The Land that Time Forgot, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, has a wonderful title. Just hearing the title conjures up a marvelous daydream. And it’s a good description of what the book is about.
Burroughs wrote the book a few years after Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World was published. The story is very similar: a group of Westerners arrive at a previously undiscovered and untamed land of dinosaurs.
But it takes a while—nearly half way through the book—before the characters in The Land that Time Forgot discover the island where dinosaurs live. There’s a long backstory beforehand of an American and Britons who are captured by Germans during World War I. The Allies manage to take control of their captors’ U-33, but they cannot convince any other vessels to take them to safety. The Allies and Germans are forced on a voyage to nowhere. This allows plenty of time for an on-again, off-again romance to develop between the American protagonist, Tyler, and Lys La Rue, an Englishwoman. Matters are complicated by Lys’s suspicious affection for von Schoenvorts, one of the German officers.
Running out of supplies and hope, the hybrid crew discover “Caprona.” The mythical island is rumored to have been seen by an 18th Century Italian explorer somewhere between South America and Australia. Much like the plateau in Lost World with cliffs so steep to discourage exploration, Caprona is almost impenetrable. The reason for the U-boat finally becomes clear: the submersible is able to navigate under the ocean’s surface and up the mouth of an island river inland.
The crew wastes little time spotting, hunting, and eating the dinosaurs as quickly as they emerge from the river. (Broth from Plesiosaurus neck bones is their first and cleverest recipe.) Yet Burroughs does not have the passion or scientific interest in dinosaurs that Doyle seemed to have; the descriptions of the dinosaurs’ appearance and behaviors are somewhat short.
Again, like Lost World, the group discovers that they are not the only hominids in the dinosaur wilderness. They become involved in the island people’s intertribal turf battles.
You may find yourself looking for a social commentary under the surface about World War I. If there is such a theme, it’s pretty thin. This is not a book about overcoming ethnic or language differences to make peace with adversaries. It’s not a book about the follies of war. The use of the submarine and the opposing factions of personnel seems to be tools of convenience to further the plot, and nothing deeper. That may be refreshing to readers who aren’t looking for anything too heavy.
While not quite as good as Lost World, there are a couple of winning elements in The Land that Time Forgot. For starters, the original Lost World was only men. (All the movie versions of Lost World recognized that shortcoming, and created a female character to join the expedition.) The romance in The Land that Time Forgot adds a more human dimension and clearer motivations for the lead characters. Secondly, the possibility that the Germans are working to undermine the Allied crew adds suspense and nuance to the story.
Another highlight of the book is Tyler’s tenderly and realistically described Airedale terrier named Nobs. When the dog sees dinosaurs for the first time, Tyler observes that “poor Nobs had nearly barked his head off; and I think, too, that for the first time since his littlest puppyhood he had known fear; nor can I blame him.”
You’ll want to find out what happens to Tyler and Lys (and Nobs), and whether they’re able to escape the island alive.