Well, it’s been a while since I managed to get any Appendix N reading done. Part of this is down to life and a piece of particularly bad news, but that’s a story for another day. The other part is a desire to write some of my own material while the muse is singing her siren song. There’s also the outstanding ‘Moon Pool’ reading that I need to get done, and yeah, I have to admit I’m struggling with that one.
So, because I needed a change of scenery I picked up At the Earths Core by ERB. It was either that of Pheonix in the Sword by REH and it came down to a coin toss. I nearly ignored said coin toss at the thought of reading yet another Hollow Earth story, but rather than annoy the Gods of Fate™ I decided to stick with it.
Warning Spoilers Ahead!!!
I remember as a kid watching the excellent Journey to the Center of the Earth starring the wonderful James Mason and Pat Boone with my Grandma while playing poker on a rainy day in Western Australia. Before the film was a half hour in I was completely caught up in the tale and Nana had all of my pocket money for a year safely tied up in IOU’s. I didn’t care because the film was completely and totally awesome! I’d been to see Star Wars for the first time the previous weekend and I’d enjoyed it, but it had nothing on JttCotE. Dinosaurs. Science. Lost Civilisations. Evil Scientists. DINOSAURS!
This was well before the era of VHS let alone TiVo and I don’t think I saw the film again for well over a decade. It had aged, and I had too, but it still charmed me, the spell of the storytelling bringing me in once more.
Which brings me to At the Earths Core by ERB. Once again we have science. Dinosaurs. Evil beings. We also have beautiful cavewomen, brave and noble savages, and a hero who is unashamedly a hero. The hierarchy of evil is well thought out, the evolved dinosaur-descended Mahars an interesting if under-utilised big bad. There was a lot to like yet little to love about the tale truth be told.
Oh, I loved the fact that ERB used one man’s love for another to force him to go back into slavery when everything was telling him to go after the woman he loved. I love seeing loyalty used like that, especially as I know that it will be rewarded and not punished ultimately. These guys knew that you didn’t mess around with ideas as big as loyalty, that when it was brought into play it was shown to be a strength, not a weakness. I loved that the hero didn’t understand the woman he had fallen in love with at all. We like to think that the game of love is universal while failing to acknowledge that it really isn’t; that every culture will have its own rules that an outsider is more likely to run afoul of than spontaneously understand.
Liking comes easy with ERB. The pace is great, the story(fairly) solid and the plotting, if not as labyrinthine as others is at least regularly surprising. His characters are all fun and the scrapes they find themselves in are packed full of action that always reveals more about the hero than a dozen pages of telling could be.
I’d like, seeing as how this is my blog, to spend a little time talking about something that’s caught my attention. It’s a beat that I’ve picked up on in so many of the novels from this period. For want of a better phrase, I’m just going to go with ‘Hero gets captured’. Sword of Rhiannon used it, as did The Ship of Ishtar, The Moon Pool (novel, not short story) Earth’s Core and Earths Crater and even Almuric. It’s a fantastic way to show us, the reader, the world that they, the hero, have found themselves in. The hero, David Innes, spends most of the story in captivity, away from the woman he loves. His desire to get to her drives the last part of the story.
There are niggles though. Time, because of the lack of a day-night cycle becomes meaningless. We are expected to believe that the hero has spent ten years in the hollow earth and not been aware of the passing of time. Sorry, but I just don’t buy that. I know that I should just shrug my shoulders and get on with it, but whenever ERB mentioned time passing it jarred me straight out of the story. It just didn’t pass the smell test if you catch my drift. Walking out of the city in Mahar suits, yeah that bugged me, as did not destroying the secret formula first chance they got.
What did strike me was that anyone writing such a story today could find themselves with an easy avenue to explore a steampunk setting. Man from our age goes down to Pellucidar and discovers that the cavemen have advanced to the steampunk age due to technology taking a divergent branch? I’d read that book!
That’s it, for now, guys, thanks for reading once again
PS You can find a free copy of the story here.