Professor Challenger

December 30, 2008

…for some reason, I never quite got into the Sherlock Holmes books as a kid.

I stumbled onto Hound of the Baskervilles a tad too late, finding its phosporus-laden canine antagonist rather silly, and those small, abridged, one-side illustrated pocket books didn’t really get me too excited about the detective from Baker Street.

Things were helped somewhat by two rather intriguing and (mostly) well designed video-games from the pits of the 90s – The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes 1 and 2, which, inspite of combining crude graphics with horrible typography:

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(Watson seems more shell-shocked than fortified)

…retained the charm and wit of the setting.

(Notice the poorly disguised journalist taking notes on Floor 1)

(Notice the poorly disguised journalist taking notes on Floor 1)

But infinitely more interesting (and less famous) were A.C.Doyle’s science fiction books – specifically the ones featuring the ‘homicidal megalomaniac with a turn for science’ : Professor Challenger!

Professor Challenger, the wealthy eccentric mad scientist/explorer, unlike Holmes is an aggressive, often impulsive figure – one who manages, single-handedly, to piss off every scientific society in England. One character, in the beginning of the Lost World (dinosaur laden, and probably the most famous of the Challenger books) points out the only two characteristics of his personality anyone should ever bother knowing:

Why, his insufferable rudeness and impossible behavior!

An impression, no doubt, spurred by a letter Challenger wrote to the head of the  Zoological Society, which had a minor disagreement with one of his research papers (i.e they thought it was fiction):

Professor Challenger presents his compliments to the President of the Zoological Institute, and would take it as a personal favor if he would go to the devil.

Being old and relatively obscure, the Challenger books have slipped out of the slippery shackles of copyright, and into the free, anarchic domain of the Internet. The Lost World, by now slightly quaint is here, but the Land of Mist is a  great read, with its explorations of spirituality and mysticism in the wake of a personal loss.

The shorts: The Day the Earth Screamed (where it is proved that the Earth is a huge, living creature), The Poison Belt (where the Earth passes through a mist of poison in the Ether) and The Disintegration Machine (where Challenger fights a rival scientist and wins), are also worth a look. especially since they’re poignantly defending scientific theories of the time  that are now discredited and abandoned.

Now, I’d always imagined Challenger to look like a pastiche of three of my favourite professors, combining the twinkling-eyed charm of Professor Balthazar:

The incidental genius (and mad, pointed rage) of Professor Calculus,

…with a bit of victorian flair and level-headedness, like this bloke, Professor Layton:

We'd really like that sequel now, thanks)

(Note to developers Level-5: We'd really like that sequel now, thanks)

The Internet, however, begs to disagree.  When trawling through Wikipedia and the Interweb for some artists impressions of the man, I found this rather disappointing picture:

No, no, no, no.

To be fair, its just some bloke cast to play the professor’s part in some mini-series – but No.

Professor Challenger, we must remember is a slightly unhinged, overpowering figure – not just a well built, bearded fellow in a Crocodile Dundee hat.

Edward Malone, the intrepid narrator of most of the Challenger books, describes him thus:

He had the face and beard, which I associate with an Assyrian bull; The hair was peculiar, plastered down in front in a long, curving wisp over his massive forehead. The eyes were blue-grey 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.

Now if I did have to cast someone to play him based on that, I’d probably pick one of my old professors, who meets that description EXACT:

Perfect.

Perfect.

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