Book Battle!!! Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World vs Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot

Here we have two books with identical premises. A group of travellers sets out on a journey and finds a place on Earth where dinosaurs still exist. Both books are roughly of equal length, and have been written in the same period (1912 and 1918).

I want to compare these two books, and explore what choices these authors made in the treatment of this idea. Where do they differ? And what effect does that have?

Ask yourself: if you were to write a “lost world” story, how would you go about it? Would you first collect a group of characters together, and then invent a reason for them to embark on a big journey, and then have them discover some hidden valley in the tropics? What choices would you make? What shape would you give the story and what motivations the characters? And what solutions did these authors arrive at?

Introduction of Characters and Impulse to Travel

The Lost World (1912) has the first person narrative of a young, insignificant journalist named Edward Malone. He interviews a prickly professor about an expedition to South America, where the professor had found a hidden plateau full of strange creatures a year before, but nobody believed him. Malone is also a spurned lover. His girl tells him that, frankly, he isn’t good enough for her. She wants to love a hero and bask in the glory of his accomplishments. This pushes Malone to join the professor in a new scientific expedition to the mysterious jungle. Quite a shitty reason to put your life on the line, but hey, we’ve all been young and foolish.

The overall tone is humorous and witty, and very much focused on the scientific nature of the trip. The characters are exaggerated. One member of the expedition is an Indiana Jones-type manly man named Lord John Roxton. He is the heroic adventurer, the hunter and sportsman, but he is a side-character. The naive young Malone is our point of view, and he idolises Roxton.

Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot (1918) has a very different start. Compared to The Lost World, it is really wild and swashbuckling. Set during World War I, a German U-Boat shoots at an American liner in the English Channel. A man and a woman survive, are rescued by the British, who then manage to capture the submarine. The British Navy still shoots at them, however, and the German captives inside rebel as well. In the struggle, the U-Boat travels to unknown waters. Now there’s an adventurous start.

This story too starts with a man and a woman, but the woman he rescues from the water in the first chapter, and is with him all throughout the journey as his love interest. A beautiful girl named Lys la Rue. We don’t learn the name of the man. He’s simply the narrator, and Burroughs has no time for introductions. Where Doyle’s book has the young man growing up and learning a lesson that he shouldn’t run around as per the wishes of a girl to win her love, Burroughs’ story has more to do with simple wish fulfilment for the reader. 

The Journey and Entering the Lost World

The Lost World fast-forwards most of the journey and picks up the story as the team paddles down the Amazon in canoes and quickly arrives at their destination. It all happens really fast.

What both books do is make it very hard to enter the lost world, and the travellers have to navigate a dangerous passage into it. Doyle has the characters conquer a dangerous chasm, which works metaphorically as a portal to the underworld.

Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot eschews any notion of scientific understanding. The U-Boat is briefly taken over by the Germans and they sail towards Antarctica, where they happen upon an unknown island. Burroughs plops a tropical island right next to Antarctica. Then takes dinosaurs, mammoths and Neanderthals and throws them all together in a valley surrounded by cliffs. The U-Boat with Germans and Britons rides an underwater river through a cave and surfaces in the middle of this valley.

Exploring the Lost World

You know… this is actually the least interesting part to look at with regards to author choices. It turns out that simple-minded dinosaurs aren’t actually that interesting for creating drama! You can look at them, and run from them; that’s about it. Doyle arrives at a solution: throw in a tribe of ape-men! As Lord Roxton says: “Missin’ Links, and I wish they had stayed missin’”. The dinosaurs mostly exist in the background while a fight with the ape-men is at the centre of the story.

What’s strange is that both books have carnivorous dinosaurs that hop like kangaroos. Apparently that was the prevailing theory at the time.

Where Doyle introduces us to the wonders gradually, with a moment of beauty here and there, the moment that Burroughs’ U-Boat surfaces in the valley it is immediately besieged by a swirling, seething mass of reptiles. Dinosaurs mean nothing but danger and violence to him. There is no beauty in this novel.

Burroughs gets some drama from the distrust between the Britons and the Germans, and he too gives us ape-men: a whole series of them, in various stages of evolution. One of the ape-men kidnaps the girl, and much derring-do ensues. And our hero is of course irresistible for the ape-ladies.

My Personal Preference

Doyle’s The Lost World, by far. The story may be a bit straightforward and not as full of action as Burroughs’, but Doyle’s smooth and sardonic writing makes it a highly entertaining romp. The prickly professor Challenger is a hilarious character; one to be remembered. I also appreciated the effort to make the lost world at least somewhat believable, and the general focus on the scientific goals of the team.

Burroughs’ book is all action, all the time. It’s a rare chapter where someone doesn’t shoot someone else. A huge amount of stuff happens, but every plot point only takes a few pages. The book is almost written like a summary of a book. So much so that the main character doesn’t even get an introduction. All the other characters are cardboard cutouts. Dialogue is blunt and emotions are red-hot. The romantic tension between Mr main character and the girl is not interesting but uncomfortable. I thought it was a childish story. This is real pulp for teenagers, while Doyle’s style is much more sophisticated and easily enjoyable for all ages.

