A little while back, I had some words to say concerning Roy Norton’s 1919 novel The Glyphs, the Kewanee, Illinois native’s fourth and final novel containing fantastic content, in a career highlighted by numerous Western novels as well. The Glyphs, as I mentioned, was a compact affair, and a pleasing one, dealing with a sextet of adventurers and their explorations of a lost Mayan city in northern Guatemala. It was a novel that had gone OOP (out of print) for 95 years, until the fine folks at Armchair Fiction chose to resurrect it in the autumn of 2020 for a new generation to discover. Well, now I am here to tell you about still another novel by Norton, another lost-race affair that went OOPs for a full 95 years until Armchair’s recent rescue of it. The book in question is The Land of the Lost (1909), #25 in Armchair’s ongoing Lost World/Lost Race series, and if anything, it is superior to The Glyphs in nearly every department.
The book has an interesting and somewhat confusing publishing history. Like The Glyphs, it was initially released as a serial (a six-part serial, in this case) in the pages of The Popular Magazine; the March 1909–August 1909 issues. At the same time that this lengthy tale was being doled out to the public, the novel also appeared as a D. Appleton & Co. hardcover in June 1909, but with an altered title, now being called The Toll of the Sea. Flash forward 16 years, and the book was rereleased as a Hodder & Stoughton hardcover, but once again under its original name, The Land of the Lost. And then … the near-century hiatus during which Norton’s book fell into almost complete obscurity, until this Armchair revival. And that revival is surely cause for celebration, as the novel reveals itself to be an absolutely first-rate lost-race affair, beautifully written, action-packed, and featuring several wonderfully depicted characters. To my very great surprise, The Land of the Lost has turned out to be one of my most pleasant discoveries in this noteworthy Armchair series.
The book cleaves into two evenly long and discrete sections. In the first half, the reader meets lifelong buddies James Tipton and Billy Pape, who had grown up together in Wyoming but taken vastly different paths as adults. Tipton is currently the captain of the U.S. Navy cruiser Seattle, while Pape remains a good-hearted wanderer, adventurer and gold miner. When we first encounter the pair, Billy is declaring his desire to go off to the wilds of Peru to look for gold, while Tipton’s main concern is the warnings of seismic disaster currently being broadcast by the discredited scientist Dr. Pablo Martinez. But a little more than a year after the two friends part, those warnings are in fact validated, and the reader is thus treated to the spectacle of two seismic events, resulting in two tsunamis that effectively destroy most of the west coasts of North, Central and South America! It is an altered geography that the world becomes witness to, as Pacific islands are submerged, coastlines vanish and new lands arise. A year after these disasters, Tipton and the Seattle are tasked with making geographical surveys of this new world, working their way down south and coming to harbor one night in Callao, Peru. And it is there that Tipton and Pape are miraculously reunited — each having believed the other to have perished in the calamity — right before Tipton receives his new orders: He and the Seattle are to go into the newly altered South Pacific, to try to discover the reason why so many ships have recently gone missing. And so, with Billy Pape as the ship’s special guest, as well as Pape’s young sidekick, Jose Vasquez (who had been Dr. Martinez’ assistant for many years), the Seattle steams off into the unknown, expecting to encounter modern-day pirates or something even more sinister.
