Saturday, November 17, 2012

Secret Origins

The Lost World of Cave Girl!
Part 1

Of the public domain characters to appear so far in Five Star Comics, one of the most popular has been Cave Girl. That's a pleasant surprise considering she was a last minute addition to our lineup. So how did this denizen of the Dawn Lands make the jump from the Golden Age to the Five Star Age? Thereby hangs a tale that begins decades before Cave Girl's comic book debut.

Long before comic books, before science fiction and pulp magazines, writers told stories of lost worlds. Until the Age of Exploration began, much of the world was terra incognita. Named in Roman times, Africa lay largely unexplored until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Americas were undiscovered by Europeans until the late 1400s and the North American frontier didn't close until 1890. Australia was unknown until 1606, while Antarctica wasn't discovered until 1820. For centuries, the map of the globe was mostly blank or based on spotty exploration or mere conjecture. As late as the nineteenth century, lost worlds--lands where strange creatures and unknown peoples might still live--were a possibility rather than just works of the imagination.

According to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, tales of lost worlds began when the world was still geographically "open." Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726), though satirical, is an example of lost worlds from a time when it was still possible for the earth to contain strange and unknown places. "The lost-world story," as the encyclopedia explains, "belonged to a cartographically 'closed' world." By the late 1800s, few options remained for locating a lost world story on a plausibly "real" earth. Jules Verne solved the problem with a journey to the center of the earth in 1863. Stories of subterranean civilizations or of a hollow earth continued into the twentieth century, as late as Mike Grell's comic book fantasy The Warlord (1975) or Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop's story "Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole" (1977). H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) took a different path, locating his lost worlds in an African continent that was still largely unexplored at the publication of King Solomon's Mines (1885), Allan Quatermain (1887), and She (1886). Two writers from a generation later would pick up on the theme. Other men may have written lost world adventures before and after them, but no one is more closely identified with the genre (besides Haggard) than Edgar Rice Burroughs and Arthur Conan Doyle.

To be continued . . .

Before the map of the world was finally drawn, before terra incognita became an archaic term, the unknown earth was a place of unimagined possibilities, of strange beasts, fierce monsters, unknown races of men, and lost civilizations.
Here terra incognita is in Asia . . .
Here at the bottom of the world.
Writing in the late nineteenth century, H. Rider Haggard placed his tales of lost worlds in darkest Africa, a place as yet largely unexplored by Europeans. With its hidden valley, lost city, and isolated cultures, King Solomon's Mines, published in 1885, would set the pattern for the lost worlds genre of adventure and science fiction. 
Haggard's novel has been committed to film several times. Here's a paperback tie-in with the 1950 version starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. This edition is one of Dell's renowned "map-backs." Without intending to, the book hearkens back to the age of exploration and its maps of new discoveries and terra incognita. If you have read the book and know the name of the "twin mountains," you might recognize an unintentional visual pun repeated on the front cover of the book.
King Solomon's Mines was wildly successful and demanded a sequel. The first was Allan Quatermain, from 1887. This scan is from the collection of Robert Weinberg.
Of all Haggard's books, only King Solomon's Mines exceeds the fame of She (1886) and then perhaps only for its chronological primacy. One of the bestselling books of all time, She has never gone out of print. 
Like King Solomon's Mines, She has been adapted to the movies many times. Here's the paperback tie-in for the 1965 version starring Ursula Andress. 
She-who-must-be-obeyed lives on in fiction by Haggard's successors. Here's a novel from 1978, written by the British author Peter Tremayne (Peter Berresford Ellis). 
She was the first of Haggard's books to be adapted to film. There have been at least eleven versions of the story. Here's a poster for the 1925 version starring Betty Blythe. 
Here's the 1935 version with Helen Gahagan as the title character. Just two years before, producer Merian C. Cooper had been responsible for one of the most famous of lost world movies. Entitled King Kong, it is still--nearly eighty years after its premiere--a powerful film.  
Finally, here's the poster for the 1965 She, featuring Hammer regulars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I could go on all day showing images from H. Rider Haggard's imagination. I think a scrapbook compilation of images like these is long past due.

Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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