Back to the Stone Age: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

Back_to_the_Stone_AgeWhen we last left our intrepid heroes David Innes had been rescued from the clutches of those nasty Korsars and Tarzan and crew of the dirigible 0220 were heading back to the surface world but Jason Gridley refused to leave a man behind and vowed to stay in Pellucidar until missing crewman Wilhelm von Horst was found. That is how Tarzan at the Earth’s Core ended but for some bizarre reason at the end of this book we find out that Jason was apparently convinced by his crewmates to return with them to the surface and let David take of up the pledge to find von Horst. I have no idea why Burroughs thought this was a good idea as it makes Jason out to be a complete dick.

After a recap of how the search party got separated by a stampede and a horde of sabre-toothed tigers the book then follows its new main character Wilhelm von Horst. Things look bad for von Horst as he is alone and lost in the middle of a prehistoric world where almost everything is trying to kill him. He actually manages to run into the Tarzan’s Waziri warriors. The day is saved. Sadly von Horst is a bit of a moron, as once the Waziri take a nap in a cave leaving him on guard duty he decides to wander off and hunt up some grub. He is quickly lost again. Idiot thy name is von Horst.

This leads to one of the most interesting sections of the book where von Horst is snatched up by a Trodon, a pterodactyl like creature that has a type of marsupial pouch to stuff its prey in. He is flown to a large crater but just before being dumped in, the Trodon stings him in the back of the neck. The sting delivers a toxin that leaves our hero paralyzed from the neck down and left to be food for the soon to be hatched Trodon eggs. Von Horst finds himself lying next to a native by the name of Dangar who helps pass the time by teaching von Horst the local dialect all the while watching as Trodon eggs hatch and their progeny crawl out to eat the nearest paralyzed prey. The dread and horror of the situation is well realized as days go by as the row of “dinner guests” are gruesomely eaten alive until eventually Dangar is next on the menu.  As luck would have it, when von Horst was stung the stinger had to go through the thick leather collar of his jacket which limited the depth of the sting and the amount of poison administered to him. Just as a baby Trodon is about to snack on Dangar, von Horst gains enough mobility to reach his gun and kill the little bastard. With a little ingenuity von Horst rigs an escape from the crater and is able to rescue not only himself but the still paralyzed Dangar as well.

Von Horst and Dangar run into another native of Pellucidar by the name of Skruf with the standard Burroughs introduction by saving him from a nasty creature that was about to eat him. Skruf was out hunting tarags (sabre-toothed tigers) to pay a bride-price for the beautiful slave girl La-ja back at this village. Skruff tells von Horst and Dangar to come back to his village and that they will be treated as friends. When they are attacked by a tarag the cowardly Skruf runs and hides while von Horst and Dangar kill it. This does not prevent Skruf from taking credit for the kill when they reach his village or for betraying his friends and seeing them enslaved by his people. With a name like Skruf they really should have seen that coming.

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Von Horst is able to pull off a Spartacus and leads a slave rebellion that also puts him into conflict with La-ja who when he orders her about during this slave revolt she takes umbrage to this as she is the daughter of a chieftain. She eventually forces von Horst to knock her unconscious just so he can get her to safety. This is the crux of this books love story; La-ja says she hates him and von Horst slowly falls deeper in love with her. Of course it is later revealed that she has been madly in love with him from the beginning, but back home there was giant of a man who had laid claim to her as mate and La-ja feared that von Horst would be killed if he went back with her. Ah, the perils of prehistoric love.

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The other key element of this book, and certainly more interesting than the “Will they won’t they” love story, is when von Horst comes across a mammoth that had gotten trapped in a type of punji stick trap. Not able to see an animal suffer von Horst risks life and limb and approaches the massive beast and one by one pulls out the sharpened sticks from its padded feet. They become friends and travel together for a while and later when he is captured by the Mammoth Men it is this noble beast that saves him from captivity. All these exciting adventures and more conclude with von Horst being made chief of La-ja’s village and the eventual arrival of David Innes.

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Once again we are treated to some wonderfully constructed races and creatures of Pellucidar; from the strange paralyzing Trodons to the bizarre animal headed bison-men. Originally released under the title “Seven Worlds to Conquer” as a six part serial in 1937 this installment in the series is a worthy entry if one can look passed the standard multiple kidnappings of this books damsel.

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