AT THE EARTH’S CORE by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Pellucidar, the world that lies at the Earth’s core, was the third longest-running series Edgar Rice Burroughs penned during his career. The series focuses mainly on David Inness, the young adventurer, who, with mentor inventor Abner Perry, used a contraption called the Iron Mole to dig through the Earth.
Inside the hollow world, Innes and Perry discovered the strange and savage world of Pellucidar, filled with barbaric warriors, dinosaurs, the evil pterodactyl-like Mahars, and – of course – Dian the Beautiful, the most beautiful woman of two worlds. The idea of a hollow world is pretty tame stuff these days, but back when the novel At The Earth’s Core came out in 1914 it was hot stuff. Of course, a lot of the idea derives from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, but Burroughs fleshed out the Inner World and made it his own.
The idea of a hollow Earth was still pretty cool back when I was a kid, and if you check the internet, you’ll see there are still a lot of conspiracy theorists who believe a world does exist at the center of our planet. I was on a Burroughs kick when I read the book, enjoying the new wave of Burroughs paperbacks that arrived in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Upon my recent re-reading of the book, I wasn’t so flabbergasted. The concept isn’t as fresh anymore, and I was constantly aware of how limited Burroughs was as a writer. I’d read A Princess of Mars to my son a few years ago, and we’d both enjoyed the book, but I didn’t have the same experience with At the Earth’s Core.
Admittedly, this book was only the author’s fourth or fifth book, and his career had suddenly taken off, so he was bombarded with magazines clamoring for his work. Burroughs still had a lot of learn, but he got frozen in his own tropes. An example of that is the way David Innes unwittingly angers and embarrasses Dian in the same manner that John Carter did Dejah Thoris.
I think Burroughs had a much larger scope for the series from the onset with Pellucidar because the push from the beginning was to set Innes up as Emperor David I of Pellucidar. Then the story is laid out in broad strokes. A lot is made of the fact that time seemingly doesn’t exist in Pellucidar, but the author plays endlessly with that aspect, having things kind of happen all at once. At one point David escapes the Mahars and travels around for what must be at least weeks, only to return to Abner Perry, who insists that he’s only been gone a few hours and Perry hasn’t slept at all.
Innes is the typical Burroughs hero, physically capable and not quite understanding the feminine mystique. He’s able to triumph when the chips are down, but he gets kicked around a lot.
I wish I’d enjoyed the book as much the second time around, but I didn’t. Comparing it to contemporary books, At the Earth’s Core is too narrative heavy, too author aware, but it’s still great pulp when compared to writers from that era.
As a side note, I also watched the 1970s movie, At the Earth’s Core, that starred Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, and Caroline Munro. I was disappointed in McClure’s rendition of David Innes, but Caroline Munro was a fantastic looking Dian the Beautiful. The movie is on DVD and Amazon’s movie package system. It’s definitely worth a look.
And here’s the original Ace paperback cover from the 1960s.
Amazon currently has an ebook version up for free.