Thursday 10 October 2013

Conan Doyle's The Lost World First Edition: An Early *In Universe* Book

There's been a move in the film and TV tie-in publishing world in recent years towards 'In Universe' books. That is to say, instead of non-fiction 'making of' or 'episode guide' titles (which have to fight to justify their existence these days alongside websites and DVD extras), a book is put together which presents itself as coming from within the world (or, yes, universe) of the story.

This recent Dark Knight Manual, full of 'documents from the Batcave', is a good example, as is this tie-in to the TV series Fringe — a book which is utterly impenetrable to non-fans, but endlessly fascinating and genuinely illuminating to those who followed all five seasons of the show. Then there are books which mix the 'behind the scenes' and 'in universe' approaches, like this Sherlock companion which peppers John Watson's 'Casefiles' (complete with snarky post-it notes from Sherlock himself) amongst the non-fiction stuff.

What's this got to do with The Lost World? Well, leafing through the copy of the rather wonderful Large Paper first edition Withnail Books currently has on eBay, it's evident that dear old Sir Arthur was playing the 'In Universe' game a century ago. The book was as much of a 'blockbuster' in its day as the film which nicked its name many decades later (the Michael Crichton one; by then there had already been several 'official' adaptations, including this one), and the 'Large Paper' edition was the 'Director's Cut/Special Edition' version of the novel, in a larger format, and with more illustrations than the standard trade edition. These images, a mixture of drawings, maps and photographs, are presented as documents sourced directly from 'the expedition', to go alongside the text, which is of course straight-facedly subtitled 'An account of the recent amazing adventures of Prof. George E. Challenger' et al.

What's really fun about the illustrations is that Conan Doyle himself got in on the act: that's him under a frankly outrageous false beard, pretending to be Professor Challenger. As well as the 'group photo' above, there's a Frontispiece and portrait photo of him as the Prof. Put those with the various other maps and 'photos', plus the stunning binding, featuring Iguanodon footprints, and you have a book which has that irresistible appeal of something which has been put together for fans, by fans. There were Conan Doyle and Dino geeks back in 1912, and this was for them. It's still very cool today.

Here it is in all its glory:

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