Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lost Races

Lost, forgotten or deliberately hidden civilizations occupying undersea or Underground realms or hidden valleys, or some other forbidden enclave on or beneath our Earth. The LR tale was established as a major popular form by H Rider Haggard in King Solomon's Mines (1885), She (1886 US) and Allan Quatermain (1887), but of course there were many earlier occurrences of this motif-cluster, which descends from Travellers' Tales and Fantastic Voyages of the 18th century and before. There is a sense in which much early fantasy (and almost all Scientific Romance) was about unknown lands or undiscovered societies. Nevertheless, it only becomes meaningful to talk of the LR story as a distinct subgenre in the period after the globe was fully mapped and hence geographically "closed": the period of its emergence in this sense was the last third of the 19th century.

From the 1880s to the 1930s an enormous number of LR novels were published in book form or serialized in pulp Magazines, young people's story-papers, etc. The "lost" Motif – extending to lost temples, lost arks, lost grails – still retains some vigour in the late 20th century, as demonstrated by the success of Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones sequence. Other types of fiction overlapping with LR tales, and sometimes confused with them, include Ruritanian Romances (set in imaginary principalities, etc.), parallel-worlds stories (see Alternate Worlds) and latter-day Island utopias. Another related form is the Planetary Romance – essentially the LR story transplanted to an alien planet.

Although many examples of the form – including some of the earliest, like Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) and Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race (1871) – may be claimed as sf, the vast bulk belong more properly to fantasy. Not only do many examples, most notably Haggard's She, feature supernatural motifs (the Flame of Life, Reincarnation), but it has been argued (by, e.g., Darko Suvin) that the essence of the form resides exactly in the depiction of primitive and hierarchical societies which have little or no awareness of science and the possibilities of technological progress. Such arguments may somewhat over-strenuously insist that sf is intrinsically contemptuous of nostalgia, hierarchy or characters out of the worlds of adventure fiction; but it is does properly emphasize the inward- and backward-looking nature of the LR.

In the wake of Haggard, LR novels of the more fantastic kind include direct pastiches – e.g., He (1887) by Andrew Lang and Walter Herries Pollock, He (1887) (the coincidence of title and date can confuse), "It" (1887) and King Solomon's Treasures (1887), all three by John De Morgan, and King Solomon's Wives (1887) by Hyder Ragged (Henry Chartres Biron) – as well as more original variations on the theme: The White Man's Foot (1888) by Grant Allen, The Cavern of Fire (1888) by Francis W Doughty, Beneath Your Very Boots (1889) by C J Cutcliffe Hyne, The Aztec Treasure House: A Romance of Contemporaneous Antiquity (1890) by Thomas A Janvier, The Goddess of Atvatabar (1892) by William R Bradshaw, The Lost Valley of the Toltecs (1893) by Charles S Seeley, The Wonderful City (1894) by J S Fletcher, The Land of the Changing Sun (1894) by Will N Harben, Devil-Tree of El Dorado: A Romance of British Guiana (1896) and A Queen of Atlantis: A Romance of the Caribbean (1898) by Frank Aubrey, The Great White Queen: A Tale of Treasure and Treason (1896) and The Eye of Ishtar: A Romance of the Land of No Return (1897) by William Le Queux, The City of Gold (1896) by Edward Markwick, The White Princess of the Hidden City (1898) by D Lawson Johnstone, In Oudemon: Reminiscences of an Unknown People (1900) by Henry S Drayton, Thyra: A Romance of the Polar Pit (1901) by Robert Ames Bennet, The Great White Way (1901) by Albert Bigelow Paine, The Sunless City (1905) by Joyce E Preston Muddock, By the Gods Beloved (1905; vt The Gates of Kamt) by Baroness Orczy, The Smoky God, or A Voyage to the Inner World (1908) by Willis George Emerson, The White Waterfall (1912) by James Francis Dwye and The Return of Tarzan (1915) by Edgar Rice Burroughs. With the last-named, the second volume in Burroughs's 24-book Tarzan series, we arrive at the work of Haggard's most popular and influential successor. Burroughs was to write dozens of lost-race tales, both within his best-known series (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar [1918], Tarzan and the Ant Men, [1924], etc.), and outside it (At the Earth's Core [1914; 1922], The Land that Time Forgot [1918; 1924], etc.).

