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Thursday, April 5, 2012

PREPARING FOR AN APE MAN’S VISIT

Read/Watch ‘em in order #14

It was fourteen years between Pellucidar (the second novel about that world at the Earth’s core) and Tanar of Pellucidar. The third novel didn’t appear until 1929, when it was serialized in The Blue Book Magazine.



The first two novels in the series formed a self-contained adventure with a satisfying ending, so there was no immediate story-driven need for a sequel. Also, Burroughs’ biggest commercial success was Tarzan and he spend a lot of time writing about the ape man or overseeing merchandising efforts. By 1929, the Lord of the Jungle had appeared in twelve novels.

I have a theory about why Burroughs opted to return to Pellucidar after a decade and a half away. I’ll preface this by saying I only did a minimal amount of checking about Burroughs’ reason and didn’t find any information. It’s entirely possible my theorizing could be completely and demonstrably wrong. If any of you know the real story behind his decision to write another Pellucidar novel, please leave a comment.

But in the meantime, I like my theory enough to just blindly go for it and pretend its true. In the twelve Tarzan novels thus far published, the ape man had already encountered at least seven lost or hidden civilizations. Well, the marketplace demanded more Tarzan adventures, but perhaps Burroughs was afraid of running the lost civilization idea into the ground. He’d return to that concept several times in future Tarzan novels, but by the time 1929 rolled around, he may have wanted to try something different.

So how about having Tarzan visit a previously established location in the ERB universe? It might be tricky figuring out how to get him to Mars or Venus. I kind of wish he’d sent Tarzan to Caspak at least once (though comic book writer/artist Russ Manning would eventually take the ape man there in an excellent graphic novel).

Burroughs, though, decided on sending Tarzan down to Pellucidar. But how to get him there and, perhaps more importantly, why would he go?

Tanar of Pellucidar’s purpose, beyond telling a cracking good adventure story, is to set up the method and reason for Tarzan visiting that world in 1930’s Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.


To this end, Burroughs tells us of an inventor friend named Jason Gridley, who invents a new radio with which he contacts Abner Perry in Pellucidar. Jason finds out David Innes, Emperor of Pellucidar, is a prisoner of the Korsars.

The Korsars are descendents of Moorish pirates who entered Pellucidar through an entrance near the North Pole. (There’s no discussion about why Moorish pirates were sailing around that far out of their bailiwick. I’ll have to theorize about that someday.)

The Korsars raid one of the tribes that make up the Empire and are driven off, but not without capturing the warrior Tanar.

The Korsar chief has a beautiful adopted daughter named Stellara—the daughter of a woman captured while pregnant years ago. This is a Burroughs novel, so Tanar and Stellara are soon in love.

What follows is a novel-length set of successive mini-adventures. A storm wrecks the Korsar fleet and leave the two protagonists stuck on a slowly sinking hulk. They make it ashore, but run into various dangers there. There’s a pause in the action when they find the village of Stellara’s mother and seem to find a home.

Burroughs actually spends a chapter or two in romantic-comedy mode at this point, when the local equivalent to the prom queen falls for Tanar and the local equivalent to the star quarterback falls for Stellara. But fortunately, the threat of sudden violent death turns up before this drags out too long when Stellara is again captured by Korsars.

Actually, I shouldn’t make too much fun of the rom-com interlude. It’s a bit strange, but Burroughs had a good sense of humor and he does turn this into an entertaining enough sequence.

Anyway, multiple escapes, rescues and recaptures follow until Tanar and Stellara end up as prisoners in the Korsar’s main city. Here they meet David Innes, who had been himself captured while on a rescue mission to help Tanar.

This leads to another escape, another recapture and another escape. In all that confusion, Tanar and Stellara end up getting away, but David is still a prisoner.

Well, that can’t be allowed to stand. When Jason Gridley learns of this, he immediately determines to lead a rescue mission into Pellucidar via the polar opening that David discovered during the course of the novel. And maybe—just maybe—it might be a good idea to take along someone who can operate effectively in a jungle environment…

I suppose it can be legitimately argued that the plot lacks a solid enough structure—the individual action set pieces do have a certain randomness to them and the story runs through several successive bad guys who aren’t really different enough from one another to give them individual personalities. With one exception, the successive villains all seem like the same guy with different names attached.

But it’s a fun story all the same. Burroughs was a master at fast pacing, so the tale is always moving along at a nice clip. Even the romantic comedy interlude doesn’t really slow anything up.

The Korsars are a nifty and unusual addition to the normally prehistoric world of Pellucidar. And those random action set pieces are among some of Burroughs’ best. Particularly notable is Tanar’s one-on-one battle with a bizarre humanoid creature (a member of a cannibalistic subterranean race called the Buried People) and his fight against a saber-tooth tiger after both he and the tiger have fallen off a cliff and into the ocean.

Also, there’s a sequence in which Tanar is locked by the Korsars in a pitch-black dungeon--a form of horrible psychological torture for those used to living in eternal daylight. Tanar’s efforts to maintain his sanity while conceiving of a desperate escape plan is nothing short of riveting.

Stellara is a likable heroine. Unlike many damsels in distress, she’s perfectly willing to help out in a fight if she can. In fact, she saves Tanar’s life on at least one occasion. Though she does lose some Action Girl cred later on when, in a fit of jealousy, she makes the world’s stupidest decision and ends up getting both her and Tanar recaptured by the Korsars.

But remember that, though Tanar’s story is a fun one, the main purpose of this entire novel is to end with David Inness a helpless prisoner in need of rescuing. It’s all exists to give Tarzan of the Apes an excuse to travel to Pellucidar. And that’s just fine. The universe will be a richer place because of this.

And, by golly, that on-the-surface-of-the-ocean fight between Tanar and a saber-tooth tiger is by itself sufficient justification for the novel in of itself.

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