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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Land of Terror: Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

Land of Terror book coverWritten in 1944 Land of Terror is the penultimate book in the Pellucidar series and one that was never serialized as it was rejected by all his usual publishers. Having read it I’m not all that surprised.
The previous book Back to the Stone Age ended with David Innes finally tracking down von Horst, the missing crewmember who along with Tarzan and company came to Pellucidar to rescue David. Funny enough it turns out that von Horst had fallen in love and has no need or desire to be rescued, so David and his Sari warriors turn around and head home. Bit of an anti-climactic ending.

It’s in this book that it becomes clear that Burroughs has either lost interest in Pellucidar or just run out of narrative ideas as Land of Terror is basically just a collection of loosely connected short stories; The Oog Women, Among the Jukans, With the Azar giants, Captured by the Giant Ants and On the Floating Island of Ruva.

After being told “Thanks but no thanks” by von Horst the company of Sari warriors is ambushed by the Amazon women of Oog and David is put into slavery… again. It seems that residents of Pellucidar cannot walk twenty feet without being captured by some savage tribe and either forced into slavery or put on the dinner menu. This either reflects on how dangerous Pellucidar is or how out of ideas Burroughs had become. Women in the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs would not be called progressive by today’s standard because even though he constantly tells us how brave and strong they are, the women in his books main purpose is sadly “damsel in distress” and that’s about it. This isn’t anything other authors of the time weren’t doing but in this book Burroughs views on women takes a unpleasant turn that I’m betting at least some people at the time took offense to it. When captured by the heavy-built, stocky and bushy bearded women of Oog David witnesses their brutal ways and how the effeminate men of Oog are basically slaves and mistreated by the women. When a disagreement between two women leads to a gruesome ruthless catfight that results in the death of one of them, David’s thoughts are as follows…

The brutality of it sickened me. If these women were the result of taking women out of slavery and attempting to raise them to the equality of man, then I think that they and the world would be better off if they were returned to slavery. One of the sexes must rule; and man seems temperamentally better fitted for the job than woman. Certainly if full power has resulted in debauching and brutalizing women to such an extent, then we should see that they always remain subservient to man, whose overlordship is, more often than not, by gentleness and sympathy.

Great googly moogly, but that is terrible! Now this is David’s internal monologue so it may not necessarily be the view held by the author, but being David Innes is this book’s hero, and we aren’t supposed to think of him as a complete asshat, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Burroughs may have taken some of that shit seriously.

Land of Terror alt book

David eventually escapes from the village of Oog with a fellow slave by the name of Zor but then he and Zor are soon captured by the Jukans. Seriously, being captured is like a career for these guys. At least this does lead to the most interesting section of the book and that is when David and Zor are lead to the city of Meeza to see the king of the Jukans and discovers that the Jukans are all completely mad.

Jukans think they are very intelligent though they are a race of half-wits. They see a man hitting himself with a rock and a woman trying to cut her own child’s throat. The Jukan god is Ogar, a hideous, obscene, half-man half-beast idol in front of which their priests ‘pray” by doing cartwheels. David and Zor do their best to blend in among the mad inhabitants but David is soon sentenced to be sacrificed to the god Ogar only to end up running into his mate Dian the Beautiful. Pellucidar is truly the smallest large world ever. Dian was captured when she went out on an expedition to find David and you would think by now the two of them would have learned it’s just best to never leave home.

Our group have many more adventures from encounters with floating islands to man-eating tusked giants to gigantic ants who all either want to fatten David and his companions up or enslave them. With getting captured, separated and then reunited again and again being the sole thread of this book there isn’t really much to offer the readers except the weirdness of the creatures our characters meet. Sadly the chapter in the mad city was the best part as much of the rest of it we’ve seen in one form or another. Burroughs even rips-off stuff from the previous books by having our heroes save an elephant to then have it befriend them and later come to the rescue. This is a book for only hard-core fans with a completest nature to attempt.

land of Terror paperback

Reading adventure books of the era often means you have to gloss over period sexism but this book crosses the line and gets down right terrible at times and certainly not a shining moment in the lexicon of Burroughs.

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