Sometimes it is made out that “alternative” facts are a new, or at least phenomenon, but anyone enversed in the history of science can probably easily rattle off a few well-chosen examples. Sometimes, however, the division between what is “real” and “imagined” isn’t quite so clear, as the history of the search for living dinosaurs reveals.1
A World Lost?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912) is a strange but highly successful amalgam of adventure story and science novel, and probably his best-known work outside of the Sherlock Holmes canon. It has given rise to numerous film adaptations, including the one of the first appearances of ‘living’ dinosaurs on celluloid in 1925.
Doyle was likely inspired to write the novel after having spoken at a lunch at the Royal Society in 1910, in the presence of Robert Peary, who had just returned from his quest to discover the North Pole. In his talk, Doyle contemplated, in the light of the activities of Peary and others, whether there was any unknown part of the world left for writers of adventure stories to draw their inspiration from. Coupled with Doyle’s admiration for adventurists and his interest in paleontology, The Lost World was his answer to this question.2
This piece was originally part of my PhD dissertation but didn’t make it to my book American Dinosaur Abroad. A Cultural History of Carnegie’s Plaster Diplodocus (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) It’s a bit speculative and wanders off here and there, but I thought it interesting enough to reproduce here. ↩
Miller, Russell. 2008. The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle. A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 301f. ↩