Book Review: A Bit Of Atlantis

A Bit Of Atlantis, by Douglas Erskine

Sometimes it is a bit of a mystery why someone’s book has been forgotten over the years.  There is no such mystery regarding this book.  This book is chiefly of interest to those that have a desire to read deeply and widely regarding the myth of Atlantis [1].  There are few other reasons to read this book unless one enjoys reading gloriously bad books.  Admittedly, this is one of my more uncharitable interests, but this book takes the enjoyment of reading bad books to a rarely seen level.  This book is not a bad one because of the fact that the author cannot write–instead, this author shows himself to be literate and certainly familiar with books.  On the other hand, though, while this author shows himself to be familiar with books as a reader, he appears not to have a grasp of what make for a good novel.  At no point do we get inside of the characters, and the level of coincidence that exists in this book is deeply humorous.  Anytime there is tension or conflict within the novel, it is resolved nearly immediately, giving this novel the feeling of an exercise in cliches and incompetent handling of the material.  This is the sort of bad Victorian novel that deserves to be taught in a college class simply to keep the material light and help encourage the critical tendencies of budding writers and critics.

The novel as a whole takes up just a bit more than 200 pages.  This would be a short novel as it is, but about forty or fifty pages of the novel are taken up by a quotation and commentary on Plato’s writings about Atlantis, meaning that properly speaking this novel is only about 150 pages or so.  This ought to present no difficulty to the reader who can stop laughing at the book enough to finish it.  At the core of this book are two colorfully named characters, one of them the poor but bright son of a cruel father whose success drives others to envy and the beautiful and spirited daughter of an English noble family with interests in Guyana.  The two of these people are thrown together on a boat which predictably crashes on a lost bit of Atlantis (hence the book’s title) and together the two of them, along with an improbable castaway who just happens to be a long lost relative of the girl scare away cannibals and fulfill the dying requests of the last king of Atlantis, who happens to be a long-lost ancestor to both of them, before the island sinks into a pool of mud beneath the Atlantic.  The ending is too cliched and hackneyed to be even worth mentioning.  Suffice it to say that it has everything the reader of bad Victorian fiction is looking for.

Again, this is not the sort of novel one reads or enjoys because of its excellence.  Its dialogue is minimal and most of the novel is told in descriptive summaries.  The book practically reads as how not to write compelling and character-driven fiction.  The book is of interest in a scholarly sense, in terms of the author’s interest in the Atlantis stories and in the cliches of the Victorian era that this book so faithfully demonstrates.  Do we have people raised to their natural state through divine providence (even if it is not called that) and a close connection between nobility and family origin?  Absolutely.  Does it have mysterious foundlings and rewards given to duty?  Yes, it does.  Basically, what this novel does is take a dash of H. Rider Haggard and Horatio Alger and distill it to its most common denominator in service of racialist myths about Atlantis and its ancestral heritage for the elites of the Old and New Worlds.  Few people are looking for that in this day and age, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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