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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

Pellucidar_AllStoryCavalierWeekly_100When last we saw David Innes, he was stranded with his Iron Mole in the Sahara desert. Lucky for him a friendly group of Arabic travelers befriended him and helped rig up a gantry to send him and his Mahar “companion” back to the Earth’s core. If you were to make a list of defining characteristics for an Edgar Rice Burroughs hero, the top two would be courageous and lucky.
The book begins with a big game hunter hearing some ticking coming from beneath his tent and discovering a telegraph box with wires leading deep into the Earth. You see, when David Innes headed back to Pellucidar he had coils of telegraph wire to run behind his Iron Mole so that he could communicate with the topside world. The hunter had remembered reading of this in the book “At the Earth’s Core” but had of course took it as fiction. He got a hold of the author and, with the aid of a telegraph operator, they manage to make contact with David who then recounts his further adventures in the primitive world of Pellucidar. I certainly don’t envy that telegraph operator who had to translate a complete novel via dots and dashes. I’m assuming he eventually went insane and had to be replaced at some point.
The story proper begins with David and the Mahar returning to Pellucidar, but to a location unfamiliar to David. Unwilling to kill a defenceless being, even one as evil as a Mahar, he lets the creature go and proceeds to try to explore and map Pellucidar. Note to future heroes who may be reading this, show mercy and compassion to your enemies because eventually you will come across them again and having spared them they will feel obligated to at least not kill you on sight and most likely aid you.
fly be free 
“Fly, be free!”

David soon runs into his old friend Abner Perry who fills us in on how badly things went after David left. Seems Hooja the Sly One convinced everyone that his abandoning of Dian, which of course was a trick of Hooja’s, meant that David was never coming back and this pretty much struck a death blow to the very short lived Federation of Pellucidar. Abner barely escaped with his life as Hooja quickly turned everyone against the poor inventor. So now it’s up to David and Abner to rescue Dian from Hooja, reform the Federation, and defeat Hooja and the Mahars once and for all.


David’s many adventures in this novel consist mainly of him tracking Hooja’s location across the width and breadth of Pellucidar. He is captured by the Mahar’s, who demand that he return the Great Secret of Mahar Reproduction that he and Abner stole, but David refuses, as he would rather die than see the Mahar’s race survive. Genocide before dishonor! Unfortunately, it turns out that the Mahar’s have Dian, and if he doesn’t retrieve the Great Secret they will kill her as well. David agrees because principles are one thing, but the most beautiful woman in the world is certainly another. Hooja of course manages to get the formula ahead of David and thus the Mahars hand Dian over to him. So David once again begins his long trek across Pellucidar’s lands and oceans in search of Dian. Seriously, he loses Dian more often than the average person loses their car keys.

Eventually, David does rescue Dian (and lose her again but quickly gets her back) with the aid of Juag, another victim of Hooja’s wickedness, and a fierce Hyaenodon that David befriend and which becomes the first domesticated “dog” in Pellucidar. David, Dian and Juag are themselves saved from Hooja’s armada of dugouts by the first Pellucidarian navy that Abner formed while David was gallivanting around rescuing his girlfriend. Armed with cannons and muskets, this navy makes quick work of Hooja and his army. The march to destroy the Mahars begins in earnest.


What is most fascinating in this book is that David and Abner bringing civilization to Pellucidar is treated mostly as a good thing. Even as David remarks in one battle with cannon fire and guns, they killed thousands in minutes in what normally would have taken Pellucidarian warriors years and many battles to accomplish. Let’s hear it for progress! “It is stupendous, Perry! But still more stupendous is the power you and I wield in this great world. These people look on us as little less than supermen. We must show them that we are all that.” So apparently David Innes never heard anything about absolute power corrupting absolutely. To be fair though, when Abner goes on about how he has ideas for greater weapons, bombs and the like, David admonishes his friend and tells him they must bring not just ideas of war from the “civilized” world, but that someday he hopes they can, “Be building sewing-machines instead of battleships and harvesters of crops instead of harvesters of men.” So with that goal in mind Emperor David leads a united Pellucidarian army to destroy the one thing that stands in their way, the Mahars. Like my mom always said, “You can’t make a utopia without spilling gallons of blood.”


With schools, factories and united countries marching under the banner of Emperor David, this sequel certainly explores some interesting ideas. Isn’t that what science fiction best at? Pellucidar is an exciting chapter in a beautifully conceived world by one of the genre’s most talented writers. A must read for fans.

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