursion into the city, and most of the plot involves discussions about the nature of life and death.

Challenger has discovered that the planet Earth will be passing through a region of space, a "current in the ether", that is inimical to life. He invites his companions from the previous adventure to his home where, fortified with bottles of oxygen, he hopes to survive the passage -- at least as long as the oxygen holds out.
He and his companions do survive, and in a creepy, post-apocalyptic section, they drive back into town to witness what has become of civilization. In what one critic has called an ironic inversion of Darwin's "Survival of the Fittest", the only survivor they find is an invalid old lady with an oxygen bottle of her own.

After several chapters of unrelieved gloom comes the happy revelation that the teeming millions of humanity have not all died; that the Poison Belt the Earth has passed through has merely put them to sleep for a day. Humankind has gotten a taste of mortality and a glimpse of it's small place in the cosmos.

It was several years later, in 1926, that Doyle wrote The Land of Mist, the last Challenger novel. By this time, Doyle had become an ardent Spiritualist and the tragic death toll of the Great War lay heavy on his mind. In this book he has Challenger investigating Spiritualism. At first he is skeptical debunker, but through the course of the book he becomes convinced of the reality of the Afterlife, encountering the spirit of a one-time assistant whose death he had always secretly blamed himself for. I find it significant that Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote a similar story in which Sherlock Holmes becomes convinced of Spiritualism.

Professor Challenger appeared twice more in a couple short stories. In "When the World Screamed" (1928) he develops a theory that the Earth is a living creature and that it's crust is only it's tough skin. He sets about to drill a hole through the crust; partially to prove his theory, partially to play a practical joke on the London Press Corps, but mostly, it seems, because his ego is so big that he wanted the planet itself to take notice of him.

Doyle's last Professor Challenger tale, "The Disintegration Machine" (1929), is a more conventional science fiction story. Challenger's friend, the reporter Edward Malone, asks him to come along on an interview of a scientist who has created a device capable of disintegrating and re-assembling matter. The inventor is a repellent chap who plans to sell his invention, with its horrific military applications, to the highest bidder. He also uses the device to play a cruel, but funny prank on the Professor. Challenger takes these affronts with an uncharacteristic calm and the inventor, like most Mad Scientists, comes to a bad end.

The Challenger stories are on the whole entertaining and sadly overlooked, playing with many different aspects of science fiction: cosmic horror and post-apocalypse; the supernatural; and the dangers of technology; but to my mind and probably the mind of most people who have read them, the first Challenger story remains the best.

NEXT:  Journalist Edward Malone tackles the most dangerous assignment of his career: interviewing a homicidal evolutionary biologist with the most outrageous scientific claims. Pack your bags for our expedition to The Lost World: "There are Heroisms All Round Us".

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Master Animator Hayao Miyazaki Retires

(cross-posted from DKos)

Studio Ghibli has announced that it's founder, renowned animator and film-maker Hayao Miyazaki will "retire from the production of feature-length films." The announcement was made this week at the Venice Film Festival in Italy. The spokesman, studio president Koji Hoshino, did not say anything about shorter films or about what role Miyazaki will be playing in his studio in the future, so it is possible that he will not be completely retiring from film-making.

The first Miyazaki film I ever saw was Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1978), based on a popular manga character, a master thief named Lupin the Third. Miyazaki had directed a couple episodes of the Lupin TV series, and didn't particularly care for the character; but he crafted a glorious action film with chases, hair-breadth escapes, ninjas and an autogyro. The car chase near the beginning of the movies has been called one of the best in film by Steven Spielberg; and the ending manages to be romantic and sweet, revealing a bit of the chivarlous knight underneath the skirt-chasing lecherous ways of the manga Lupin.

In addition to his work on the Lupin III television series, Miyazaki did a series called Future Boy Conan, and worked on a Japanese/Italian collaboration called Great Detective Holmes, (English title: Sherlock Hound), a delightful adaptation of Sherlock Holmes with an all-canine cast. He also did development work on a planned series which was to have been called "Around the World Under the Sea". The series never came through, but many years later was re-worked by the studio GAINAX as Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water.

Many of Miyazaki's films have strong ecological themes, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), set in a world in which an apocalyptic war centuries earlier has upset the balance of nature and left only small pockets habitable by humanity; and Princess Mononoke (1997), whose heroine finds herself caught in a struggle between forest spirits and an encroaching village.

The success of Nausicaä enabled Miyazaki to start up his own studio, Studio Ghibli. For his first Ghibli film, Laputa (1986) (released in English as Castle in the Sky), about a search for a legendary citadel floating in the air built by an ancient civilization, Miyazaki used material he had created for "Around the World Under the Sea."

From adventure, he went to a quiet pastoral story in My Neighbor Totoro (1988), a charming tale of two little girls who move with their father into a haunted house in the country and who discover magical creatures living in the nearby forest. In many ways this film was a tribute to the rural Japan of Miyazaki's youth, now long eaten-up by development. Totoro, the big, cuddly Guardian of the Forest, became the mascot of Studio Ghibli and appears on their logo.

Flight has always been a passion with Miyazaki and every one of his movies has featured flying in one way or another. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) is about a young witch who starts her own business delivering packages by broomstick, and who makes friends with an aspiring engineer who with his friends is trying to build a human-powered aircraft. Porco Rosso (1992) tells the story of a WWI flying ace who, in the years leading up to the Second World War, fights air pirates over the Adriatic Sea. But why does he look like a pig?

Miyazaki describes himself as something of a feminist. Not only do most of his movies feature strong female characters, but women frequently take on important roles in the story; such as Dolza, the matriarchal leader of the sky pirates in Laputa, or Yubaba, the witch who runs the bath-house for spirits in Spirited Away (2001). The magician Howl may be the title character in Howl's Moving Castle (2004), but it is the women of the story, the sorceress Sulimen, the Witch of the Wastes, and the protagonist Sophie, who propel the story.

In 1996, Studio Ghibli entered into an agreement with Disney to distribute the studio's films internationally. Because of Miyazaki's bad experience with the butchered American dub of Nausicaä in the '80s, he insisted that there be no cuts to his films in their English releases and that he retain editorial control.

This past year, Miyazaki released what he says will be his last film, The Wind Rises, a love story set during the period leading up to and during WWII, based on a fictionalized biography of the designer of Mitubishi Zero aircraft. The film has seen some controversy in Japan, both from the right and from the left, because of the sensitive political issues it touches on. Leftists criticized Miyazaki for making the designer of war planes a hero; Conservatives criticized him for mentioning the "Comfort Women", women forced into sexual service for the Japanese soldiers during the War. But these things reflect a theme that has run through many of Miyazaki's films: the conflict of an idealist living in a cynical and corrupted world.

Miyazaki has left a legacy of some incredible animated films, and has brought Japanese animation to millions around the world who otherwise might never have cared about anime. I hope he continues to provide inspiration for animators for many years to come.