Monday, December 30, 2013

Spending the End of the World with Professor Challenger

THE POISON BELT.
By Arthur Conan Doyle.
George H. Doran.
1913. 252 pages.
Online HERE.
Available on Kindle.
First serialized in THE STRAND, March-July 1913.
Doyle seems to have liked impulsive Professor Challenger more than his most famous cerebral character, Sherlock Holmes, which this reviewer finds deplorable:
In The Poison Belt, as in The Lost World of a year or so ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has found expression in the singular personality of Professor George Edward Challenger. The name itself is diagnostic. From the beginning the huge beard of the strange violent scientist bristles, and the hoarse bellowing voice booms out. These last two stories have been less telling of tales than the illumination of a character in which the author seems to find particular delight. Yet this character is too artificial, too much builded up of complexities, to be entirely convincing. In the Doyle portrait gallery he is hardly worthy of a place with Sherlock Holmes, with the Brigadier Gerard, with Sir Nigel Loring, or with the delightful Sir CharlesTregellis.
His proper place is behind the counterfeit presentment of the well-meaning but monotonous Dr. Watson. That he is even there is due to the fact that his creator under all conditions is an accomplished literary workman. In less practiced and dexterous hands Challenger would be a rank absurdity. Another point. There was a suggestion of the character in an earlier tale by Conan Doyle. In many ways Challenger is a reincarnation of that singular evil genius who haunted the pages of the Stark-Munro Letters.
The story of The Poison Belt is entertaining but inconsequential. It involves the four characters who made the journey to South America to find The Lost World—Challenger, Summerlee, Lord John Roxton, and the young journalist, Malone. In a letter to the London Times, couched in terms of characistic [sic] insolence, Challenger has called attention to certain cosmic changes which he thinks likely to bring about the immediate dissolution of the world. His prediction is at first ridiculed. But from remote corners of the earth there come items of news threateningly corroborative,— stories of queer illnesses in Sumatra, of light-houses out of action in the Straits of Sunda. Swiftly the menace draws nearer. India and Persia appear to be wiped out. Delirious excitement prevails through the south of France. Symptoms of an unnatural madness are perceptible in Paris and London.
These are the conditions when Summerlee, Roxton, and Malone, carrying their precious tubes of oxygen, take train for the Surrey home of Professor Challenger, there to prolong life in a room hermetically sealed, and to witness the end of the world.
It all depends whether the tale is of a kind that appeals to the reader. If it does he is assured of an authorship which, despite the amazing extent of its popularity, has never received its full meed of serious consideration. — "Sixteen Books of the Month" by Arthur Bartlett Maurice, THE BOOKMAN (November 1913)
About a hundred years later:
Overall this was an interesting story with slightly flat characters, who were by no means wooden, who interacted believably with one another. Suspension of disbelief was not a problem, and while the SF elements were drawn well enough, the catastrophe imagery was absolutely fantastic. I'll always consider the ending a big cheat and a ruin of the premise of the story, but I did enjoy it overall. — Gregory Tidwell, OMPHALOS' SF BOOK REVIEWS (2009)
The Professor Challenger stories:
- THE LOST WORLD (1912)
- THE POISON BELT (1913)
- THE LAND OF MIST (1926)
- "When the World Screamed" (1928)
- "The Disintegration Machine" (1929)

Category: Science fiction

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