French writers, as well as English-language ones, worked in the subgenre: Gaston Leroux's The Bride of the Sun (1913); Pierre Benoit's oft-filmed L'Atlantide (1919) and J.-H. Rosny's L'Etonnant voyage de Hareton Ironcastle (1919; adapted rather than trans Philip José Farmer as Ironcastle 1976) are examples. But it was mainly in the US pulp magazines that the tradition thrived in the years during and after WWI. Examples include Under the Andes (1914 All-Story; 1984) by Rex Stout, The Seal of John Solomon (1915; 1924) by Allan Hawkwood (H. Bedford-Jones), Polaris of the Snows (1915 All-Story; 1965) by Charles B Stilson, The Bowl of Baal (1916-1917; 1975) by Robert Ames Bennet, The Golden City (1916) by A Hyatt Verrill, The Citadel of Fear (1918; 1970) by Francis Stevens, The Moon Pool (1919) by A Merritt, Marching Sands (1920) by Harold Lamb, The Temple of the Ten (1921; 1973) by H Bedford-Jones and W C Robertson, The Garden of Eden (1922) by Max Brand, The Pathless Trail (1922) by Arthur O Friel and Om: The Secret of Ahbor Valley (1924) by Talbot Mundy. UK pulps of the interbellum reprinted many of these and added some notable examples by UK writers, like E Charles Vivian's sequence City of Wonder (1922), Fields of Sleep (1923), People of the Darkness (1924), The Lady of the Terraces (1925) and A King There Was (1926). Other works by UK writers include Wine of Death (1925) by Anthony Armstrong, The Glory of Egypt: A Romance (1926) by Louis Moresby (L. Adams Beck), The City in the Sea (1926) by H De Vere Stacpoole, The Moon Gods (1930) by Edgar Jepson, Beyond the Rim (1932) by S Fowler Wright (1932) and, most famously, Lost Horizon (1933) by James Hilton. Rider Haggard himself was still pursuing the theme with works as late as The Treasure of the Lake (1926).

Despite their increasing implausibility, stories of the familiar type continued to appear throughout the 1930s and 1940s: Golden Blood (1933 WT; rev 1964; rev 1978) by Jack Williamson, Lost City of Light (1934) by F A M Webster, The Fabulous Valley (1934) by Dennis Wheatley, The Secret People (1935) by John Beynon (John Wyndham), Hidden World (1935; 1957) by Stanton A Coblentz, The Vampire of N'Gobi (1935) by Ridgwell Cullum, Queen of the Andes (1935) by Barbara Gilson (Charles Gilson), In the Sealed Cave: Being a Modern Commentary on a Strange Discovery Made by Captain Lemuel Gulliver (1935) by Louis Herrman, Dian of the Lost Land (1935) by Edison Marshall, Land Under England (1935) by Joseph O'Neill, Hawk of the Wilderness (1936) by William L Chester, Inland Deep (1936) by Richard Tooker, The Smoking Land (1937; 1980) by Max Brand, City of Cobras (1938) by James Francis Dwyer, Ivory Valley: An Adventure of Captain Kettle (1938) by C J Cutcliffe Hyne, Biggles Flies South (1938) by W E Johns, Jongor of Lost Land (1940; 1970) by Robert Moore Williams, A Yank at Valhalla (1941; 1950) by Edmond Hamilton, The Man Who Missed the War (1945) by Dennis Wheatley, Valley of the Flame (1946; 1964) by Henry Kuttner, The Valley of Doom (1947) by Mary Richmond, Stones of Enchantment (1948) by Wyndham Martyn, The City of Frozen Fire (1950) by Vaughan Wilkins, and many more.

By the 1950s, lost worlds seemed to have been mined to death, although they still made occasional appearances, mainly in juvenile fiction. Examples are The Perilous Descent into a Strange Lost World (1952) by Bruce Carter, Forbidden Kingdom (1955) by Elleston Trevor and The Island at the Top of the World (1961) by Ian Cameron. However, the 1960s and 1970s saw a small revival, principally in the form of nostalgic pastiche, following the posthumous boom in Edgar Rice Burroughs's popularity in paperback reprints. Latter-day examples inspired by Burroughs include Tarzan and the Valley of Gold * (1966), a movie novelization by Fritz Leiber, The Sunbird (1972), a tribute to Haggard rather than Burroughs by Wilbur Smith, and Journey to the Underground World (1979) by Lin Carter and its sequels Zanthodon (1980), Hurok of the Stone Age (1981), Darya of the Bronze Age (1981) and Eric of Zanthodon (1982). Other recent examples include Congo (1980) by Michael Crichton, The People Beyond the Wall (1980) by Stephen Tall, The Undying Land (1985) by William Gilmour, The Haunted Mesa (1987) by Louis L'Amour, Kala (1990) by Nicholas Luard, The Last Camel Died at Noon: An "Amelia Peabody" Mystery (1991) by Elizabeth Peters and various series pastiches such as Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils (1991) by Rob MacGregor and Python Isle: A "Doc Savage" Adventure (1991) by Kenneth Robeson (in this case Will Murray, using an unused 1930s outline by Lester Dent). Still more recently, Edward Myers has produced an ambitious lost-race trilogy with a Latin American setting, The Mountain Made of Light (1992), Fire and Ice (1992) and The Summit (1994). The remote Himalayas still offer writers the possibility of a Yeti LR, as in Brother Esau (1982) by John Gribbin and Douglas Orgill and in Luard's Himalaya (1992). [DP]


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.