Trying to create a new man of genius in order to avoid having to write about only Sherlock Homes, Doyle came up with the rather bizarre and generally unpleasant “notorious Professor Challenger.” In the following passage the young reporter who is the narrator of The Lost World first encounters him in his study:
He sat in a rotating chair behind a broad table, which was covered with books, maps, and diagrams. As I entered, his seat spun round to face me. His appearance made me gasp. I was prepared for something strange, but not for so overpowering a personality as this. It was his size which took one's breath away—his size and his imposing presence. His head was enormous, the largest I have ever seen upon a human being. I am sure that his top-hat, had I ever ventured to don it, would have slipped over me entirely and rested on my shoulders. He had the face and beard which I associate with an Assyrian bull; the former florid, the latter so black as almost to have a suspicion of blue, spade-shaped and rippling down over his chest. The hair was peculiar, plastered down in front in a long, curving wisp over his massive forehead. The eyes were blue-gray under great black tufts, very clear, very critical, and very masterful. A huge spread of shoulders and a chest like a barrel were the other parts of him which appeared above the table, save for two enormous hands covered with long black hair. This and a bellowing, roaring, rumbling voice made up my first impression of the notorious Professor Challenger. . . . He had sprung to his feet with a mad rage in his eyes. Even at that moment of tension I found time for amazement at the discovery that he was quite a short man, his head not higher than my shoulder—a stunted Hercules whose tremendous vitality had all run to depth, breadth, and brain. . . . He had swung round his revolving chair so as to face me, and he sat all puffed out like an enormous bull-frog, his head laid back and his eyes half-covered by supercilious lids. Now he suddenly turned himself sideways, and all I could see of him was tangled hair with a red, protruding ear. [Chapter 1]
Note how far Doyle has gone to make him differ from Holmes. Although he possesses the great detective's, intellect, wide knowledge, and arrogance, virtually every one of his physical and social qualities are diametrically opposite of those of Doyle's the immensely popular character: where Holmes is tall and thin, Challenger is stumpy with wide shoulders and a grotesquely large head. Where Holmes speaks quietly and has a great ability to ingratiate himself with others, particularly women who might provide crucial information, Challenger has “a bellowing, roaring, rumbling voice.” Above all, where Holmes has great self-control, Challenger indulges in childish tantrums. Perhaps the reason the professor plays a surprisingly small part in the narrative of The Lost World — Lord John Roxon has a much greater role — lies in these characteristics. He can get the ball rolling, but cannot do much after that.
Last modified 20 November 2013