The original cover of The Lost World bears the image of Conan Doyle masquerading as the outspoken Professor Challenger, accompanied by a taste of his characteristic rudeness: “Yours truly, to use the conventional lie. George Edward Challenger.”
Movies vs. Magic
In June 1922, during Conan Doyle’s lecture tour of the United States, Harry Houdini invited him and his wife Jean to the annual banquet of the Society of American Magicians. As master of ceremonies, Houdini intended to demonstrate some tricks of fraudulent mediums.
Wary of being publicly humiliated for his spiritualist beliefs, Doyle at first refused. After some coaxing, he accepted, but brought along a trick of his own. The banquet was attended by famous magicians, who performed their best tricks.
Houdini and his wife Bess did their spectacular “Metamorphosis” trick, in which Houdini quickly escaped from bonds, a bag, and a locked trunk, only to reveal Bess, just seconds later, confined as he had been.
That night, Bess was wearing Sir Arthur’s overcoat when she exited the trunk. When his turn came, Conan Doyle set up a movie projector.
“These pictures are not occult,” he said by way of introduction, “but they are psychic, because everything that emanates from the human spirit or human brain is psychic.” After this cryptic remark, he showed the magicians something astonishing: moving pictures of live dinosaurs walking, eating and fighting.
Everyone was mystified. To an audience unaccustomed to movies with special effects, a preliminary clip from The Lost World by Watterson R. Rothacker, the 1925 movie version of Conan Doyle’s novel, must have seemed inconceivable.
The next day, Conan Doyle wrote a letter to Houdini, with copies to the press, revealing the source of his strange film. With the advent of “talking” pictures in 1927, many silent films were destroyed by the studios.
The Lost World was reconstructed in 2002 from a few spare reels and a 35mm copy discovered in Prague. It is currently available on DVD.
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