Throwback SF Thursday: At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs

PC Bushi beat me to the punch, and Jeffro wrote a full retrospective back in 2014, so I’m not going to do a full review of At the Earth’s Core.

First, some fun facts from an Edgar Rice Burroughs panel at JordanCon.  Working as a war correspondent during WWII, ERB accompanied a squad of paratroopers on a mission.  Before jumping out of the plane into a warzone, each walked over to him, shook his hand, and thanked him for teaching them how to be a man.  The latest Tarzan movie was the first time the Burroughs family thought filmmakers really “got” Tarzan.  Dejah Thoris’ first name is pronounced “Dee-zha.”

At the Earth’s Core is the second ERB book I’ve read, after Pirates of Venus, and I have to say that I like it better.  Not that it doesn’t have similar flaws to Pirates of Venus, but it’s got a little more of that ERB magic and I just had more fun reading it.  I have a complete set of the Venus books, but I think I’ll return to Pellucidar first if I can snag a copy of the second book anytime soon.

Maybe it’s just me, but the Hollow World inside and opposite to the exterior of the planet is just cool (silly, but cool).  But it’s not just me.  ERB sold enough copies of At the Earth’s Core (originally serialized) to write six more Pellucidar books (including one featuring Tarzan!).  Two sequels were written after his death, and At the Earth’s Core was adapted into a movie in 1974.  It presumably inspired the Hollow World in the Mystara D&D setting, as well as Pryan from the Death Gate Cycle (the entire series dripping with pulp inspiration).  Weis and Hickman really ratchet things up with Pryan.  There are FOUR suns.  The heat is such that successive layers of jungle have grown on top of each other.  Elves and men live on the “surface” of great layers of moss.  Dwarves mine down great tree boles and only they have ever seen the ground.  That, plus mysterious, locked citadels, great blind giants with crude but incredibly powerful magic, and Eastern-inspired dragons that slither through the levels of jungle and may be fragments of God.  Yeah, you can have fun with a Hollow Earth.

Burroughs himself has missing link ape-men, pterodactyl-men (the dominant race of Pellucidar), gorilla-men who serve as their muscle and thralls, cave bears, dire wolves, giant sea snakes, and pterodactyls.  Many of the creatures have obscure real world origins, probably because they were better known in ERB’s time than some others only discovered later.

The science, in fact, is a highlight.  ERB’s reputation, like that of Tolkien, is sullied by his inferior imitators.  But ERB took his framing stories seriously and was riffing off of the scientific understanding of his time.  Apparently there was a serious theory that the earth is hollow.

Back to responding to PC Bushi’s post.  I agree that the time thing is silly.  Bushi is quick to make comparisons to the Mars books.  I haven’t read those, but there are some pretty obvious commonalities with the Venus books.  In fact, Innes seems more like a Carson Napier than a John Carter based on what I know of the three, and Pellucidar sounds more like Amtor than Barsoom.  My biggest complaint with Pirates of Venus is that Napier spends most of the book reacting.  There is a cycle of capture and escape/rescue that apparently continues on in the series.  In At the Earth’s Core, by contrast, the problem is that Innes spends much of the book lost.  No stars or setting sun to navigate by and no horizon, so that’s not a stretch.  What is a stretch is that Innes always finds what he needs after a bit of wandering lost.  There is also an otherwise superfluous character who seemingly exists only as a vehicle for ERB to show his great admiration of Native Americans (perhaps he had a premonition he would be baselessly accused of racism in the future).

Another reason to return to Pellucidar?  The sequel hook at the end of the framing story is killer.


4 of 5 Stars.


Ryan Harvey on At the Earth’s Core at Black Gate.

Rawle Nyanzi on At the Earth’s Core at Rawle Nyanzi.

PC Bushi on At the Earth’s Core at the Castalia House blog.

Jeffro on At the Earth’s Core at the Castalia House blog.

Colin Anders Brodd on At the Earth’s Core at his author page.

Dean McSmith on At the Earth’s Core at Into the Night.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Throwback SF and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Throwback SF Thursday: At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  1. Pingback: THROWBACK SF THURSDAY: The Narrow Land by Jack Vance –

  2. Blume says:

    I still think Burroughs might have been playing around with special relativity. Most of what bushi describes sounds like thought experiments used to explain portions of special relativity. What better place to explore the relativistic nature of time then in an environment where all common human frames of reference for time are removed?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. deuce says:

    “Two sequels were written after his death…”

    I’m pretty sure Ed wrote those before he died and then they were published after his death. 😉

    Glad you enjoyed it. We had an early American president who believed in a hollow earth. The Smithsonian was founded by a bequest from a Hollow Earther.

    Regarding serendipity and coincidence in ERB’s novels… You see a lot of that in fiction written before the Great War. People had more of an innate trust in Providence back then. Otherwise, you would not see the popularity of Dickens during his period or ERB during his. Even then, the loathing of coincidence didn’t develop immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      For the sequels, I was referring to the books by John Eric Holmes (of which apparently one was authorized by the ERB estate and one not).

      As to your final point, I can see that. I’m not a big fan of the rather strict line that is often taken on it today. Eucatastrophe really requires some serendipity, and I think that is why some modern readers don’t accept it. But by the same token, the serendipity in eucatastrophe works because it is dealt parsimoniously and at just the right time. ERB’s use here is a bit much, if not enough to seriously affect my enjoyment of the book.


  4. rawlenyanzi says:

    Thank you for linking back.


  5. Pingback: Review of The River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

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  7. Pingback: Throwback SF Thursday: Under the Moons of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

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