By Philip Schweier
Sep 23, 2014 - 14:00
Edgar Rice Burroughs
While Tarzan is certainly Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most famous creation, he is also credited with creating a number of fantastic worlds, among them Pellucidar, a land which exists with the earth. Imagine the earth is a hollow ball, and on the inner side of the world is a land teeming with jungle, Inhabited by prehistoric creatures, and an eternally noonday sun hanging in the center of the sky.
The first of the Pellucidar books, At the Earth’s Core, was originally published in All-Story Weekly in 1914. It tells the story of David Innes and Prof. Abner Perry, who together create a drilling machine intended to explore the interior of the earth. On its maiden voyage, the two pilots are overcome by geological gases and the mole machine drills aimlessly before emerging in the internal world of Pellucidar.
Here, they discover a world inhabited by prehistoric dinosaurs and cave dwelling humans. Ruling over this world-within-a-world are the Mahars, a race of airborne creatures similar to pterodactyls. To them, the humans are merely a food source. With the help of Innes and Perry’s outer world technology, the humans are able overthrow their reptilian masters.
In true Burroughs-like fashion, David Innes befriends a beautiful heroine named Dian, and by the end of the story they have fallen in love, though throughout the story each has at one point or another angrily denied his or her feelings for the other. The story ends with the hero and his beloved – David Innes and Dian, the beautiful cave girl – separated, with the hope for a reunion in the eventual sequel.
In the years to come, ERB would focus his energies on the much more popular Tarzan series, and would not revisit Pellucidar for more than a decade. Even then, the series is not beholden to a single hero, as Innes is merely a supporting character. Instead, other characters are introduced and take center stage in subsequent stories.
Tanar of Pellucidar (1929), follows the adventures of
a primitive resident of his mythical world. By this time, Innes has forged a
mighty empire, bringing together many of the fractured tribes and clans of the primeval
land. But a new menace, as troublesome as the Mahars, has grown. They are a
fierce people called Korsars, and seem to be the descendants of 16th century
pirates. Innes is captured, and at the end of the story, Jason Gridley, who has
been transcribing the tale via radio waves from Pellucidar, vows to rescue him.
The next book may be the earliest example of fictional characters inhabiting a shared universe, and the first crossover of those characters. Tarzan at the Earth’s Core is the fourth in the Pellucidar series and the 13th published Tarzan adventure. Gridley seeks out Tarzan, and together they commission a dirigible to take them to the immense opening at the North Pole that leads to Pellucidar.
Land of Terror followed five years later, and returns the focus to David Innes in a series of short adventures following Back to the Stone Age. The final book, Savage Pellucidar, followed the same format. Burroughs died in 1950, and it was published in 1963, perhaps cobbled together from a number of incomplete narratives. It also features a plot device common to Burroughs’ novels. The Hero goes off in search of adventure, only to be met with misfortune and seemingly lost. His Mate – Jane, Dian, Dejah Thoris or Duare – goes in search of him, only to have The Hero return home. Finding His Mate gone, he journeys into danger once more to find her. Both suffer a number of near-death experiences and near misses before eventually being reunited at the end of the story.
Coinciding with the release of Mahars of Pellucidar, a feature film of At the Earth’s Core was released starring Doug Maclure and Peter Cushing as Innes and Perry, respectively. It’s production values were typical for its day, the prehistoric creatures created using people in rubber costumes stomping their way through miniature rain forests. Pellucidar was also featured in the syndicated television series, Tarzan: The Epic Adventures.
As a whole, the Pellucidar series can be described as a travelogue, as adventurers from the outer world encounter any number of races and primitive cultures. Burroughs was very adept at creating unique creatures, both sentient and otherwise, to inhabit his fictional worlds. The action is crisp, though in some instances, the writer resorts to descriptions of conversations, rather than dialogue itself. For the most part, it is pure pulp escapism and nothing more.
Last week: John Carter of Mars
Next week: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle