Flyers of Pellucidar
I'd like to take a moment or two to look at Ralph Milne Farley's Radio
Flyers, with perhaps a note or two to his Radio Gun-Runners.
I've written about Ralph Milne Farley in Radio
Free Venus and I'll happily refer you to that article. I
feel no special need to repeat myself at length. Instead, I'll
simply note that after Otis Adelbert Kline, Ralph Milne Farley was
probably the most interesting of the Burroughs imitators. Where Kline
worked jungle men, Mars and Venus, Farley worked Venus and Pellucidar.
Alternately, I've also written a couple of essays on the origins of Pellucidar
in pseudo science and in fiction, and I'll happily refer those to you as
well. On the other hand, you don't need to read any of these
to get through this.
Ralph Milne Farley (actually Roger Sherman Hoar) wrote a trio of novels,
the Radio Man series, in the 1920s, set on Venus which were very very reminiscent
of Burroughs Martian stories. From there, he'd written an alien
invasion novel that tied to his Venus trilogy, and eventually returned
in the late '30s to a couple of Radio Man adventures.
Along the way, he wrote an inner world novel titled The Radio Flyers
Essentially, the story is that a Chicago newspaperman sends a couple of
intrepid aviators, Eric Redmond and Angus Selkirk to fly to the north pole
Now, there'd been expeditions to the pole before, but this was the 1920s,
when people were inventing new aircraft every other week and were always
in the news for flying from one place to another place. It was the
age of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhardt.
Things don't go so well, because once they reach the polar region, they
get lost. Even worse, they crash. Separated Eric
drifts on the ice floes. But instead of freezing to death, he finds
themselves entering warmer waters. Their ice melts, he makes
it to shore, and there he discover Vikings and Cavemen.
The Vikings are Christian settlers of Greenland, whose ship had drifted
into the interior world. The Cavemen are actually inuit. Or
more precisely, they're the ancestors of the Inuit people, who according
to this, were originally inner world dwellers who drifted into the frigid
outer world and adapted.
Eric, who knows a bit of Swedish, manages to communicate with the Norsemen,
hooks up with the local beauty queen/chief's daughter, Helga, rescuing
her from some cavemen. It turns out that the girl is accident
prone: At one point, a giant pterodactyl tries to fly off with her, and
at another point, a seven foot ape man tries to abduct her, if that's not
bad enough, traitorous Vikings want her for themselves, so its just as
well Eric is around. They get captured, they escape, Eric figures
out Hess inside the world. There are woolly mammoths, glyptodonts
and giant sloths, life is pretty primitive. Luckily, there's
a bright interior sun to keep everything lit.
Angus shows up in the airplane, having had his own adventures, and the
two friends have a reunion. Of course, Helga gets lost again,
and more adventures happen. She's abducted by a pterodactyl
but manages to kill it herself. Angus hooks up with Astroo, a Skraeling
Princess, which is good, but their airplane runs out of gas, which is bad.
They decide to build hang gliders, using pterodactyl leather for their
Then they hook up with Helga's Norse people, but that gets complicated,
because there's a big battle with the Skraelings, and some ambitious Vikings
side with the Skraelings so that they make themselves the rulers of the
Eventually, everything works out though, and Angus and Eric settle down
to a happy life with their savage Princesses and adapt to this new world
quite nicely. So much for the Radio Flyers.
Unfortunately, of the Radio Gun Runners, we know very little.
On Bill Hillman's Erbzine, there's a passage discussing Farley,
where it is noted that the characters in the Radio Gun-Runners figure
out that they're entering the inner world by reading the Radio Gun Runners
in Argosy magazine. So, obviously, it's a sort of sequel to
Flyers, set in Farley's Pellucidar, but that's as far as we can get.
Farley liked to do stuff like that. The Radio Flyers itself
references the Radio Man adventures and publications in Argosy.
The chronicler of both the Radio Flyer and Radio Man adventures
is the same fictional Robert Milne Farley, and we must assume that they're
both ‘true’ chronicles to each other.
In the Radio Beasts, Myles Cabot returns to Earth and mentions
that Hess read the chronicles of his adventure as Radio Man, published
in Argosy. Then again in the Radio Man Returns,
various persons challenge the fictional Farley on the reality of Myles
It's a neat literary conceit that tends to tie his worlds together.
The inner world or Farley's Pellucidar of the Radio Flyers and Radio
Gun-Runners is in the same universe as Farley's Venus. I suppose
that means that if his Venus is the same planet as Burroughs Venus, then
his inner world must be in the same universe as Burroughs Pellucidar stories.
But the point is that the Radio Gun-Runners is clearly a second
hollow world story or novel from Farley, and almost certainly set in the
same continuity as the Radio Flyers themselves. Beyond that,
however, I can say nothing more about it.
Indeed, there's even an interesting side note. There is at least
one substantial pastiche on the web which has Farley's and Burroughs Pellucidarean
characters meeting up and having an adventure together. I believe
its called Vikings in
You'll recall that when we looked at Mars, these sorts of crossovers
were pretty frequent, for Venus, they're nonexistent. A crossover
for Pellucidar... Interesting.
All right, so let's take a look at Farley's inner world.
It's peopled by Vikings who've sailed in from Greenland, and by Skraelings,
stone age savages who have given rise to the Inuit of the outer world.
The inner world is a tropical paradise with a twenty-four hour sun at its
center. Among the creatures mentioned are glyptodonts, giant sloths,
woolly mammoths, eohippus, a seven foot tall gorilla-man and pterodactyls.
The biggest of the pterodactyls is robust enough to carry a human away.
Let's just give it up. This is Pellucidar, no ifs ands or
buts, and we all know it. Farley knows it and Burroughs knew
it. There's actually a reference which can be found in Erbzine
THE SCIENCE FICTION FAN (1939 science fiction fanzine) vol. 4 #4,
whole number 39. 5 ½ x 8 ½, 20 pages. Ditto printing.
Article by Ralph Milne Farley on how he and Edgar Rice Burroughs read the
same book and were each inspired to write different stories by it (in Farley's
case The Radio Flyers). He even quotes a letter he had received from ERB.
That book was undoubtedly Marshall B. