Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Poison Belt

Today is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday. With that we'll talk about Professor George Edward Challenger and The Poison Belt. There might be spoilers within...

I've said before how unlikable Professor Challenger is portrayed, yet as the reader you can't help but love the character. What an interesting writing technique. It seems most authors aim for their protagonists to be the best of the best or the most likable possible, perhaps with an eye bent towards marketing to audiences. I feel that pull if put to the task of writing fiction. But Doyle uses the everyday man as the eyepiece (Dr. Watson for Sherlock and Mr. Malone for Challenger) to observe a protagonist who is abrasive and often unpleasant. This is remarkably more realistic, in my opinion.

The Lost World was wonderful. It set me on the course to follow the adventures of Professor Challenger straightaway. The Poison Belt was strange. The themes in the short novel rang so familiar that I was often imagining scenes exactly described before from the likes of The Stand, etc. Except that Poison Belt predates them all, pretty much. It's remarkable how dark the story is.

The ending leaves us with redemption. The world is reborn unawares. Challenger and his crew are the only people in realize the truth even though the world feels a renewal of life.

One thing that is remarkable about Doyle's Challenger stories are that the scientific discoveries are so Earth shattering (almost literally!) that the world would be changed by them. Yet Challenger's bane is that the proof, although often pretty strong, isn't enough to shake the world's common mis-beliefs. It seems the world is more comfortable believing Challenger is a crazy mad scientist. And unfortunately for him, his manner often fits that bill.

There are only a few stories featuring G.E. Challenger. The Lost World, The Poison Belt, The Land of Mist, and two short stories- When the World Screamed, and The Disintegration Machine. I hope to find and enjoy them soon. We'll meet back here and talk about it when I do...