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32 Responses to Book Battle!!! Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World vs Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Great comparison!
    From your description of Burroughs writing, I’d say he had one mode n that was it.
    While I’m not a big Sherlock fan, at least I know Doyle can write a wider range…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dawie says:

    Ive not red lost world, but did have the chance to read the two Burroughs novels, and got a little angry with them… The bait and switching of Dino’s got me pretty bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bormgans says:

    Very cool format. Was it a coincidence you read these near to each other?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Bart! There were just two books that came to my attention that sounded very similar. I conceived of the idea of this post before reading them. I could have added Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth as well, as that too follows the same format. They likely all influenced each other, from Verne to Doyle to Burroughs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        I should read some of these early speculative titles. I think I’ve read Verne when I was in elementary school, but I’m not 100% of that.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I recently made a list of late 19th century, early 20th century speculative books that I still want to read. I found some interesting ones, and some have classy Penguin Classics editions.

          Liked by 1 person

          • bormgans says:

            Could you share the list, if it isn´t too much trouble?

            Liked by 1 person

            • Let’s see if this works…
              – [ ] ETA Hoffmann – The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816)
              – [ ] ETA Hoffmann – The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr (1821)
              – [ ] Hans Christian Andersen – Fairy Tales Told for Children (1837)
              – [ ] George MacDonald – The Princess and the Goblin (1872)
              – [ ] Samuel Butler – Erewhon (1872)
              – [ ] Edwin A. Abbott – Flatland (1884)
              – [ ] H. Rider Haggard – She (1887)
              – [ ] Mark Twain – A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
              – [ ] Arthur Machen – The Great God Pan (1894)
              – [ ] William Morris – The Wood Beyond the World (1894)
              – [ ] William Morris – The Well at the World’s End (1896)
              – [ ] HG Wells – The Invisible Man (1897)
              – [ ] Arthur Machen – The White People (1899)
              – [ ] HG Wells – The First Men in the Moon (1901)
              – [ ] Arthur Conan Doyle – The Lost World (1912)
              – [ ] Anatole France – The Revolt of the Angels (1914)
              – [ ] Edgar Rice Burroughs – A Princess of Mars (1917)
              – [ ] Edgar Rice Burroughs – The Gods of Mars (1918)
              – [ ] Edgar Rice Burroughs – The Land That Time Forgot (1918)
              – [ ] Edgar Rice Burroughs – The Warlord of Mars (1919)
              – [ ] Lord Dunsany – The Charwoman’s Shadow (1926)
              – [ ] Robert E Howard – Solomon Kane (1928)
              – [ ] Robert E Howard – Kull of Atlantis (1929)
              – [ ] Robert E Howard – The People of the Black Circle (1934)
              – [ ] Clark Ashton Smith – The Dark Eidolon (1935)
              – [ ] Robert E Howard – Red Nails (1936)
              – [ ] Robert E Howard – The Hour of the Dragon (1950)


  4. Bookstooge says:

    So, I initially read this post on the app, and didn’t see the cool side by side columns. That was very well thought out!
    How was it for formatting it? Easy or hard?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was very easy to do with the block editor. I simply selected the columns block and then you can choose how many columns you want. Too bad that I cannot see the columns if I open the post in the reader tab. I’m not sure if that is the same for everybody.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bookstooge says:

        The columns block. Good to know.
        And it is the same for everyone if they open it in the reader instead of visiting your site actual. Which is why I usually try to visit peoples’ site because it does make a difference.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wakizashi33 says:

    I read The Lost World when I was a kid and enjoyed it very much. I haven’t read the Burroughs book, but I have vague memories of the film adaptation from the 1970s. It no doubt looks very dated now but those model dinosaurs were awesome to my young eyes!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t read either of these but, from your comparison and my own experience with Doyle’s Sherlock stuff, I’ll definitely give his book a shot in the future rather than Burroughs’… Especially if the romance sucks…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ola G says:

    Doyle is a solid author. Burroughs, though – can’t say I ever felt the need to read anything by him, and your review only justifies my reticence! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Paul Connelly says:

    The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, and Out of Time’s Abyss each have a different protagonist (and I think the last one was third person instead of first person, but it’s been a while). They repeat a lot of the same story elements though, along with the setting, and our three male leads end up with appropriate female mates at the end. Any words or phrases that sound scientific make no sense, so you can pretty much ignore that aspect.

    The first three books in the Mars (or Barsoom) series have John Carter as the first person protagonist, and I think that’s true of Swords of Mars also, but maybe not the others. So those might be the four to try if you really want to be a completist. Again, the science is nonsensical, and ERB undoubtedly fails all the modern sociocultural tests that the Twitterati would consider all-important. I devoured these back in the early 1960s, but haven’t revisited them since. My father read The Lost World to us prior to that, and that one I have reread at least once and enjoyed, but not in any recent decade, and I’ve never read the other Professor Challenger books. The White Company was another Doyle novel I read and liked back then, but that’s closer to historical than anything fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the extra information, Paul! I am still debating with myself whether I should read The People That Time Forgot, and Out of Time’s Abyss. On the one hand, Burroughs’ writing wasn’t very good. On the other hand, these books are very short, and the various ape-men species were interesting.

      The first three Barsoom books are also on my list for later this year.


      • Paul Connelly says:

        I feel like Burroughs is basically appealing to a middle grade audience (9-14 year olds now, maybe slightly older kids at the time the stories were published), and he has some romance (but no sex), plus the cultural baggage of his times. He’s very consistent in his writing up until the late 1930s and the 1940s, when I think he shows signs of writing fatigue but also has some darker moments in the works. If your expectations are in line with that and your tastes are varied his books can be enjoyable. It’s like how I can enjoy Bach and Handel, but also Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, or Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, for what they are versus for what they’re not. Maybe try A Princess of Mars next, see how much more ERB you want to be exposed to after that.

        Somebody like A. Merritt is more appealing to the young adult (15-22 year old) audience, compared to Burroughs, even though they have similar themes and settings. The language and story content are at a slightly older level.


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