Sherri St. Malch
Introduction to Literature
The male ego and the fulfillment of a man's own image of himself can be strong motivating forces behind his actions and behaviors. Society has created parameters used to define a "real" man; failing to live up to these specifications threatens one's masculinity and standing amongst one's peers. These expectations and requirements for manhood are constantly reinforced by society. The prevailing stereotype of the classic "Marlboro Man" along with movie heroes such as James Bond, Indiana Jones, and John Wayne give the impression of the adventurous ladies' man who laughs in the face of danger and can do no wrong. Arthur Conan Doyle's tale of adventure, The Lost World, is an excellent example of the search for manhood and glorification of masculinity. What begins as a scientific expedition turns into a journey to satisfy the suppressed male instincts and desires for conquest. With the search for knowledge as an appropriate excuse, the explorers of Maple-White land are free to indulge in the arts of "real" men and live up to their idealized conceptions of their own greatness.
From the very beginning of The Lost World, it is easy to see where the storyline is heading. Edward Malone is preparing to propose to his precious Gladys but is abruptly denied and told he is not quite man enough at this time to meet the ideals of his idolized beauty. Gladys explains that she wants a man of action, a man who "makes his own chances" (4). The whole reason for Malone's participation in the activities to come is to prove himself to Gladys through a sort of courtly love process to win her approval and hand in marriage.
To prove himself, Malone aids the famed Lord John Roxton in rushing a drunk man to help force feed the drunkard. Malone's first glimpse of Professor Challenger includes mention of "a huge spread of shoulders and a barrel of a chest" (17), while Roxton is noted as a famous sportsman (49) and Malone a quite famed player of rugby, "the manliest game we have left" (54). Even the drunkard is recognized by Roxton as "the best gentleman jock in the north country" (52) which somehow makes it seem that much more necessary to save him. All the qualities are based on the physical appearance and condition of the characters. Doyle defines men by what they have accomplished, the size of their chests, and their relative cranial sizes.
The bulk of this account from the journalist Malone takes place deep in the Amazon jungles of South America far from civilization and the comforts of industry and technology. It is like one big Boy Scout retreat. These professors and other gentlemen set out to find the undisturbed realm of the dinosaurs and end up finding and thrilling the adventurous spirits inside them. It is called a scientific expedition, but most of the actions taken are done to achieve personal satisfaction and advancement. Malone has made it clear that his only purpose of accompanying the Professor was to find the excitement he craved and to meet the expectations of his girlfriend. Lord Roxton just wants another trophy for his mantle and to experience the awe of the strange plateau with "a sportin' risk in every mile of it" (56). Professor Challenger wants to prove himself to the scientific world and put to rest any doubts and questions over his self-proclaimed superiority and intellect. On this so-called scientific quest, Professor Summerlee, who is more or less there due to pressure from his fellow scientists, appears to be the only adventurer in the pursuit of science.
This strange new land holds many mysteries and elements of the unknown. When encountering such oddities, instead of displaying any scientific or journalistic objectivity, the explorers use the worst possible descriptions to add terror and drama into the story. When first observing the large Iguanodons, words like "monstrous" and "terror" are used to describe these vegetarian creatures that do not show any threatening behavior at all. Similarly, when viewing the pterodactyls for the first time, the natural scene of mothers and their newborns are seen as a "crawling flapping mass of obscene reptilian life" (114). These particular animals make the discovery "seem like a scene from the Seven Circles of Dante" (114). Even in the encounter with the missing-link ape-man, Malone describes the creature by its large canine teeth and "bestial and ferocious" eyes; he comments that "for an instant [he] read hatred and menace in the evil eyes" (130). The only time this description of the horrible residents of Maple White Land is not prevalent is during the two professors' scientific disputes over classification and the naming of these newly discovered creatures. But these few scenes are presented as humorous, as the men of science are shown to be pedantic and out of touch with the proper values: those of the men of action. Such displays of scholarly pontificating are considered inappropriate during the adventure. Otherwise, the many exaggerations of the terrors and the trials faced in The Lost World heighten the sense of danger and show that only men of courage and bravery can overcome obstacles of fear.
Western civilization places a great emphasis on bravery and the chivalrous examples of manhood. A man who takes control of his surroundings and wins his place in the world commands the respect of others and of what's around him. The four travelers in Maple White Land come for the sake of science but end up conquering the natives of this land and claiming ownership and dominance over their discovery. Somehow during this scientific expedition the adventurers find it necessary to exterminate several native animals and conveniently wipe out the entire male population of ape-men. It seems that every time they go anywhere they kill something. Their actions are justified by a twisted "kill or be killed" or "survival of the fittest" misinterpretation of Darwinism. Once they step foot in this uncharted land, it is suddenly theirs for the taking. Much like the European colonization of the globe, the explorers claim their place over their dominion and move on to tame the savages and make the world safe for their civilization: "man was to be supreme and the man-beast to find forever his allotted place" (178). The conquest is complete with the destruction of the ape-men and their "Apetown"; and with the blood-lust of this slaughter still lingering in the air, the weary conquerors can rightfully claim their prize and return to tell about it.
Although it was an important scientific
while in the lost world our four travelers worked more on exercising
their brutish masculinity than their morals or even their mission
for science. They could have turned their attention to a method
of escape, but instead chose to explore and exploit the reaches
of the jungle abyss. They came away with fame and recognition,
even wealth--everything they were after and more. The whole purpose
of the expedition was for Professor Challenger to save face and
prove his story to be true; the three others were along for the
ride but were soon caught up in the action as well. Science took
the back seat to Lord Roxton and his adventurous spirit. With
courage and bravery the men proved themselves to each other and
experienced true "male bonding" in its purest form.
They brought back evidence of this zoological and scientific
breakthrough, but more importantly, it seems, they bolstered their
egos and self-assurances of their own worth and capability.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Lost World. 1912. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1990.