Tanar of Pellucidar: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

bluebook coverFirst published as a six part serial for Blue Book Magazine in 1929, the third book of the Pellucidar series shifts its focus away from David Innes to a native of the Earth’s Core by the name of Tanar. This installment has one of the more awkward narrative devices employed by Burroughs that leads to the book having three different perspectives.

The story starts off with author Edgar Rice Burroughs visiting with friend Jason Gridley who has developed a unique radio frequency that he dubbed “The Gridley Wave” and is completely surprised when it picks up transmissions from Pellucidar. Like most people, Jason believed the stories written by his friend Burroughs were just fantastic works of fiction, so when he is contacted by Abner Perry it is a bit of a shock.

From Abner Perry we learn that a disaster has befallen the fledgling Empire of Pellucidar that his friend David Innes had formed among the tribes of this lost world. A new enemy had appeared on the horizon in the form of a sea going race of brutes called Korsars. These scourges of the seas of Pellucidar have ships that rival Perry’s own constructed navy and even have crude guns of their own which they handily use to lay waste to all who oppose them. That is until David and his forces engage them and, though outnumbered by the Korsars, the superior gunpowder and weaponry of the Empire sends the enemy packing. The raiders retain as hostage Tanar, son of Innes’ ally Ghak of Sari. They hope to trade him for the secret of the empire’s superior weaponry. David decides to pursue the Korsar fleet but with only his stout friend Ja of Anoroc and a Korsar prisoner to act as guide.

The bulk of the novel follows the adventures of Tanar as he finds himself running from one dangerous situation to another. It’s aboard the Korsar’s flagship where Tanar encounters the Cid, the cruel leader of the Korsars, but he also meets the Cid’s daughter, the beautiful Stellara, who will be the main love interest in this book. When a storm decimates the fleet, and after the cowardly crew abandons ship, Tanar and Stellara find themselves alone on a derelict ship drifting at the mercies of the storm. Thus is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but because this is a Burroughs story it will be fraught with misunderstandings and multiple snatchings requiring various rescues. Eventually the two find themselves in the hands of the Korsars, and it’s while in custody again that Tanar runs into David and Ghak in a dark Korsar dungeon.

tanar-of-pellucidarStructurally speaking this novel is a tad overcomplicated. It begins with Abner Perry contacting Jason Gridley and narrating the events of the story up until Tanar is captured, then the narrative switches to Tanar’s perspective which we can let slide as we can assume that Tanar at some point gave Perry an account of his adventures, if bit of an overly detailed one, for a second party narrator. Then later in the book it shifts to the perspective of David Innes who sailed to the land of the Korsars to rescue Tanar, and as the whole purpose of Abner calling the surface world was to orchestrate a rescue his missing friend there is no way Abner would be able to relay David’s portion of the adventure as by the end of the book he is still M.I.A.

Items of note in this book are the three new races we encounter; first is of course the evil Korsars who we learn are descendants of Moorish pirates (corsairs) who somehow managed to sail through a polar opening from our outer world to the inner world of Pellucidar. Then there are the people of Amiocap who base their society on open expressions of love but who are also extremely paranoid and take Tanar and Stellara for Korsar spies. Our heroes barely escape being burned alive when it is finally proven that Stellara is not the true daughter of the Cid but that her mother is from Amiocap and was captured by the Cid when she was pregnant with Stellara. The third group of people are from the island of Hime whose society is the flipside of Amiocap, as everyone seemingly hates each other. Constant cruelty and murder is the norm and it’s one of its depressed inhabitants that kidnaps Stellara and leads Tanar on a merry chase.

Tanar hardcover

The book ends with our group of heroes; Tanar, Stellara, Ja and David escaping the capital city of the Korsars, but just after proving the existence of a polar opening they are spotted by a Korsar search party and David, Tanar and Stellar our recaptured with only Ja escaping. Tanar manages to escape from a black pit of a dungeon that he was dumped into (villains just can’t learn that maybe killing the amazing hero may be the better option) and escapes once again with Stellara. The pair make it back to the Empire and alert Perry to David’s fate. After hearing Abner Perry’s recounting of the adventures, Jason Gridley pledges to lead an expedition through the polar opening and hopefully rescue David Innes from the clutches of the vile Korsars. As cliff-hangers go that is a pretty good one.

Burroughs continues to beautifully build and expand the wonderful world of Pellucidar, and you will find Tanar of Pellucidar a worthy chapter in the series.  Though I could do with Burroughs retiring the motif of the heroine misunderstanding something which then causes her to “hate” the hero. It’s kind of getting to be old hat.

Mike Brooks

Mike Brooks

Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.