Edgar Rice Burroughs, Savage Pellucidar

It was the best of novels, it was the worst of novels, it was a sign of foolishness, it was the proof of wisdom: well, maybe not, but Savage Pellucidar, the seventh and final book in Edgar Rice Burroughs' centre-of-the-earth series, was mighty uneven. Savage Pellucidar is the sixth one I've read from the series, so I must be getting close to some sort of badge by now....

(NOT an image of David Innes)
The thing is, I pretty much hated the opening pages, but I felt an obligation to finish the series, and once I surrendered a little bit more than usual (ie, stopped wondering if the book would be worth my time), it turned out to be fairly enjoyable.

When I talked about the fourth novel in this seriesTarzan at the Earth's Core, I managed to avoid saying just what I was thinking, which was that in many ways, Burroughs' use of Tarzan in itself signified Burroughs' admission that this series had failed imaginatively. This was an author who'd succeeded in imagining a wildly complicated world inside the Earth, ignoring everything we knew by that point about gravity and evolution and other large-scale scientific theories, all in pursuit of a ripping yarn; introducing Tarzan into this imagined world signalled (to me, at least) that Burroughs didn't trust the series enough to let it develop on its own.

The fifth novel, though, Back to the Stone Age, was a throwback that revealed Burroughs working at his best, so I had some hopes that Savage Pellucidar might have accidentally have survived the confidence crash represented by Tarzan. Sadly, it doesn't, and this book is basically a train wreck, but it's not entirely Burroughs' fault. That's just what happens when an "editor" takes four linked short stories written at different times, and knits them together without much of a cover story, or indeed much of a feel for prose. Read this novel at your own risk, I'd say, but if your expectations are low, and if you persist, you just might find yourself enjoying it more than you should.

What's that on her back?
This novel has the fullest exposition of how time and sense of place work in a location where the sun doesn't move. The human sense of time has everything to do with the cycle of Terran day and night, and our technologies of place depend to some extent on the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Pellucidar's sun doesn't move, so Burroughs builds a fairly large narrative structure out of his occasional temporal references earlier that suggest that the subjective experience of time's passing may in Pellucidar lead to objective material differences: old people are seriously old, is what I'm saying, but they don't know that they are.

Burroughs also relies even more heavily here on the coincidence trope than he did in the other novels, with people bumping into others they know all over the surface of Pellucidar, thousands of miles from home. Indeed, he pushes everything to something near its logical limit, something near absurdity, and in the end this is only a novel -- and also a novel can be a whole world. If you can just let what passes for logic roll along and carry you, then you'll find that Savage Pellucidar is the most Pellucidarian book of the whole series, in the best sense as well as the worst.

With Savage Pellucidar in my rearview mirror, now I've only got the sixth novel in the series to go, Land of Terror. Since Land of Terror was apparently rejected by all of Burroughs' usual publishers, well, I'm a little anxious about that one, but I'll press on.


Fraze said…
No, wait, don't.

Pulp fiction is commercial fiction. If you were a commercial reader, you'd stop after reading two weak books in the same series. "Pressing on" is for people with obligations, which is not an authentic relationship to the subject matter.

If you really want to make this project "be true" to the spirit of pulp, then I submit: you should stop reading in disgust never pick up another book in the series.

Popular Posts