Lost Worlds

LOST-WORLD1One of the inspirations behind my writing of Deep Time was the genre of lost-world romances that flourished in the decades before and after 1900. I first encountered this genre in the movies – and in particular the 1960 adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

By the late nineteenth century most of the world was known to the countries of the West – not only known, but either colonised or in other ways influenced by Western culture and commerce. This imparted a peculiar mystique to the idea of remote places that were yet unknown to and untouched by the outside world; places where human culture and even the ecology had developed in a quite independent way. To be plausible, such places had to be located within geographical areas that remained at that time inaccessible to Western travellers: parts of the interior of Africa (setting of Rider Haggard’s She), Central Asia (Abraham Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage), Antarctica (Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Land that Time Forgot), or South America, where Doyle placed his isolated plateau of prehistoric creatures.

The 1960 film of The Lost World doesn’t get much credit from the critics. It is notorious for its use of live lizards, modified with bits of plasticine, to play the dinosaurs. There are many other film versions, of which the best is probably the BBC production of 2001, but the 1960 film retains a special place in my heart. Seeing it on TV at the age of six had an immediate and permanent impact on my imagination. When the film of The Land that Time Forgot came out four years later I was so excited I could hardly control myself. Part of the appeal of these stories is their presentation of human beings and prehistoric animals inhabiting the same ecosystem. We may scorn the scientific incongruity of this, but I’ve discovered there are good dramatic reasons why a writer should want to engineer this kind of situation.

A century on from the golden age of lost-world romances, hardly anywhere on earth seems sufficiently unknown to be the setting of such a story. The longing for exotic other places is projected to other planets, other star systems. And yet, if you desire to explore, in new ways, an encounter between people of our own crowded time on earth, and a lost world that is yet part of the earth, there are strategies by which this may be contrived.

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