SF/F Genre Glossary

What is Lost World Fiction?

This is a continuation of the Speculative Fiction Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

What is Lost World Fiction?

Stories that feature the discovery of cities/cultures/places that have been forgotten or relegated to myth. These places are located in this world, but are difficult to get to and their cultures have developed in isolation.

Literary Examples:

  • The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Congo by Michael Crichton

In the days of Google Maps and GPS, you don’t see much written in this genre. Do you think there’s still room to mine this idea, or are the only lost worlds left beyond the planet earth?

19 Comments

  1. I’m so happy that you bring this up, Theresa; I love the idea of visiting lost worlds! I think this is one of the most exciting ways to explore the speculative fiction genres and is something I’ve always been captivated by as a kid. Still am, actually, heh.

    The Lost World along with the Jurassic Park films, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, King Kong… I’m kind of mixing movies and books here, but they do all have some of that same “discovery” spirit about them. The Tomb Raider games and movies also appeal to me because they visit a lot of ruins/lost worlds. Though, in some of these examples the people of these lost places are no longer around and it’s more about finding mystical artifacts and discovering the powers they might hold (or even survival amongst other raiders and explorers). I’ve been forever yearning to play the Uncharted games–they look so amazing–because they also visit lost worlds, but I don’t own a PS3. 🙁 Lament, lament…

    In any case, I plan to visit and write about a “lost world” once I finish my first two books–a world within a world that is secluded and shrouded in mystery and superstition. (Can’t wait!) So yeah, I still think there’s room for it. Video games are still exploring this kind of thing, at least, and so is Indiana Jones, so I don’t see why literature can’t. (People are still writing about Atlantis, after all, in various genres.) In a world where it seems there’s hardly any “world” left to discover, all it takes is exploring legends of lost lands–or the creation of such legends within in fictional worlds and the exploration thereof.

    1. You know it’s funny how more movies/games seem to explore lost worlds than books. I couldn’t find many contemporary examples in this genre. I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was a kid, so this genre really appeals to me. That sounds like an awesome idea for a book! You better hurry up and finish these first two, because I’d want to read that!

      1. *cracks whip* Heh. (I orginially wanted to write about a Lara Croft-type character, but she morphed into someone more reluctant and initially less qualified. Though, she’ll get to satisfy her fascination with ancient art and civilizations soon enough!)

        You know, I almost bought an Indiana Jones hat from a theme park (Disney Land, I think)…until I realized it cost $60. Haha. Considering I’d already spent $50 on food alone that day… Ah, well, it would have been pretty cool to own one.

  2. I LOVE the idea of Lost World fiction, but you’re right, unfortunately we don’t get to see it as much anymore b/c it seems so implausible nowadays that anywhere could be so remote/hidden.

    I think Lost (the tv show) could arguably be considered Lost World fiction, no? Jurassic Park is probably the most famous movie, and Atlantis is probably the most famous myth.

    1. Ahh yes, Lost would fit the bill. Jurassic park, kinda blurs the lines. It’s not a world that’s lost, but a lost world recreated?

      It’s funny how the explanations for how lost worlds are hidden have changed. Now it’s government conspiracies, very rich and powerful people, technology, or magic. It used to be that lost worlds were just places physically hard to travel to. LOL

      1. “It’s funny how the explanations for how lost worlds are hidden have changed. Now it’s government conspiracies, very rich and powerful people, technology, or magic. It used to be that lost worlds were just places physically hard to travel to. LOL” Ha ha! 🙂 Great insight.

      2. I remember Roger Zelazny said once that he knew we’d have to stop imagining life on Mars or Venus, too, because we’d know too much about the reality on those planets.

        So, seeing that the end was near for that type of story, he wrote the best Mars story he could (“A Rose for Ecclesiastes”), and the best Venus story he could (“The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth”), because he wouldn’t have another chance.

      3. T. S. Bazelli Author

        A race against science. hehe. Interesting impetus for beginning a novel, though conceivably he could have set the stories on different planets if indeed we learned more about Mars and Venus.

  3. Thanks for the reminder to get cracking on The Lost World! I’ve had my eye on it for a while.

    I think that Lost World Fiction still has a place…perhaps even more of a place. Because, as the title implies, the world is LOST! Which means nobody’s found it yet. Which will fuel our imagination. Did you ever wonder if people are boring because they have no imagination?

    Even in our digital, library-of-knowledge world, there are still things we don’t know about. Are there tribes in the Amazon? What happens in the deep recesses of the Canadian Wilderness? Is there life at the bottom of the sea? Are there really dragons, and where are they? That sort of thing. Perhaps there is even more of a need of it, to salvage what imagination we have left. 🙂 *smirks*

    1. You’re right, there’s lost we don’t know about. We can’t even send subs into the depths giant squids swim at because of pressure constraints. I’m all for imagination! The world needs more, not less of that, I think.

      Oh, and I still tap at the back of wardrobes, and check for elves and dragons on foggy days… because hey, you never know! 🙂

      1. Alas, I’ve checked my own wardrobe several times to no avail. (I have a wardrobe b/c the closet in our room is very small, and barely fits Dear Wife’s clothing, so I needed somewhere else to hang my shirts and whatnot.)

        Of course, my wardrobe was mass produced and bought at a furniture store, not found in some old mysterious mansion.

      2. T. S. Bazelli Author

        Haha, I wonder now… if my IKEA closets would open to a Swedish otherworld? Oh a story idea is sparking right there. Magic in the mass produced rather than the rare and old.

      3. Maybe they would just open into an IKEA. 🙂

        My ex-gf would have preferred that to Narnia anyway. She moved to Houston once and, within minutes of her arrival in the area, had already located and found her way to the nearest IKEA.

  4. Yes, I do still think there’s room left – though shrinking – for Lost Worlds in this day and age. Sometimes it’s because there are parts of the world that really haven’t been explored yet – someone mentioned the depths of the sea for instance (which is why Atlantis stories still work even today – there’s a lost world that, most probably, will always remain at least partially lost), and you can largely throw the Arctic and Antarctic in there, too – and sometimes it’s because there’s a part of our world that isn’t lost so much as forgotten by the rest of us. For instance, right now the bayous in cajun-country Louisianna are flooding… but there’s a whole world there that is, in some ways, a “lost world”… what magic is there is the bayous that we’ve forgotten?

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Good point! A place is not always lost because it’s difficult to find, but just forgotten. That also brings to mind cultures/languages that are dying away and forgotten as society changes around them, and the struggles of some people to document such things before they’re gone forever.

      Ooh another story idea there!

  5. I adored all three of your examples back in my teens, T.S. In many ways Harry Potter and Narnia are Lost World fiction. Narnia is a world we lost contact with, though instead of being on a plateau, you can visit through a wardrobe. The basic premise is to cheat our world into a fantasy one, a similar attraction to Disaster, Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic fiction. It’s better with these Urban Fantasies and Lost Worlds because you get to take somebody from right now (or your favorite time period) and send them into some more fun or interesting unreality. So darned fun.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      It is! When contemporary characters crossing over/stumbling onto lost worlds, it allows a reader to experience a point of view, or way of looking at the world that’s somewhat familiar/relatable. Also, I think it satisfies an innate kind of curiosity. I know it scratches my itch to travel.

Comments are closed.