Wednesday, August 13, 2014
THE 100 GREATEST CROSSOVERS OF ALL TIME #25
TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE was, as I mentioned before, a rare attempt by Edgar Rice Burroughs to combine two of his popular concepts; that of his famous ape-man and of his "inner earth" series. However, though it's a significant crossover, it does diverge from the parameters of the latter mythos.
In my essays on the two major film adaptations of Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD-- reviewed here and here-- I remarked that "in Doyle's novel the environment of the Lost World is secondary to the lively characters. In both films, the prehistoric plateau is the 'star' of the show." There's a similar shift in the dynamic between hero and hostile land involved here. Most of the Pellucidar novels focus on some heroic figure struggling against assorted prehistoric perils, so the environment is secondary, as it is in the Doyle novel. But Burroughs wasn't interested in having his ape-man hero interact with any of the heroes of Pellucidar-novels, even though a couple, David Innes and Tanar, are referenced. Here it is the world of Pellucidar that becomes a palpable opponent to Tarzan, his "greatest challenge" as the paperback-hype above has it.
That's not quite to say that Tarzan alone faces the perils of the hostile land. The Lord of the Jungle joins the quest of a team of dirigible-pilots as they descend into the Earth's Core to rescue David Innes, the legendary emperor who more or less unified Pellucidar. Innes gets left in prison until the very end of the book, because Burroughs' main concern is to play up a subsidiary hero, Jason Gridley. This young American, while secondary to Tarzan, does one thing the married ape-man could not: he meets and romances the "savage girl" typical of most Burroughs fantasies.
In many respects TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE revisits the same basic structure of Burroughs' Caspak novels, in which assorted modern-day explorers have adventures in a primitive world. Jason Gridley's romance with savage Jana is strongly reminiscent of the 1918 tale of Tom Billings as he finds savage love in THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT. Gridley even refuses his savage lover out of social snobbishness just as Billings does, though the earlier novel expresses the dichotomy between savagery and civilization more adeptly.
TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE is a good read, but it really isn't much more than a lot of captures and escapes, punctuating by Tarzan or Jason killing prehistoric beasties. It could have used either a strong villain for readers to dislike, or some "ticking clock" to give the adventures more immediacy. To my knowledge Tarzan doesn't encounter Pellucidar's best villains, the Mahars, until comics artist Russ Manning pitted them against one another in a 1979 comic strip continuity.