Assembling the Dinosaur by Lukas Rieppel

Assembling the Dinosaur by Lukas Rieppel

Author:Lukas Rieppel
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Harvard University Press

Faking Photographs

Much as Doyle’s performance at the Society of American Magicians’ annual dinner confounded audiences by bringing extinct creatures to life on the screen, the text of The Lost World dramatized the difficulty of distinguishing between the real and the imaginary. Initially serialized in the Strand magazine from April to November 1912, it was subsequently released as a standalone book. Borrowing heavily from the conventional tropes of adventure stories, The Lost World repeatedly signaled its status as a work of serious nonfiction. However, despite the fact that Doyle had recently made a name for himself as a journalist with a graphic exposé of the atrocities committed in the Belgian Congo, savvy readers would have known they were dealing with a playful deception. Thus, while the Strand promised that Doyle’s story was “guaranteed to give a thrill to the most jaded reader,” much of what made The Lost World fresh and intriguing was the way that it self-consciously poked fun at the genre’s own hackneyed conventions.18 For example, Doyle’s text began with a foreword informing readers that one of the story’s protagonists—an irascible naturalist named Professor George Edward Challenger—recently withdrew a libel suit that prevented its publication.19 Traditionally, adventure writers deployed clever manipulations of nondiegetic elements of the text such as this to add an uncanny touch of realism to their stories. But in Doyle’s case, the foreword could also be read on a more ironic register, as an inside joke that flattered the sophistication of knowledgeable readers who recognized Challenger’s lawsuit as a formulaic element of adventure fiction more so than a literary device that actually sought to fool them into believing the story was true.20

The narrative content of Doyle’s novel largely revolved around the difficulty of distinguishing fact from fiction as well. Its plot was set in motion when the romantic advances of a young journalist named E. D. Malone were rebuffed by a woman who pined for “a harder, sterner man” who “could look Death in the face and have no fear of him.” Determined to prove himself worthy, Malone ran off to ask his news editor for an assignment with “adventure and danger in it.” His editor responded by suggesting, “What about exposing a fraud—a modern Munchausen—and making him ridiculous? You could show him up as the liar he is!” This led Malone to visit Challenger, who recently claimed to have discovered an elevated plateau in the Amazon on which the “ordinary laws of Nature,” including the “various checks which influence the struggle for existence” had been suspended. As a result, ancient and strange-looking creatures such as the Pterodactyl and Stegosaurus, as well as other extinct saurians from the Jurassic, were “artificially conserved” there. To win over the young journalist, Challenger adduced several pieces of documentary evidence, including a number of photographs and a physical specimen of the Pterodactyl’s leathery wing. Feeling the “cumulative proof” presented by Challenger was both “conclusive” and “overwhelming,” Malone exclaimed that he was “a Columbus of science.” But when Malone rushed back to report on the great naturalist’s discoveries, he was met with a skeptical audience.


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