And in the book’s even more exciting second half, Tipton and crew discover, in an area of the South Pacific that had previously been barren, a newly raised island the size of Great Britain! The Seattle is rendered powerless by some mysterious agency and drawn through an inland channel, fetching up in a harbor near a populated city. In time, Tipton, Pape and Vasquez are made guests in this city of a land called Azonia by its people, descendants of the Quichuans of ancient Peru; a people who had founded Atlantis in the days of prehistory and whose remnants had been hidden in modern-day Peru, until the advent of the new landmass offered them a perfect place to safely ensconce themselves. Our heroes are given a tour of the city, witness its manifold wonders and implements of superscience, and become friendly with their host and guide, a man named Manco, a counselor in the highest ranks of government. All goes amicably well, but trouble soon erupts, when Choto-Aucco — another high counselor, but with a martial and warlike bent — decides to stage a revolution, use the Azonians’ weapons of destruction to wage war against the rest of the world, and hence restore the Chichuans’ preeminent status after millennia of slow decline …
Conflating the apocalyptic disaster novel, high-seas adventure, and the lost-world/lost race story elements that British novelist H. Rider Haggard had popularized in the late 1880s, The Land of the Lost really is a hugely entertaining affair. Its scope is fairly epic, especially as compared with The Glyphs of a decade later. And again, as compared to the 1919 novel, the 1909 book is much more impressively written. The Glyphs had been penned utilizing rather broad strokes, with minimal attention to descriptive detail and with flatly utilitarian prose. The Land of the Lost, on the other hand, is much more detailed — pleasingly so — and finds Norton, still a comparatively young author even at age 40, starting to flex his talents with a poetic turn of phrase. Take this passage, for instance, which finds the Seattle discerning Azonia in the distance for the first time:
… Far off in the southwest, outlined against the softened blue of the sky and showing as a faint purple spot suspended high above the waters, a lofty peak hung against the heavens, like a mystic landmark of dreams. The long, wide waste of softly palpitant sea, diminished by the breadth of its horizon and flattened by the magnitude of the fleckless vault of blue above, seemed to pass beneath the land until it caught up and joined the distant sky. About it was a shroud of infinite unreality, an illusive vesture, rendering it a mountain of mirage, like the faint hills of shadow land seen in clouds by half-dreaming eyes — a mighty headland of a world floating above a world, which man might not reach and destined to be untrodden save by spirit feet; and yet so vaguely alluring, enticing and seductive that one who saw it must forever, while life lasted, hope to reach its borders, fancying that therein was Elysium; beckoning forever, and yet spreading across its soft face a forbidding veil which none might lift …
Not bad, right? And added to its fascinating and suspenseful story line, epic scope and well-written prose, Norton throws in a number of well-spaced set pieces to entertain his readers. Thus, that twofold catastrophe; Pape’s tale of his Peruvian wanderings; Jose’s story of his search for Dr. Martinez; the Seattle’s capture; Manco’s tour of the city and its wonders (boats that are propelled by radioactivity, ruby-colored rays that stimulate plant growth, violet-colored death rays, et al.); Manco’s lengthy recital of the history of his people; Tipton and Pape’s underground battle with Choto-Aucco’s men; and finally, the absolutely thrilling scene in which Pape runs four miles up a hillside and then engages in a fight to the death with Choto in the city’s power station. It is all wonderfully put together, and Norton does not make one false step throughout in this terrific display of imagination. (Well, actually, Manco’s confident assertion that the Earth is “several hundred million years old,” rather than the 4.5 billion years old that it is estimated to be today, might be considered a slight misstep, or instance of datedness, but no matter.)
But perhaps the factor that really makes The Land of the Lost so special is the touching and credible relationship between Tipton and Pape. Rather than just being childhood friends, the two really do seem more like brothers, and the love and protectiveness that each feels for the other is evinced throughout. Pape, who is constantly engaging in heroic and foolhardy acts, is a source of constant worry for the ship’s captain, who is shown being almost sick with concern on any number of occasions. And that Billy … what a character he is! A source of delight to the seamen, a singer of cowboy songs, and a spinner of amazing yarns, Pape is also something of a physical marvel, thinking nothing of swimming three or four miles to investigate another ship — and then back — or running four miles up that hillside. He is a wonderful creation, and his ultimate fate just might cause the reader to shed a tear or two, before all is said and done.
All told, Armchair’s rescue of this 95-year-lost lost-race wonder really is cause for celebration for all fans of both science fiction and fantasy literature. Simply stated, I just loved it, and the evenings that I spent reading it were very pleasant ones for me indeed. Now, I find myself wanting to experience those other two sci-fi tales that Norton wrote: his first, The Vanished Fleets (1908), and his third, The Flame: A Story of What Might Have Been (1916). Wish me luck as I endeavor to find a copy of these books at a decent price! Or even better, perhaps some fine publisher could possibly rescue these novels from oblivion as well. Armchair, are you listening?