Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Land That Time Forgot

There were many brilliant storytellers whose work was published in the pulp magazines during the first half of the 20th Century---Dashiel Hammett, Robert E. Howard, Ray Bradbury, Walter Gibson, Lester Dent and many more. One of the most successful, both commercially and in terms of telling enthralling stories, was Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Burroughs is, of course, best known for creating Tarzan. He also gave us tales about Mars, Venus and the underground world of Pellucidar. In his stories, courageous heroes commonly rescue beautiful women from certain death, battle evil men and an assortment of wild animals, alien monsters and prehistoric creatures.

If I had to name a favorite Burroughs story, though, it would be The Land That Time Forgot trilogy, first published in three successive issues of Blue Book magazine in 1918.

This breathless tale introduces us to the lost continent of Caspak, located in remote waters near Antartica. The hero of the first book, Bowen Tyler, stumbles across it accidentally while commanding a German U-boat that he and some British sailors had captured. Low on fuel, Tyler takes the sub through a subterranean passage to enter Caspak, which is surrounded by steep cliffs and otherwise inaccessible.

Once in Caspak, Tyler and his mixed crew of British and Germans (and, of course, a beautiful woman with whom Tyler falls in love) are forced to work together as they run up against a plethora of dinosaurs and other hungry prehistoric creatures, as well as tribes of ill-tempered cavemen.

The action races on non-stop as additional characters are introduced. A friend of Tyler's--Tom Billings--attempts to fly over the cliffs into Caspak via airplane, but crashes after a dogfight with a pterydactyl. In the meantime, Bradley (one of the British sailors who entered Caspak with Tyler) is seperated from the rest of the group and captured by the Wieroo, a race of winged men who live in a city built from skulls.

It's all great fun, with battles, kidnappings and escapes coming one after another. Burroughs does an excellent job of gradually introducing the bizarre biological rules that govern Caspak's life forms, building up a self-consistent world that easily allows us to suspend disbelief. The Land That Time Forgot is pure escapism, representing the work of a master storyteller at the top of his game.

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