The Lost Continent first appeared serially in the English publication Pearson’s Magazine in 1899, and in book form the following year. The author, C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, is not exactly a household name today, but, way back when, was an extremely popular and prolific writer. His serialized tales of Captain Kettle, also in Pearson’s, were supposedly only second in popularity to the Strand Magazine‘s Sherlock Holmes stories, as submitted by Arthur Conan Doyle. But today, Hyne’s reputation seems to rest solely on this wonderful novel of the last years of the continent of Atlantis.
The history of these final years is told by the soldier-priest Deucalion, who, at the book’s opening, has just been recalled from his 20-year viceroyalty of the Atlantean province of Yucatan. On his return to his homeland, after that two-decade absence, he finds that much has changed. The upstart Phorenice has seized power and declared herself Empress; the capital city boasts many new pyramids but also many new slums; the people are starving and in revolt; the priest clan is challenging the Empress to amend her ways or face the wrath of the High Gods. Yes, it is quite a mess that Deucalion returns home to, and things only get worse when Phorenice takes a hot-blooded fancy to him and decides to take him to husband. Before all is said and done in this fast-moving tale, the reader has been treated to a four-way love triangle (or is that square?), a runaway mammoth, fights with sea monsters and giant cave tigers, pyramid intrigue, a gigantic battle between Phorenice’s army and the High Priests (a battle perhaps inspired by those in H. Rider Haggard’s lost-world novels), the use of arcane magic and, of course, the final destruction of the continent of Atlantis itself. Hyne writes marvelously, and uses language that is archaic enough to sound authentic but still remains eminently readable. The character of Deucalion is well drawn and quite likeable, despite his initial aloofness and rigidity; I suppose Hyne would have us believe that this character is the inspiration for the Deucalion of Greek myth. Phorenice makes for a terrific villainess, being beautiful, quite ruthless, lustful, remarkably intelligent, and ambitious. Unfortunately, these very qualities of the Empress lead directly to the downfall of her empire.
Besides well-drawn principal and secondary characters, The Lost Continent also boasts marvelous detail and color. The capital of Atlantis, as well as its wilder volcanic outer districts, are well depicted, and Hyne tells us something of the lives of the people, the politics and religion of the Atlantean realm. All in all, this truly is a wonderful fantasy, and great escapist entertainment. The University of Nebraska Press, with its Bison Frontiers of Imagination series, is to be commended for making this lost manuscript available again to modern-day readers. I heartily recommend it to all.