By Dr. Bob Curran
RINF Alternative News
Atlantis! Lemuria! Shamballha! Shangri-La! The very names conjure up images of sunken cities or forgotten lands hidden in the impenetrable jungle or amongst mountain peaks somewhere beyond the edges of civilization. They also suggest ancient and powerful cultures and technologies long vanished from the world, remnants of which-if popular imagination is to be believed-may still lie slumbering in the caverns far beneath the earth. Is there any truth in such beliefs?
Allied to the names of these ancient places are further stories of legendary sites-places like the Garden of Eden in Christian lore, Ygdrassil, the World-Tree of Viking myth or even Davy Jones’ Locker, recently made famous by the film series Pirates of the Caribbean.
So strong has the lure of these distant, exotic and often fabulous places proven to be that many men have gone in search of them, either as individuals or at the head of expeditions, some of which have been provided by their own countries. A good number have set out to find wealth or land, some have done so for political reasons, and a few for the sheer adventure of the enterprise. Some have returned empty-handed, a number have perished in the attempt, and some have simply vanished, thus fuelling speculation that there might be some truth in such legends.
But it was not only lost explorers who fuelled the popular idea of distant realms. Television and film makers took up the challenge of actually creating these worlds and giving them some sort of immediacy. Popular films on the big screen such as The Lost World, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and even the more recent remake of King Kong, set on a forgotten island where a giant gorilla dwells, have speculated about what sort of environments these places might have. Were they, for example, swarming with prehistoric creatures or homes to advanced cultures that might fight to guard their privacy or be preparing to attack us in our own locations? Indeed the idea of some monstrous race, lurking in the depths far beneath us and armed with futuristic weapons is a common thought which has barely diminished and still stays in the public nightmares, even today. On the other hand, the possibility of a place of monastic tranquillity, shut away from a turbulent world, was also encapsulated in Frank Capra’s 1937 film Lost Horizon, sparking a popular belief that perhaps such a place might well exist tucked away somewhere in the high Eastern mountains. Such a suggestion may still remain, for although orbiting satellites have mapped most of our world for us, there is still a suggestion that in some remote region there is still someone or something-some race of men or creatures-which remains undetected and may either aid or else turn upon mankind at a future date. The possibilities of lost worlds seem endless.
Lost lands have also provided inspiration for some well known writers and appear in many works of literature from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1870 masterpiece The Coming Race to Jack Vance’s 1980s Lyonesse trilogy. Such books have kept these places in the public eye and have stirred the imaginations of countless readers. But why has interest in them remained so strong throughout the years? Why, for example, has the Atlantis story achieved such a hold on popular thought? And why has Shangri-La stayed at the foremost of our minds, becoming almost a clichÃ©?
For some they represent, for example, no more than our deepest hopes and desires for an ideal state of being. They may, as they did for Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party of Germany, symbolize the home of some form of idealized beings or men whose wisdom is far beyond that of the mundane world. Or they may, as they did for Madam Blavatsky, suggest the original cradle of mysticism which surrounds our existence. They may even represent some idealized state towards which mankind can strive.
And, of course, they also stand for worlds of wonder. The idea of a kingdom such as Lyonesse, drowned forever beneath the freezing waters of the ocean through the petulant whim of a spoiled daughter; of a nightmarish city like Irem, raised in the desert by unseen demonic forces; of the lost land of Bimini where gushing water confers eternal youth on all those who drink from a wonderful fountain there, all excite and entice us. The vision of the lost golden city of El Dorado, hidden deep in the South American jungle or the less material treasure of contentment to be found in the mystical monastic city of Shangri-La somewhere amongst the towering Himalayan peaks, lures something in all of us. In earlier times, those destinations were a goal that might be attained through adventure and daring. In many ways, they also represented the last great challenge of Mankind.
As travel and new communications cause our perceptions of the world to shrink and become more routinely predictable, these places represent the last wild and unknown locations and may still offer a chance for exploration, excitement and danger. Because of this, the idea of lost lands, vanished places and long-disappeared civilizations will not go away.