By now we take the idea of a “shared universe” for granted, but the idea of characters crossing over from one book series to another was not something done in the 20’s and 30’s when Burroughs was writing his books. In The Moon Maid he had Earth astronauts trying to reach Barsoom from the John Carter series and in Tarzan at the Earth’s Core Burroughs’ most famous creation travel to the prehistoric world of Pellucidar. If any authors were doing this sort of thing before Burroughs I’m unaware of it.
Tarzan at the Earth’s Core is a direct sequel to Tanar of Pellucidar and was first published in 1930. Though it is the 13th book in the Tarzan series, this is more a Pellucidar book than it is a Tarzan one. When we last left Pellucidar, David Innes had been recaptured by the barbaric and cruel Korsars while Tanar had escaped to alert Abner Perry to David’s predicament. On the surface of the Earth Jason Gridley had used his unique radio to contact the Perry, and after hearing of the startling events in Pellucidar he decided to mount a rescue mission. Now if you were to mount an expedition to the center of the Earth, where savage men war amongst prehistoric creatures, who would you enlist?
Of course getting to the world at the Earth’s core is no easy thing, but with the knowledge imparted by Tanar about the polar openings a plan is formed and a remarkable airship is built for the journey. Tarzan would not take on such a journey without his posse, so on board are ten of his Waziri warriors along with Jason Gridley and the mostly German crew. There is a black cook onboard but with such scintillating dialogue as “Law, niggah!” he exclaimed; “you all suah done overslep’ yo’self” the less said about him the better.
When the special constructed dirigible 0-220 arrives in Pellucidar, Tarzan is the first to dash off into its foreboding jungles. None of the crew thinks anything of it as if anyone is capable of surviving alone in a hostile world it’s Tarzan. Unfortunately, our awesome ape-man steps into a snare and is captured by a group of the gorilla-like Sagoths. When he fails to return, Jason leads a search party consisting of the Wazir warrior and Wilhelm von Horst one of the German officers. Things get even worse for our intrepid rescuers.
The search party is torn asunder by stampede and the members are all scattered, lost among the wilds of Pellucidar. Jason makes it back to the 0-220 and then takes to the air with its small plane to try and locate his missing associates only to be downed shortly thereafter by a pterodactyl. With its constant noonday sun and no functional compasses (they don’t work at the center of the Earth) Tarzan and company all find themselves lost. This is especially embarrassing for Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.
The book then follows the adventures of Jason and Tarzan as each of them try and locate their friends, the narrative switching back and forth between these stalwart heroes. Jason rescues the beautiful Jana, the Red Flower of Zoram while Tarzan, travelling with Tar-gash, a Sagoth he saved from being killed by an angry Sagoth chieftain, rescues a Pellucidarian native named Thoar who turns out to be Jana’s brother. When Tarzan is carried away by a thipdar (that’s a Pellucidarian pterodactyl) and assumed dead Thoar and Tar-gash go their separate ways. It’s then that Jason, who due to the usual cultural barrier has pissed off Jana, is now alone and is able to rescue Thoar from a stegosaurus. Tarzan escapes the clutches of the thipdar and then rescues a young man from a cave bear. This young man is the son of the chief of a nearby village and when Tarzan goes back with this kid he finds Jana with them as she had been captured by these people shortly after she left Jason who she thought dead due to a flash flood.
If that all sounds a bit convoluted, confusing, and almost like a primitive French farce, than I have partially done justice to this book. Burroughs deciding to have two heroes in this book not only allowed more variety in action, it did one thing a book focusing solely on Tarzan wouldn’t be able to do and that is provide a love story. Edgar Rice Burroughs provides fun pulpy adventure in a wild range of exotic locals but they all contain a love story of some kind, and with Tarzan there is the problem in the fact that he is a married man. Tarzan can’t run off to the Earth’s core and meet and fall in love with someone else without fans being outraged at a noble hero cheating on his wife. Thus we have Jason Gridley along to provide the standard romance fraught with misunderstanding and passion.
Burroughs Number One Rule of Adventuring: If you are going to rescue someone make sure it is either a beautiful maiden who will fall in love with you or at least they should be the son or daughter of a local chieftain.
Tarzan at the Earth’s Core is a very fun read and certainly chock full of the kind of action and excitement readers have come to expect, he will almost always slip in some clever ideas and a new cool race of people for our heroes to encounter. The only real criticism I have for this book is that the actual rescue of David Innes comes as almost an afterthought as if Burroughs reached the end of this awesome adventure story and suddenly realized, “Crap, I still haven’t rescued David yet and that was the whole point of this bloody story!” So we get a very hurried chapter of the Pellucidarian Navy and the 0220 dirigible showing up at the Korsar capital demanding the release of David or be bombed into oblivion. This they quickly do. The book ends with Gridley deciding to stay in Pellucidar and look for VonHorst the missing crewman thus setting us up for the next book.
Burroughs stories may follow a formula, and certain tropes will continue to pop up, but the worlds he creates are wonderful to visit.