AT THE EARTH'S CORE
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
One of the problems with reading certain older authors is that the world view of their time must be placed within context and understood. Among science fiction authors, Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, Carter of Barsoom and Carter of Venus, ranks in the forefront. Racism underlies nearly all of his writing. That is not to say that Burroughs was a racist the way the term is meant today, but the society of his times had certain racist tendencies with which Burroughs was indoctrinated.
At the Earth's Core, the first novel in Burroughs's "Pellucidar" series, is not immune from Burroughs's latent racism. The protagonists, White Anglo-Saxons, are clearly superior to the primitives living within the Earth who are invariably described as being darker and harrier than caucasians. Furthermore, David Innes, the narrator, shows no qualms at the thought of wiping out the entire matriarchal race of Mahars who rule the inner world.
As with other Burroughs novels, the only female of the inner world who appears in the novel is one calculated to arouse lust, if not love, in the Anglo-Saxon heroes. Innes falls desperately in love with Dian the Beautiful, despite the minimal amount of time he actually speaks with her. As with nearly all the plot points in the novel, this love serves merely to allow Burroughs to get to the end of his tour of Pellucidar and its customs.
There is also a certain anti-religious bias to the novel. Although Innes's companion, Perry, is an ardent Christian, given over to prayer when he faces adversity, Innes dismisses his partner's piety as useless unless it can be used to further their own goals. Burroughs could have explored the meaning of religion more fully and in less ridiculous manner than he does, but he was trying to write an adventure novel, not a religious tract. His adventure, however, falls flat.
Although Burroughs includes a plot in At the Earth's Core, it seems to exist as a mere formality. The real raison d'etre for the novel is to provide a travelogue for the strange lands which exist in Burroughs's imagination and within the Earth's crust. Burroughs misses one of the wonders of Pellucidar. Although the aboriginal Pellucidarans do not know about stars, they apparently can not see their world curving up around them. They believe they live on a flat Earth. Despite this, Perry and Innes make a brief comment about the strange horizon and then forget about it entirely.
I'm sorry to say Burroughs's inner world novel has not aged as well as other novels written at its time. Jack London deals with aboriginal society much more fully in Before Adam and Arthur Conan Doyle presents more believable and interesting behemoths in The Lost World than Burroughs achieves in At the Earth's Core.
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