“South America is a place I love, and I think, if you take it right through from Darien to Fuego, it's the grandest, richest, most wonderful bit of earth upon this planet.” That's what Lord John Roxon, Doyle's ideal of an English upperclass sporting gentleman, tells the narrator of The Lost World, before they set out on an expedition to find living pre-historic animals that Professor Challenger claims to have encountered. Roxon explains that he'd “been up an' down it from end to end” while carrying out his private war on slave traders and heard
"some yarns of the same kind—traditions of Indians and the like, but with somethin' behind them, no doubt. The more you knew of that country, young fellah, the more you would understand that anythin' was possible—ANYTHIN'! There are just some narrow water-lanes along which folk travel, and outside that it is all darkness. Now, down here in the Matto Grande"—he swept his cigar over a part of the map—"or up in this corner where three countries meet, nothin' would surprise me. As that chap said to-night, there are fifty-thousand miles of water-way runnin' through a forest that is very near the size of Europe. You and I could be as far away from each other as Scotland is from Constantinople, and yet each of us be in the same great Brazilian forest. Man has just made a track here and a scrape there in the maze. Why, the river rises and falls the best part of forty feet, and half the country is a morass that you can't pass over. Why shouldn't somethin' new and wonderful lie in such a country? And why shouldn't we be the men to find it out?"
“It is it is all darkness,” Roxon tells the young reporter who has joined him and the two professors on their quest, but it is a darkness that hides what Doyle later has one of his characters describe as “an unknown dreamland” — a “fairyland.” Note how this darkness differs from the horrors of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In The Lost World Europeans do not contribute the horrors but instead save others from them.
This darkness of the unknown offers Roxon and Doyle other rewards, for it provides a means of avoiding the condition of so many Englishman, who have become “a deal too soft and dull and comfy.” As Roxon, “his queer, gaunt face shining with delight,” assures the narrator,
"There's a sportin' risk in every mile of it. I'm like an old golf-ball—I've had all the white paint knocked off me long ago. Life can whack me about now, and it can't leave a mark. But a sportin' risk, young fellah, that's the salt of existence. Then it's worth livin' again. We're all gettin' a deal too soft and dull and comfy. Give me the great waste lands and the wide spaces, with a gun in my fist and somethin' to look for that's worth findin'. I've tried war and steeplechasin' and aeroplanes, but this huntin' of beasts that look like a lobster-supper dream is a brand-new sensation." He chuckled with glee at the prospect. . . .
An adrenaline addict with great physical prowess, Lord John proves the perfect adventure hero, just the person one wants on such an expedition, and Doyle presents him as the kind of active man who contrasts sharply with Conrad's passive observer. He does not observe the horrors of slavery but protects the Indians, attacking the slavers. When they arrive at the high plateau that preserves the ancient lifeforms, he again protects the Indians, this time from the Darwinian missing link apemen.
How much of a hero — someone to emulate — is Roxon?
Last modified 14 November 2013