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Home arrow BFR Matters I arrow B. Fletcher Robinson & 'The Lost World'
B. Fletcher Robinson & 'The Lost World' PDF Print E-mail

In 1925, the famous explorer Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett mysteriously disappeared whilst searching for the fabled ‘Lost City of Z’ in Brazil.  Between September 1882 and July 1885 (see 'BFR Chronology'), he was educated at Newton Abbot Proprietary College in Devon alongside Bertram Fletcher Robinson (hereafter BFR).  At that time, the school had just one-hundred and twenty pupils and so there can be little doubt that the two boys were well acquainted.  In July 1885, Fawcett left 'Newton College' and was admitted to The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in London.  Later, Arthur Conan Doyle (hereafter ACD) collaborated with both Fawcett and BFR over two of his most popular stories: The Lost World and The Hound of the Baskervilles respectively (see below).

Between 1906 and 1910, Fawcett undertook a survey expedition to the borderland between Bolivia and Brazil.  On 13 February 1911, he visited the Royal Geographical Society in London and delivered a lecture entitled Further Exploration in Bolivia to an audience that appears to have included ACD.  During this meeting, Fawcett mentioned a 1908 trip to the Ricardo Franco Hills.  His remarks evidently impressed ACD because Fawcett later wrote the following related comments in his posthumously published memoirs, which are entitled Exploration Fawcett (London: Hutchinson, 1953, p. 122):  

...monsters from the dawn of man's existence might still roam these heights unchallenged, imprisoned and protected by unscalable cliffs.  So thought Conan Doyle when later in London I spoke of these hills and showed photographs of them.  He mentioned an idea for a novel on Central South America and asked for information, which I told him I should be glad to supply.  The fruit of it was his LOST WORLD in 1912, appearing as a serial in the STRAND MAGAZINE [sic], and subsequently in the form of a book that achieved widespread popularity.

The Lost World chronicles a journey to the jungles of South America by four men: Edward E. Malone (the heroic narrator), Professor George Edward Challenger, Professor Summerlee and Lord John Roxton.  Eventually, they locate a plateau that is inhabited by dinosaurs and two warring tribes of hominids and hominoids.  It was ACD's ambition to write a popular 'boy's book', a tale of suspense and adventure.  Whilst The Lost World is certainly this, it is also regarded as an important early work of science fiction.  The first episode of the serialised story appeared in The Strand Magazine during April 1912 and the full tale was published as a book in October of that same year.  ACD was enthusiastic about this story and dressed as Professor Challenger for publicity photographs.  A silent version of The Lost World was the first film to be screened aboard a flight that departed from Croydon Aerodrome on Tuesday 7 April 1925 (view here).

It is worth noting that there are a number of parallels between the character of Edward Malone and that of BFR.  For example, both spent part of their boyhood in the West Country, fished, hunted and exceeded six feet in height.  Furthermore they each became accomplished rugby players, London-based journalists and loved a woman called Gladys.  It is therefore feasible that ACD decided to model Malone on his deceased friend BFR, who had acted as 'assistant plot producer' to The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901). 

During 1897, BFR co-authored a book entitled Football with one Arthur James Budd (London: Lawrence & Bullen).  Arthur Budd was the brother of Dr George Turnavine Budd (hereafter GTB) who employed ACD as a junior medical partner at his surgery in East Stonehouse near Plymouth in 1881.  Later, ACD used GTB as the model for a character called ‘Dr James Cullingworth’ in two books entitled The Stark Munro Letters (1895) and Memories and Adventures (1924).  In the latter book, Cullingworth is described as 'a man born for trouble and adventure' with 'a bulldog jaw, bloodshot deep-set eyes, overhanging brows, and yellowish hair as stiff as wire, which spurted up above his brows.'  Malone describes his first encounter with Challenger thus:

His appearance made me gasp.  I was prepared for something strange, but not for so overpowering a personality as this.  It was his size, which took one's breath away - his size and his imposing presence.  His head was enormous, the largest I have ever seen upon a human being.  I am sure that his top-hat, had I ventured to don it, would have slipped over me entirely and rested on my shoulders.  He had the face and beard, which I associate with an Assyrian bull; the former florid, the latter so black as almost to have a suspicion of blue, spade-shaped and rippling down over his chest.  The hair was peculiar, plastered down in front in a long, curving wisp over his massive forehead.  The eyes were blue-grey under great black tufts, very clear, very critical, and very masterful.  A huge spread of shoulders and a chest like a barrel were the other parts of him which appeared above the table, save for two enormous hands covered with long black hair.

Clearly, there are physical differences between Dr Cullingworth and Professor Challenger.  Nevertheless, both characters are 'striking' in their appearance and they share other traits too.  For example, Challenger is said to possess ‘…a bellowing, roaring, rumbling voice’ and is very forthright when interviewed.  Similarly, Cullingworth is depicted as a bully who frequently shouts abuse at patients during consultations.  Both Challenger and Cullingworth might also be viewed as scientific egotists who are apt to devise ingenious contraptions.  Finally, both men have furious tempers, a propensity to violence and are marginalised by their peers within their respective professions.  Therefore it is possible that ACD used 'George' Budd as a model for 'George' Challenger.

ACD published a further two novels that feature Professor Challenger: The Poison Belt and The Land of Mist.  Both of these stories were originally serialised in The Strand Magazine between March and July 1913 and July 1925 to March 1926 respectively.  These tales were then followed by two related short stories entitled When the World Screamed and The Disintegration Machine that also made their first appearance The Strand Magazine between April and May 1928 and during January 1929 respectively.  These last two stories were later compiled and republished as The Maracot Deep and Other Stories (1929).

There have been a total of seven full-length films that feature the characters of Professor Challenger and Edward Malone and at least one television series.  The first film was The Lost World (1925) and it starred Wallace Beery as Challenger and Lloyd Hughes as Malone.   The most recent film entitled King of the Lost World was made in 2005 and starred Bruce Boxleitner as Challenger and Jeff Denton as Malone.  These films are an enduring legacy to the various links between ACD, Percy Harrison Fawcett, BFR, GTB and Devon.


By Paul Spiring ©2008.

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