The lost world is a subgenre of the fantasy or science fiction genres that involves the discovery of an unknown world out of time, place, or both. It began as a subgenre of the late-Victorian adventure romance and remains popular into the 21st century.
The genre arose during an era when the fascinating remnants of lost civilizations around the world were being discovered, such as the tombs of Egypt's Valley of the Kings, the semi-mythical stronghold of Troy, the jungle-shrouded pyramids of the Maya, and the cities and palaces of the empire of Assyria. Thus, real stories of archaeological finds by imperial adventurers succeeded in capturing the public's imagination. Between 1871 and the First World War, the number of published lost world narratives, set in every continent, dramatically increased.
The genre has similar themes to "mythical kingdoms", such as El Dorado.
King Solomon's Mines (1885) by H. Rider Haggard is sometimes considered the first lost-world narrative. Haggard's novel shaped the form and influenced later lost-world narratives, including Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King (1888), Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912), Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot (1918), A. Merritt's The Moon Pool (1918), and H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1931).
Earlier works, such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Vril: The Power of the Coming Race (1871) and Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1872) use a similar plot as a vehicle for Swiftian social satire rather than romantic adventure. Other early examples are Simon Tyssot de Patot's Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé (1710), which includes a prehistoric fauna and flora, and Robert Paltock's The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (1751), an 18th-century imaginary voyage inspired by both Defoe and Swift, where a man named Peter Wilkins discovers a race of winged people on an isolated island surrounded by high cliffs as in Burrough's Caspak. The 1820 Hollow Earth novel Symzonia has also been cited as the first of the lost world form, and Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) and The Village in the Treetops (1901) popularized the theme of surviving pockets of prehistoric species. J.-H. Rosny aîné would later publish The Amazing Journey of Hareton Ironcastle (1922), a novel where an expedition in the heart of Africa discovers a mysterious area with an ecosystem from another world, with alien flora and fauna. Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) has certain lost world elements towards the end of the tale.
James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933) enjoyed popular success in using the genre as a takeoff for popular philosophy and social comment. It introduced the name Shangri-La, a meme for the idealization of the lost world as a paradise. Similar books where the inhabitants of the lost world are seen as superior to the outsiders, are Joseph O'Neill's Land under England (1935) and Douglas Valder Duff's Jack Harding’s Quest (1939).
Contemporary American novelist Michael Crichton invokes this tradition in his novel Congo (1980), which involves a quest for King Solomon's mines, fabled to be in a lost African city called Zinj. During the 1990s, James Gurney published a series of juvenile novels about a lost island called Dinotopia, in which humans live alongside living dinosaurs.
The lost world is present in many other media. In video games, it is most notably present in Tomb Raider and its sequels, and in the Uncharted franchise. In movies, the Indiana Jones franchise makes use of similar concepts. Also comics make use of the idea, such as Savage Land in Marvel Comics and Themyscira in DC comics.
Early lost-world novels were typically set in parts of the world as yet unexplored by Europeans. Favorite locations were the interior of Africa (many of Haggard's novels, Burroughs' Tarzan novels) or inland South America (Doyle's The Lost World, Merritt's The Face in the Abyss), as well as Central Asia (Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King, Haggard's Ayesha, Merritt's The Metal Monster, Hilton's Lost Horizon).
Later writers favored Antarctica, especially as a refuge for prehistoric species. Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot and its sequels were set on the island of Caprona in the Southern Ocean. In Edison Marshall's Dian of the Lost Land (1935), Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals, and mammoths survive in the "Moss Country", a sheltered warm corner of the continent. Dennis Wheatley's novel The Man Who Missed the War (1945) also deals with a warm and hidden area on the continent, where there live humans such as the descendants of Atlantis. In Jeremy Robinson's Antarktos Rising (2007), dinosaurs and Nephilim emerge as the icecap melts. Mat Johnson's Pym (2011) describes giant white hominids living in ice caves. Ian Cameron's The Mountains at the Bottom of the World (1972) has a relict population of Paranthropus living not quite in Antarctica, but in the southern Chilean Andes. Crusoe Warburton (1954), by Victor Wallace Germains, describes an island in the far south Atlantic, with a lost, pre-gunpowder empire.
According to Allienne Becker, there was a logical evolution from the lost-world subgenre to the planetary romance genre: "When there were no longer any unexplored corners of our earth, the Lost Worlds Romance turned to space."
Brian Stableford makes a related point about Lost Worlds: "The motif has gradually fallen into disuse by virtue of increasing geographical knowledge; these days lost lands have to be very well hidden indeed or displaced beyond some kind of magical or dimensional boundary. Such displacement [...] so transforms their significance that they are better thought of as Secondary Worlds or Otherworlds."
- Deane, Bradley (2008). "Imperial Barbarians: Primitive masculinity in Lost World fiction". Victorian Literature and Culture. 36: 205–25. doi:10.1017/S1060150308080121. Retrieved 2012-05-18.
- According to Robert E. Morsberger in the "Afterword" of King Solomon's Mines, The Reader's Digest (1993).
- Becker, Allienne R. (1992). The Lost Worlds Romance: From Dawn Till Dusk. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-26123-7.
- "The Lost World". "Reader's Guide" (from file name) to Doyle's The Lost World. The Lost World Read 2009 (lostworldread.com).
- "Sex, Jingoism & Black Magic: The Weird Fiction of Dennis Wheatley". Jessica Amanda Salmonson. ©2000. Violet Books (violetbooks.com). Archived 2013-07-17 at the Wayback Machine
- Stableford, Brian (1997). "Lost Lands and Continents". The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. Online at Science Fiction Encyclopedia (sf-encyclopedia.uk). Retrieved 2019-03-11.
In two linked entries by editor John Clute, the encyclopedia distinguishes "Otherworld" from its subclass "Secondary World", and also from the settings of Supernatural Fiction and of Planetary Romance, and from related concepts.
La Gazette des Français du Paraguay, Le Monde Perdu, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - El Mundo Perdido, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle bilingual French Spanish, Numéro 9, Année 1, Asuncion 2013.
|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Science Fiction Literature/Lost Worlds|
- A checklist of lost-world/lost-race books, and related material
- Examples of Lost Worlds in pop culture from tvtropes.org
- "Lost Worlds" at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction – with linked entries on "Lost Races" and related themes
- "Lost Lands and Continents" and "Lost Races" entries in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)