The lost-race sf theme goes hand in hand with that of the Lost World; there are few lost worlds, lands, continents, Islands, or regions Underground (> Hollow Earth) which do not come equipped with one or more indigenous races ripe for First Contact and perhaps displaying interesting quirks for the student of Anthropology.
The famous eighteenth-century precursors of the theme, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735) and Robert Paltock's The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (1751), should not perhaps be termed lost-race tales because – just as in much Proto SF – there was still a sense that vast tracts of Earth remained unexplored and that marvels could still be expected somewhere over the horizon. Only in a mostly known world does the presence of a forgotten people inhabiting a kind of Pocket Universe generate its special sf piquancy. Nineteenth-century examples were thus increasingly numerous, especially later in the century, and the theme remained popular well into the twentieth century despite the dwindling number of plausibly unexplored locations, even in the interiors of Africa and South America or the Himalayan fastnesses. The Lost Tribes of Israel were apt to be found almost anywhere.
Only very occasional lost-race novels have appeared since World War Two. Ian Cameron's The Lost Ones (1961; vt Island at the Top of the World) is set in the Arctic and was filmed by Disney as The Island at the Top of the World (1974) directed by Robert Stevenson. Stones of Enchantment (1948) by Wyndham Martyn, The City of Frozen Fire (1950) by Vaughan Wilkins, Lost Island (1954) by Graham McInnes and The Rose of Tibet (1962) by Lionel Davidson seem rather old-fashioned. Gilbert Phelps's The Winter People (1963), though, is an intelligent novel about an eccentric South American explorer and his discovery of a remarkable tribe. Stephen Tall's The People beyond the Walls (1980) is a remarkably late example. Generally, though, postwar lost-race stories edge close to pastiche; several examples are given in the Hollow Earth entry.
The fact that this species of fantasy was so little influenced by scientific thought may be a result of its being largely anachronistic (and therefore implausible) from its beginnings. Once Transportation technology had allowed Phileas Fogg to achieve his object, the lost-world fantasy owed more to the desire that enclaves of mystery should exist than to the likelihood that they did. Even from the point of view of sociological or political thought-experiments, the genre had surprisingly little to offer. The lost-race story is obviously an opportunity for the setting up of imaginary Utopias and Dystopias, but these elements are not as common as might be expected, and most of the stories listed above – which include the best-remembered classics of the genre – are quite straightforward romantic adventure. It has been suggested, too, that such stories allow exercises in imaginary cultural Anthropology, but few of these stories are of any real interest in this respect – an exception being the late example Providence Island: An Archaeological Tale (1959) by Jacquetta Hawkes – and they have more to offer the student of popular mythology – in which context they are discussed by Brian Street in The Savage in Literature (1975).
Science-Fiction: The Early Years (1990) by Everett F Bleiler lists and describes some hundreds of lost-race stories up to 1930, its index allowing a sort by scientific advancement (from barbaric to superscientific), or by location (Antarctic to Siberia), or by racial derivation (from Atlantean via Hebrew and Old Norse to Phoenician). A relevant essay is "Lost Lands, Lost Races: A Pagan Princess of Their Very Own" by Thomas D Clareson in Many Futures, Many Worlds (anth 1977) edited by Clareson.
Special efforts are required to make a modern lost-race scenario at all plausible. Vernor Vinge's "Apartness" (June 1965 New Worlds) posits a post-holocaust world in which a degenerate tribe found in Antarctica proves to be the remnant of South Africa's long-expelled white minority. Following John Blackburn's use of lost races to evoke Horror in SF – for example in For Fear of Little Men (1972) – Jeff Long's The Descent (1999) locates its demonic-seeming human offshoots in a rationalized Hell far Underground. But modern sf generally looks to space for its lost (human) races, who are typically inhabitants of out-of-contact planetary colonies. Oddly enough there is more and better cultural anthropology in offworld stories of planetary exploration and Colonization of Other Worlds – the mostly postwar subgenres that largely superseded the traditional lost-race story – than there are in lost-race stories set on Earth. [DRL/DP/BS/PN]
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