Half-Review of Tarzan at the Earth’s Core

I’m only halfway through Tarzan at the Earth’s Core so this will only be a half-review, but I still wanted to talk about it.

The story itself is a bit of an aimless mess that’s only held together by Burroughs’ ability to make every scene and tableau he’s writing completely awesome.

The setup and megaplot is just an excuse to have Tarzan in an exotic dinosaur filled jungle: One of the characters from the Pellucidar series is in trouble and has radioed a distress call. A wealthy American is determined to investigate the hollow earth, which, if filled with jungles, means that Tarzan is the ideal person to track down and bring along. After lengthy preparations and a healthy dose of German engineering, they go off together to the north pole in a giant airship and find the entrance to Pellucidar and get hopeless lost in the jungles within, because this is, after all, a Tarzan novel.

-Tarzan goes to check out the jungle and gets lost because you can’t navigate the hollow earth using normal means (sunrise/sunset & the stars)

-The guys who go out to look for Tarzan get lost and attacked by savage animals.

-The rich American finds the airship again and goes out in his plane to try to find either Tarzan or the search party; except that since this is a Tarzan novel, his airplane is attacked by a pteranodon and he crashes in the jungle. But he does find a cute jungle girl!

So, a few things I’d like to note:

-Burroughs goes to great lengths to try to make Pellucidar’s alien aspects relevant to the story and how the characters are able to function in the hollow earth. The perpetual sun is disorienting, and even Tarzan has a hard time dealing with both perpetual noon and a lack of horizons (the landscape gently curves upward in all directions).

-The airship’s cook could easily be written off as a racist caricatures, but I think it’s interesting that the African tribesmen that Tarzan brings with him (in Africa, Tarzan has a game range and is on friendly terms with both the men and animals on it) all speak perfect, if simple, English, while the black cook from the American south is the one with the thick vernacular accent. This is likely intentional, in the way that Twain’s attempt to faithfully recreate several Missouri, Arkansas, southern Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi accents was intentional.

-In a lot of ways, the roles of Jana and Jason are a mirror of Tarzan and Jane’s, the savage girl met by the civilized man, except Jana’s a bit more likable than Jane and the pair are a bit more on equal footing – while Jana knows and understands Pellucidar and can survive there on her own, Jason is capable and a crack shot with his gun, which certainly evens the odds in many cases. In another way in which this subverts the criticisms of the colonialist nature of pulp, it’s Jana who teaches Jason her language so they can communicate rather than the other way around. It is pretty implicitly an interracial coupling (the people in Pellucidar strike me as Amerind inspired), and it’s Jason who’s made to look like a heel for even letting that cause doubt to creep into his mind.

-One of the most important aspects of Lord of the Rings in context of Appendix N is that it’s one of the few works on the list that features an adventuring “party”, but it’s certainly not the only. For a stretch, here, Tarzan, Tar-gash (a talking ape from a Pellucidarian tribe slightly more advanced than the one which raised Tarzan), and Thoar (a Pellucidarian tribesman who, as coincidence would have it, is Jana’s brother) adventure in the jungles together, hunting, fighting, and searching for the airship.

-Back to Jana. Jana is great example of how to do a female character in a pulpy adventure romance. She’s brave and confident and capable – when we’re introduced to her, she’s holding her own fairly well, considering that she’s been outrunning four plainsmen who are trying to capture her – so much so that they’re begging their leader to give up; she’s just not worth the trouble she’s been giving them! She’s feminine, but not totally demure, accepts the man’s help when it’s needed and given, but able to show that she’s willing to walk if he’s gonna take her for granted.

BlueBook192910

Depicted: Tarzan and his party lose initiative to the wild Chocobo.

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6 responses to “Half-Review of Tarzan at the Earth’s Core

  1. I have to wonder if the “aimless mess” of the story has to do with it originally being a serial novel – did Burroughs write it as one and then break it up, or did he write seven separate installments? Clearly, it’s meant to be one narrative, but the experience would be quite different with reading it over seven months. It’s the difference between watching a long movie versus watching a television series (or, again, the difference between watching a TV series with week long breaks and just binging a series on Netflix).

    I know Cirsova doesn’t do serials, but this may be something for any magazines to think about if they try to revive serials. Perhaps they shouldn’t be simply long stories broken up, but rather something akin to the quiltwork of a television series.

    • Generally, I believe, that authors submitted full novels to be serialized. The original Tarzan was seen as such a big deal, though, that the magazine said “We’re publishing this all in one go!” A lot of times when writing longer works with the pulp mindset, writers would make sure that each chapter was self-contained with rising and climactic action, leaving one with a “What will happen next?!” in part because it made their stories easier for editors to serialize.

      As for the story being a mess, I think part of it is just that it was the fourth or fifth Pellucidar book and maybe the dozenth or so Tarzan book.

      But, I’ll admit, it’s just speculation on my part! I don’t know for sure on this one, but I’ve read many instances of pulp writers saying that they wrote and submitted whole stories to be broken up and serialized. Leiber even said that Campbell asked him to significantly shorten one of his novels so that it could be serialized over fewer issues during The War.

      While we aren’t doing any serializations proper (My Name is John Carter notwithstanding), we do have a few franchises that we’re featuring some recurring stories in which could potentially become fixups. A few examples are Adrian Cole’s new Dream Lords stories and Abe Strongjohn’s Neptune stories.

  2. After you finish it, you should check out At the Earth’s Core, the sequel/spin-off that describes the adventures of the German guy who gets lost early on in the narrative.

    • I thought that was BACK TO THE STONE AGE.

      (Googles.) Thought so.

      The first Burroughs I ever read. I well and truly liked Friedrich Wilhelm Eric von Mindeldorf und von Horst (That is too long. I will call you “Von”). The combination of educated gentleman, heroic adventurer and regular guy worked so well.

      • I am just bummed that according to wikipedia, even though the duotagonist of Tarzan at the Earth’s Core stays behind at the end to look for the Germans, he doesn’t show up in the next book.

  3. Pingback: SENSOR SWEEP: Awkward Gaits, Misguided Attempts, Romantic Entanglements, Seductive Evil Priestesses – castaliahouse.com

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