Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Getting Lost

This post can be read as a tacit admission that watching the final season premiere of Lost last night kept me from finishing my planned essay for today.  It also serendipitously gives me an opportunity to formalize some thoughts I've had about the show and its relationship--unplanned, I believe--to the "lost world" genre.

A brief warning: some spoilers for the TV series Lost, and for various works of fiction written over the past hundred years or more may follow.

Anyway, the "lost world" genre is based around the idea that certain civilizations, cultures, or races have been hidden, forgotten or, well--lost. Typically, these are located in out-of-the-way places like underground regions (or the hollow earth), undersea realms, hidden valleys, remote plateaus, or unknown islands. Though the origins of the genre lie in myths and legends from many cultures, its modern progenitor is often considered to be H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885), relating the search for the fabled lost wealth of Biblical Ophir. In the 1887 sequel, Allan Quartermain, Haggard's protagonist, stumbled upon Zu-Vendis, another hidden African realm.

Haggard revealed yet another lost world, Kor, in the apparently crowded heart of Africa in She: A History of Adventure and its sequels. Kor was ruled by an incarnation of a goddess, Ayesha, the She of the title. She was played by Ursula Andress in the 1965 Hammer film version--who coincidentally played another goddess in the original Clash of the Titans.

Haggard had found adventure fiction gold in King Solomon's Mines, and other writers soon sent intrepid explorers out to their own lost worlds. Arthur Conan Doyle gave us the dinosaur-infested Maple White Land in The Lost World (1912), and an undersea city of Atlantis in The Maracot Deep (1929). Rudyard Kipling sent The Man Who Would Be King (1888) to a remote (and fictional) part of Afghanistan to get his kingdom.

Some writers managed to uncover a lot of lost worlds. Abraham Merritt wrote several lost world novels, as did Edgar Rice Burroughs. In The Moon Maid (1926), Burroughs places a lost world inside the earth's hollow moon, but his most inventive lost land must the barbaric, future Europe of The Lost Continent (1915) which is rediscovered by explorers from the Americas.

Original lost worlds have appeared in other media, too. Kong's Skull Island is one, whichever of the film versions you prefer. Sid and Marty Krofft's Land of the Lost gives itself away in the title. Others include the lost valley that Hanna-Barbera's Dino-Boy winds up in, DC's Skartaris, the Lost World of the Warlord; and the world James Scully found through the Bermuda Triangle in Marvel's Skull the Slayer (1975).

So you can see where this is going. Lost spends a lot of time with character drama (and flashbacks and flashfowards that help elucidate those characters), but let's not ever forget it's a story about an island with mysterious inhabitants, ancient ruins--and a monster. Lost is completely a lost world story, just told in a slightly different style, emphasizing things (at least initially) to play to the widest possible TV audience.

Besides the storytelling style, Lost also brings an innovation in its assemble cast. Older works in the lost world genre typically have one main protagonist, one or two companions, and maybe some largely nameless hirelings--typically having a lifespan approximating that of a newly introduced, redshirted member of a Star Trek landing party. Some Lost characters get more screen time than others, but there is no one protagonist.  At least not one that's apparent so far.

It strikes me that Lost provides an interesting way to approach a lost world game. It could initially appear more like a castaway or survivor story, until the weirdness begins to show. It's assemble cast also probably better replicates a gaming group.

Now that I think about it, the same sort of innovations could be applied to a related genre, the planetary romance. Instead of one John Carter, we get a whole airliner--or maybe just a private jet--coming down (somehow) on the lichen-beds in one of the dead, sea bottoms of Mars.


Jim Shelley said...

Great rundown of the Lost World genre - here's one you might not have heard of:

Unknown said...

"Instead of one John Carter, we get a whole airliner--or maybe just a private jet--coming down (somehow) on the lichen-beds in one of the dead, sea bottoms of Mars."

Now THAT sounds like an awesome campaign.

Trey said...

Doesn't it thought? :D