The Lost World: Plants
Ann G. Bharri
What About the Plants?
Throughout The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle continuallyportrayed his characters both revering and yet mistreating thebeautiful foliage around them. It was a rather strange combinationof attitudes: people usually have treated the things they reverequite 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 uponthe wing, and every shrub upon the bank” (74). They evenused an Assai palm as a landmark so they could find their wayback to Maple White Land (75), but what did the plant life getfor a thanks? “We drew them up [the canoes] and concealedthem 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 throughoutthe book. It was simply thought of as a resource and not as aliving entity. It was noted for its beauty, but scarred or killedthe instant one felt the need.
There was a much better example of this sort of treatment. Toget onto the impregnable Maple White Land plateau there was alone beech tree, a native to England but not to South America,on top of a pinnacle reasonably close to the plateau. Once thepinnacle was climbed, they cut down that “fellow-countrymanin a far off land” (98) to use it as a bridge into MapleWhite Land.
I cut gashes in the sides of the tree as would ensurethat it would fall as we desired. . . . Finally I set to workin earnest upon the trunk, taking turn and turn with Lord John. In a little over an hour there was a loud crack, the tree swayedforward, and then crashed over, burying its branches among thebushes on the farther side. The severed trunk rolled to thevery edge of our platform . . . and there was our bridge tothe unknown. (99)
A lone beech tree, rare enough in South America, growing outof the top of a pinnacle was quite an unusual sight and a miracleof nature, but the instant it was deemed useful in some minorway, 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 theirthoughtless 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 yardsin diameter. This was to be our base headquarters for the time–our place of refuge against sudden danger and the guard-house forour stores. Fort Challenger we called it. (108)
All those thorny bushes gave their lives so a group of four grownmen could build a fort, and again there was no thought of thanksnor remorse. There was only a wanton disregard for their existence,for their ability to survive on their own, before the explorersfelt the need to murder them.
A more subtle example of this disregard was when they were walkingthrough the flower bed. Nearly everyone’s mother has told themmany times not to walk through the flower bed simply because theflowers become trampled and they die. The intruders expressedno sense of remorse for their trampling of the flowers either. In fact there was quite the opposite sentiment. The narratorexpressed a feeling of gratitude for having “walked ankle-deepon that wonderful yielding carpet” (126). It would be quitea different perspective to think about every step killing thatwonderful yielding carpet. Around the Washington State Universitycampus there are dirt paths formed on certain lawns where manypeople have cut across them, killing the grass. It’s for thissame reason that Park Rangers everywhere warn tourists to stayon designated pathways. This is another example of how the explorersdisregarded the needs of plant life.
This disregard for plant life was very different from the viewsthat are gaining popularity in today’s society. With the dwindlingof the rain forest people today are more concerned with preservingthe diversity of plant life that is left. There was no thoughtas to how the explorers’ actions would affect the delicate balanceof nature in the isolated ecosystem on top of the plateau. Onewould think that preserving the ecosystem would be the first thoughton the minds of those who went to explore the area. This is notthe case, as we have seen. Doyle’s explorers were more interestedin building a name for themselves than preserving the life onthe plateau, plant or otherwise.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Lost World. 1912. Chicago:Academy Chicago Pub., 1990.