Ann G. Bharri
Intro. Literature
Delahoyde
December 1996

What About the Plants?

Throughout The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle continually portrayed his characters both revering and yet mistreating the beautiful foliage around them. It was a rather strange combination of attitudes: people usually have treated the things they revere quite well, but Doyle did combine these attitudes in this writing.

Take the example as the group was traveling down the river. During the trip "our two professors watched every bird upon the wing, and every shrub upon the bank" (74). They even used an Assai palm as a landmark so they could find their way back to Maple White Land (75), but what did the plant life get for a thanks? "We drew them up [the canoes] and concealed them among the bushes [probably breaking quite a few branches], blazing a tree with our axes, so that we should find them again" (77).

This was typical of the treatment plant life received all throughout the book. It was simply thought of as a resource and not as a living entity. It was noted for its beauty, but scarred or killed the instant one felt the need.

There was a much better example of this sort of treatment. To get onto the impregnable Maple White Land plateau there was a lone beech tree, a native to England but not to South America, on top of a pinnacle reasonably close to the plateau. Once the pinnacle was climbed, they cut down that "fellow-countryman in a far off land" (98) to use it as a bridge into Maple White Land.

I cut gashes in the sides of the tree as would ensure that it would fall as we desired. . . . Finally I set to work in earnest upon the trunk, taking turn and turn with Lord John. In a little over an hour there was a loud crack, the tree swayed forward, and then crashed over, burying its branches among the bushes on the farther side. The severed trunk rolled to the very edge of our platform . . . and there was our bridge to the unknown. (99)
A lone beech tree, rare enough in South America, growing out of the top of a pinnacle was quite an unusual sight and a miracle of nature, but the instant it was deemed useful in some minor way, it was forced to give up its life for the sake of exploration, with no remorse for the request.

Once in Maple White Land, the explorers continued with their thoughtless ways. Once they found a suitable camping ground . . .

we cut down with our hatchet and knives a number of thorny bushes, which we piled round in a circle some fifteen yards in diameter. This was to be our base headquarters for the time--our place of refuge against sudden danger and the guard-house for our stores. Fort Challenger we called it. (108)
All those thorny bushes gave their lives so a group of four grown men could build a fort, and again there was no thought of thanks nor remorse. There was only a wanton disregard for their existence, for their ability to survive on their own, before the explorers felt the need to murder them.

A more subtle example of this disregard was when they were walking through the flower bed. Nearly everyone's mother has told them many times not to walk through the flower bed simply because the flowers become trampled and they die. The intruders expressed no sense of remorse for their trampling of the flowers either. In fact there was quite the opposite sentiment. The narrator expressed a feeling of gratitude for having "walked ankle-deep on that wonderful yielding carpet" (126). It would be quite a different perspective to think about every step killing that wonderful yielding carpet. Around the Washington State University campus there are dirt paths formed on certain lawns where many people have cut across them, killing the grass. It's for this same reason that Park Rangers everywhere warn tourists to stay on designated pathways. This is another example of how the explorers disregarded the needs of plant life.

This disregard for plant life was very different from the views that are gaining popularity in today's society. With the dwindling of the rain forest people today are more concerned with preserving the diversity of plant life that is left. There was no thought as to how the explorers' actions would affect the delicate balance of nature in the isolated ecosystem on top of the plateau. One would think that preserving the ecosystem would be the first thought on the minds of those who went to explore the area. This is not the case, as we have seen. Doyle's explorers were more interested in building a name for themselves than preserving the life on the plateau, plant or otherwise.


Work Cited

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Lost World. 1912. Chicago: Academy Chicago Pub., 1990.


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