TARZAN AT THE EARTH`S CORE
Review contributed by Doc
Hermes ERB Reviews
From 1930 (it was serialized
in BLUE BOOK from September 1929 to March 1930), this is a crossover between
two of the series which Edgar Rice Burroughs had running. It has some surprises,
some nice bits of characterization and brisk action, and would be a good
choice for someone new to Burroughs to sample his style.
Basically, Tarzan leads an
expedition to Pellucidar, the prehistoric world inside our hollow Earth,
in an attempt to rescue its Emperor, David Innes. A secondary hero named
Jason Gridley has been picking up radio messages from Innes, and learning
of his predicament, decides to go to the one man who could hope to invade
Pellucidar with success. Tarzan accepts the challenge out of curiosity
and helps fund the construction of a new dirigible, the 0-220. With a German
crew and a commando squad of his Waziri tribesmen, Tarzan and Gridley fly
through the huge opening near the North Pole into the lost world that lies
on the inner surface of our planet. (There is a stunning scene as the big
airship descends over the rim of the opening and, just as the midnight
sun is lost to view, they first see the inner sun of Pellucidar. This moment
really captures a sense of wonder.) Now there is absolutely no point in
going into the unlikely physics of Pellucidar, with its miniature sun that
hangs motionless at the center of the Earth. This is fantasy from 1930,
with just enough scientific trappings to give it some credence, and you
just have to crank up your imagination a few notches and go with it. It`s
like Captain Future`s solar system, where every planet in habitable;
just relax and enjoy the ride.
Pellucidar is immense, filled
with jungles and mountains and seas, packed to overcrowding with not only
dinosaurs and prehistoric megafauna but also new life forms that Burroughs
invented, as well as an assortment of various human tribes. Since it`s
always noon under that unmoving miniature sun, there is no way to tell
direction (even Tarzan gets hopelessly lost, something new and humbling
for him). Almost as soon as they arrive, the rescue party scatters and
spends most of the book wandering around in complete confusion, being chased
by monsters and savages, in general having a terrible time but keeping
the reader entertained, until they all luckily stumble back across each
other when it`s time to end the story.
Tarzan does not enjoy the
new surroundings as much as you might expect, being unfamiliar with the
wildlife and not really have a chance to wander about as he might like
to. He never returns there in later books, which might have been more interesting
than the various lost cities of descendants of different ancient cultures.
Stiil, he performs daring rescues and lives up to the hope everyone places
in him to resolve things. Jason Gridley is bland but okay, a typical young
Burroughs hero who is immediately smitten by the gorgeous Jana (the Red
Flower of Zoram). Frankly, no matter how lovely this Jana might be, she`s
a completely insufferable brat who makes Gridley suffer emotionally the
entire book until she abruptly announces that she does love him in the
Burroughs introduces one
of his most gruesome creations, the snakelike humanoid Horibs, who ride
big lizards and love to eat human flesh. They keep their prisoners in an
underground chamber, the only entrance filled with water, where they intend
to fatten up the captives until it`s time to feast. This is a genuinely
creepy scene (anyone remember that 1950s drive-in flick ATTACK OF THE GIANT
LEECHES?) There is also a dramatic scene where hundreds of sabretooths
round up and slaughter a huge mass of herbivores, including some mammoths;
the big cats wipe out a enormous number of prey, far more than they can
possibly eat and then start fighting with each other over the spoils. (So
much for the usual preaching about Man being the only creature that kills
for pleasure, and so forth.)
And for hilarity, you can`t
beat the scene where a multi-ton stegosaurus launches itself from a cliff,
lowering its back plates to serve as glider wings, and swoops over our
heroes. This is hysterical. The only way to beat this would be to have
mastodons climbing trees with their trunks.
Although much of the appeal
of Pellucidar is that, with no seasons and no transition from day to night,
the inhabitants have no sense of time, the idea doesn`t really ring true.
Women would still conceive and give birth, children would grow and people
would age; so there would still be a general concept of years going by.
(Presumably, women would still have menstrual cycles, but maybe not.) And
although sundials would not work, certainly some Pellucidarians would have
devised an hourglass filled with sand, water clocks, burning ropes marked
in segments, or any number of ways that would be so useful someone would
come up with them.
Finally, we should note that
Muviro and his Waziri warriors are described by Tarzan as "highly
intelligent men", capable of learning to man the controls of the dirigible.
They are shown as brave, resourceful and competent, standing up to an attacking
horde of Horibs and mowing the snakemen down. In contrast to these noble
warriors is the American cook, Robert Jones, who is played for obvious
low comedy (he throws his alarm clock overboard in exasperation at Pellucidar`s
timeless nature). When he sees the impressive Waziri marching out in the
wilderness, he "swelled with pride." ("Dem nigguhs is sho nuff hot babies,"
he says to himself.) I would love to know how Muviro and Jones would have
gotten along and what they would have had to say to each other. Probably
the Waziri would have felt no kinship with this American guy, but he might
have wanted to befriend them and learn some of their history. It could
have been a touching scene if handled with insight.
And as long as we`re considering
ethnic stereotypes, it`s interesting that Burroughs has the dirigible crewed
by a staff of Germans, when only ten years earlier, Tarzan (and the narrator)
had been filled with a righteous hatred of Germany and all its inhabitants.