The Lost Prince

Explore: The World of The Lost Prince

The Europe that Marco and The Rat "blew across like grains of dust" has changed radically in the century since The Lost Prince was first published. Of course people are still people. Technology changes. Culture changes. The lines and names on the map of the world are constantly changing. Human nature, though—the good, the bad, and the ugly—stays pretty much the same from generation to generation. That's why the book's characters are still easy to understand and relate to. But today's reader, whether child or adult, may have a bit of difficulty imagining the world where the characters lived. Here, then, is a brief description of the book's setting. We hope it will enhance your understanding and appreciation of The Lost Prince!

Setting. The first edition of The Lost Prince was printed in 1915, a few months into the Great War, now known as World War I. The book was written in the years just preceding the war, however, and was set in a peaceful, highly cultured Europe ruled by aristocrats and noblemen. Most of the nations of Europe, from England in the west to Russia in the east, were joined by a common heritage. Their leaders read the same books, sported the same fashions, attended the same operas, and learned the same languages (mostly English and French). Most of them were related to each other, either by marriage or by blood. They ruled over a populace that still included agricultural peasantry but was increasingly urban and industrial. The electric light, the automobile, and the airplane had all been recently invented. There was a general feeling that society was making great progress and that the twentieth century would be an era of peace and prosperity. The general feeling could not have been more mistaken. The war, which began in August 1914 and ended in 1918, killed 20 million Europeans and injured 20 million more. It completely redrew the map of Europe, ushered in the age of totalitarian dictators like Stalin and Hitler, and led directly to World War II and the Cold War—and indirectly to Islamic militancy and the ongoing Middle East conflict. The continent would need nearly a century to recover from World War I. The planet still hasn't. But The Lost Prince belongs to an earlier era, to the final years of "Old Europe," when life seemed more peaceful, and two boys really could travel across a continent.

Poor men and "swells." When we first meet Marco, he and Loristan and Lazarus have just moved to London. They have settled into some rented rooms in a boarding house on a street called Philibert Place, which the author describes as a "dreary and dingy row of ugly houses" with smoke-blackened brick, grimy windows, and dirty curtains. The busy street outside is clogged with traffic and shabbily dressed pedestrians. Philibert Place is "cheerless on the brightest days, and on foggy or rainy ones it was the most forlorn place in London." Marco lives in a London slum filled with what we today would call "the working poor." The Rat lives in much worse conditions with an abusive alcoholic father. The Loristan household has barely adequate food; The Rat often goes hungry.

On the other end of the economic spectrum are the upper class aristocrats, known in popular slang as "swells." They enjoy a life of luxury and privilege, fashion and entertainment. They have ruled Great Britain for generations. As the twentieth century begins, Britain's prime minister and his cabinet are made up of Marquises, Earls, Dukes, Viscounts, and Barons. Most of them are the linear descendents of men who had governed Britain since the Middle Ages. Their wealth comes from vast land holdings that are leased to tenant farmers. Most keep a mansion in London, a country house or two, and perhaps a castle in Scotland or Ireland.

In the England of Marco's day, the contrast between rich and poor was stark. The nation's population stood at about 44 million.* Of these, the tiniest fraction—only 2,500 people—comprised the upper class. They each owned at least 3,000 acres and received yearly incomes of at least ₤3,000 from their estates. About 3 million people were what we would call "white collar" workers—clerks, teachers, and shopkeepers. They earned an average of only ₤75 a year. Another 15 million people were "blue collar" workers, including soldiers, policemen, and manual laborers, who earned less that ₤50 a year. Roughly a third of the entire population of Great Britain, then, lived below the government's official poverty line of ₤55 a year for a family of five! Maybe that fact helps explain (although it doesn't excuse) why The Rat threw a rock at Marco when he mistook him for a "swell." It also helps explain why two poor boys could hope to travel across Europe unnoticed. Poor young beggars were literally everywhere. Finally, it can also help us appreciate what a special thing it was for Lazarus to take such great care to maintain cleanliness, order, and dignity in the squalid conditions where Loristan and Marco had to live.

Europe, early 20th century, with the journey of Marco and the Rat

The map of Europe. Because much of The Lost Prince describes Marco and The Rat traveling across Europe to give the Sign to the Secret Party, geography is an important part of the story. On the next page, we have reproduced a map of Europe dating from 1911, three years before the outbreak of World War I. This is the Europe that Marco and The Rat would have seen and experienced. The arrows on the map trace their travels as closely as possible. Here are the nations that figure into the story:

Where is Samavia? The story of The Lost Prince gives enough clues that we can pinpoint the location of Samavia fairly accurately, especially considering it is an imaginary country! To get to Samavia, Marco and The Rat travel southeast across Europe, through France, Germany, and Austria. They cross the border into Samavia just a week after leaving Vienna, Austria, traveling mostly on foot. Earlier in the story, the author remarked that Marco had "warm southern blood" and darker coloring than was common in London. Putting this information together, it is clear that Samavia was imagined to be in the southern part of Eastern Europe, probably in the Balkans. On the map, we have marked it about on the location of modern day Serbia, although it would be more comparable to one of the tiny nations that surround it, such as Slovenia or Montenegro. Although Samavia never existed, it is easy to imagine it through the vivid narrative of The Lost Prince.
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