Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lost Lands and Continents

The idea that certain civilizations and continents have been obliterated by disaster, and their cultural heritage lost, is widespread in Myth. The fact that the world map has indeed been transformed by continental drift, and that some human settlements have been wiped out by tectonic upheavals, lends plausibility to such myths as that of Atlantis. Those lost lands which people actually search for – in both fiction and reality – tend to be those whose legends are linked to fabulous wealth, like the Biblical Ophir and the Eldorado of the conquistadores. The former provides a basis for H Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885) and for By Airship to Ophir (1910) by Frank Aubrey (1840-1927), as Fenton Ash, who also wrote The Devil Tree of El Dorado (1896). Eldorado (or El Dorado) is usually recognized as a tempting illusion, as in Voltaire's Candide (1759); like the fabled kingdom of Prester John, it might be classified by pedants as a land which could not be "found" because never actually "lost". What characters in fantasy usually find in lost lands, if anything, is not gold per se but the peace and innocence of the Golden Age which our ancestors supposedly enjoyed before corrupting themselves with civilization. James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933) is a particularly neat encapsulation of this kind of hyperinflated nostalgia.

The lost continent of Lemuria was invented by zoologists attempting to understand similarities between the ecosystems of Madagascar and India. The notion was taken up by the occultist Helena Blavatsky and integrated into an elaborate evolutionary history of the seven "root races" of humankind, along with the sub-Arctic realm of Hyperborea, popularized by Pliny the Elder. The Last Lemurian (1898) by G Firth Scott is one of the earliest fantasy novels to pick up the notion. A full account of the Theosophical Lemuria can be found in The Lost Lemuria (1904 chap), a Scholarly Fantasy by W Scott-Elliott. Some later scholarly fantasists moved Lemuria from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and a new variant of it was popularized in The Lost Continent of Mu (1926) by Colonel James Churchward; Mu's fictional spinoffs include Mukara (1930) by Muriel Bruce, The Monster of Mu (1932) by Owen Rutter and Exiles of Time (1940; 1949) by Nelson S Bond. Lemuria's mythology was further elaborated in "I Remember Lemuria" (1945) by Richard S Shaver. Other lost continents of scholarly fantasy include John Newbrough's Pan and Lewis Spence's Antillia, but these have little relevance to fantasy.

Lost lands are useful repositories of cultures (> Lost Races) and species long extinct in the known world. Their primary function in fantasy is to facilitate such re-creations; many involve Dinosaurs. Several writers of the Weird Tales school of Heroic Fantasy made extensive use of lost civilizations as magic-laden settings. A hypothetical geography of the "Hyborian age" emerged by degrees from the work of Robert E Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith made productive use of Hyperborea. H P Lovecraft utilized similar devices en passant, as did A Merritt in the general-fiction pulps. Later imitators included L Sprague de Camp, in the series which includes The Tritonian Ring (1951; 1968), and Lin Carter, as in the series begun with The Wizard of Lemuria (1965).

Many mythical lands can easily be drawn into the borderlands of geography, as Avalon is in "Avillion" (1853) by Mrs Craik, St Brendan's Isle in The Water Babies (1863) by Charles Kingsley, and Cibola (the "seven cities" from which the Aztecs allegedly sprung) in The City of Frozen Fire (1950) by Vaughan Wilkins (1890-1959). Islands are, of course, particularly easy thus to accommodate, which is why they are scattered with reckless abandon in such Satires as Lucian's True History (circa 150) – which includes the legendary Isles of the Blessed – Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) and The Isles of Wisdom (1924) by Alexandr Moszkowski (1851-1934). Other notable accounts of the "rediscovery" of imaginary islands include The Land that Time Forgot (1916) by Edgar Rice Burroughs and The Island of Captain Sparrow (1928) by S Fowler Wright (1874-1965). The motif has gradually fallen into disuse by virtue of increasing geographical knowledge; these days lost lands have to be very well hidden indeed or displaced beyond some kind of magical or dimensional boundary. Such displacement – e.g., in Vaughan Wilkins's second Cibola story, Valley Beyond Time (1955) – so transforms their significance that they are better thought of as Secondary Worlds or Otherworlds. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.