Lovely Ladies and Pleistocene Behemoths: A Visit to the Hollow Earth with Edgar Rice Burroughs

Lovely Ladies and Pleistocene Behemoths: A Visit to the Hollow Earth with Edgar Rice Burroughs


Caroline Munro, and a pair of Pleistocene behemoths, in At the Earth’s Core

I’ve had a lifelong fascination with “hollow earth” stories, a style of fantasy fiction that presents ancient, lost societies of people (and/or humanoids) living deep under the earth, where Jurassic and Pleistocene behemoths — as well as uncategorized horrors — struggle to survive in the subterranean jungles of a sunless world.

My favorite of this genre is the Pellucidar series, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which began in 1914 when At the Earth’s Core was serialized in All-Story Weekly, before the novel was published in book format.


At the Earth’s Core (Doubleday/Science Fiction Book Club, November 1976). Cover by George Akimoto

The book pictured above, from my personal collection, was released in conjunction with the fantastic 1976 film, directed by Kevin Connor and starring Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, and Caroline Munro — the latter two of whom had worked together on the brilliant Hammer Horror film, Dracula A.D. 1972.

And if followers of this column and my Facebook posts have not deduced it by now, I think Munro is one of the most lovely ladies ever to have graced the silver screen.

The excitement began shortly after Dr. Abner Perry built “The Iron Mole,” a huge rocket-powered burrowing machine designed to pierce the earth’s crust and explore the secrets deep beneath the surface.

Along with David Innes, the handsome young backer of the project, Perry set the giant machine in motion for a test bore… only something went very wrong. Totally out of control and burrowing at incredible speed, the pair cut clear through to the center of the earth — breaking into Pellucidar, a hidden land more strange and terrifying than the certain death they’d expected.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, dinosaurs were often a subject that stoked the imagination, and At the Earth’s Core excelled in capturing that sense of wonder, that sense of the impossible.

Just imagine riding inside the Iron Mole, drilling into the core of the earth to find a fabulous environment, populated by weird and terrible beasts and lost societies! It was often the struggle to survive, to persevere that attracted me as a young reader (and still to this day, if I am being candid).

But unlike, say, the fiction of Jack London, in which man vs. nature was a popular theme, with ERB it was often man vs. nature… and dinosaurs, monsters, and weird, intelligent, hostile humanoids who are rivals of mankind. This is the stuff of heroic adventure and derring-do!

And then there is the language employed by ERB. Yes, it could tend to be overly florid at times, but that was the style of his era, before economy of prose became more prevalent in the 20th century.

Regardless, I adore this storytelling and never tire of revisiting Pellucidar — especially when Tarzan visited in the subsequent stories.


Jeffrey P. Talanian’s last article for Black Gate was a survey of New Gaming Releases. He is the creator and publisher of the Hyperborea sword-and-sorcery and weird science-fantasy RPG from North Wind Adventures. He was the co-author, with E. Gary Gygax, of the Castle Zagyg releases, including several Yggsburgh city supplements, Castle Zagyg: The East Mark Gazetteer, and Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works. Read Gabe Gybing’s interview with Jeffrey here, and follow his latest projects on Facebook and at www.hyperborea.tv.

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Thomas Parker

Much as I love Tarzan’s fabled Africa and Barsoom and Amtor (that’s Venus, if you didn’t know), I think At the Earth’s Core and Pellucidar were the best one-two punch that Burroughs ever landed; he never surpassed them for exotic color, action, and excitement.

I also retain an adolescent fondness for the clunky Doug McClure movie, and its predecessor, The Land that Time Forgot, which was scripted by no less a Burroughs fan than Michael Moorcock.

K. Jespersen

The moment I read your “Imagine riding inside the Iron Mole,” I was reminded of a beloved childrens’ semi-science book that I grew up with, about what would happen if a kid really did dig a tunnel to China/Australia. It talked about what we think the structure of the Earth is, and how such a kid would theoretically have to be equipped to manage the journey at each stage. In the outer core, the kid was ensconced in something that looked like a cross between the Iron Mole and the Chunnel borer, with lots of fans, ice, and lemonade. Good memories of good imaginary times. (Edit: There it is– How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by Faith McNulty.)

Given your hollow Earth fiction fascination, perhaps you know the answer to a certain question: Has there ever been a hollow Earth novel/movie/game where, either at the beginning or at the end, the bad guy or evil malevolence of the story is imprisoned at the freefall/LaGrange point in the very center of mass? It seems like such an obvious thing to have happen, but darned if I can point to a single instance of it.

Last edited 15 days ago by K. Jespersen
William H. Stoddard

Well, it’s not a novel, but at the end of the Inferno (only the first part of the Divine Comedy, of course), Dante shows Satan so imprisoned, at the very center of the Earth, where the direction of gravitational attraction reverses. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle describe this as a classic science fictional effect in their pastiche of the Inferno.

K. Jespersen

Ah! Thank you, W.H.S.! That explains why I’ve never seen it anywhere– it was already done in a standard-setting work.

Hmm. Should really reread Inferno. It’s been since high school.

Charlie

My imagination too was fired as a child by the ERB tales of Inner Earth and especially by the 1970s movies. I particularly liked the Mahars as antagonists. Caroline Munro is one of my three favourite actresses from that era, along with Jenny Agutter and Susan Penhaligon (interestingly, they are all British). Carrie Munro received far too little screen time in “Dracula A.D. 1972” but made up for it with “Star Crash” (a movie in which everyone’s tongue is firmly in their cheek). DC Comics’ series “The Warlord”, principally written and drawn by Mike Grell, also has an Inner Earth setting, called Skartaris (named for the mountain mentioned in Verne’s “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth”) – although DC later clarified that Skartaris is other-dimensional and not within a hollow Earth. Grell has stated that both Verne and ERB were inspirations for Skartaris.

Joe H.

My favorite Caroline Munro performance is easily Golden Voyage of Sinbad, with Captain Kronos probably following closely.

Love Grell’s Warlord and REALLY wish DC would do an actual color reprint one of these years.

Byron

I take it you’ve read “Hollow Earth” by David Standish. If not it’s right up your alley. Always meant to circle round back to Burroughs and read these two titles. This is the second nudge I’ve gotten in the past week so I guess that’s some kind of a sign…

Joe H.

Pellucidar for me can’t QUITE edge out Barsoom, but it’s very close.

I rewatched all of the McClure movies (Earth’s Core/Land & People that Time Forgot/Warlords of Atlantis) recently and was more than adequately entertained in all cases. (And think McClure looks like nothing so much as John Buscema’s Conan.)

Jeff Stehman

I absolutely loved that movie. Caroline Munro, “You can’t mesmerize me! I’m British!” and Cy Grant’s epic fight.

One of the Tarzan books was set in the Hollow Earth, but that’s the only Hollow Earth ERB book I’ve read.

greg

It’s funny that I ran across this today, because I just watched Land that Time Forgot on Mystery Science Theater 3000 last night (actually early this morning). I loved these movies as a kid and had been wanting to watch it again. My gf and I had been binging MST3K when and Land that Time Forgot just happened to be the last episode I watched.
ERB – like so many other of your readers-was who got me into this genre of fiction.
Probably my very favorite hollow earth story was DC Comics The Warlord by Mike Grell

Last edited 14 days ago by greg

[…] Rice Burroughs (Black Gate): I’ve had a lifelong fascination with “hollow earth” stories, a style of fantasy fiction […]


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