Book of the Week

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Title: The Lost World & Other Stories
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Lost World & Other Stories is a collection of five tales of adventure, fantasy and imagination from the author of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He has created a bunch of characters who people all these stories. The eccentric Professor Challenger and his group of friends live through all the adventures.

The Lost World, first published in 1912, is about an excursion into the wild unknown of South America. They explore a plateau in which dinosaurs, prehistoric man and man exist together. It is exciting and bizarre, wrought with danger and adrenalin. The story also reflects how similarly professors and intellectuals have continued to respond over the decades. It is an excellent study of human nature and an entertaining adventure…man against dinosaur…a much explored theme in Hollywood.

The Poison Belt is about a world in ‘catalepsy’ in Professor Challenger’s words. The whole world is poisoned by a strange ‘ether ‘ and becomes comatose and rigid for a day. The only ones who ‘live‘ to tell the tale are Professor Challenger and his crew. They sit in a room filled with oxygen and watch the world go through a cataleptic seizure. It is a strange tale. What would happen if the whole world died and only five people survived? It is very well written and gripping till the end. The world waking up to normal life is as much a relief to the readers as to the characters in the book.

The Land of Mists is a story of spooks and ghosts. Some have criticised the story for being discursive and spiritual. However, I found it interesting to see how diversely people view afterlife and the act of invoking spirits through mediums. It is a strange tale but, in my opinion, quite entertaining. Objectively, the preachy parts give views which seem rather like the you tube uploads on the Hadron Collider and the doomsday predictions.

The Disintegration Machine is the shortest of all these stories. Challenger traps a scientist in his own disintegration machine which can destroy the world when the scientist, immorally and irresponsibly, tries to sell his machine to the highest bidder, for war. The machine could disintegrate and put back together anything or anybody, even Challenger. The machine as described reminded me of the machines that teleport people in Star Trek. The ones in Star Trek are of course more sophisticated and used constructively for transportation.The interesting dilemma that grips you at the end of this story is, is it right to destroy the destructive so that they cannot harm or annihilate others?

The last is a story called When the World Screamed. This story is truly fantastic where Challenger does an experiment to prove the world is an echinoderm. He drills a deep hole to puncture the Earth and the planet screams for a while. It is an unusual and imaginative theory that all the planets are living that Challenger proves. It is a very compelling read as you really want to know what happens at the end.

Doyle could definitely think out of the box and maintain suspense! The most compelling thing for me is the imagination that has gone forth in the telling of these tales. They have the same flavour as Tintin’s adventures and are related very well. They raise valid questions in one’s mind like : Can the same science be used for construction and destruction? Is taking a life which we cannot return ever justified? Are cultural biases that existed in those days still prevalent today under a different garb?

 

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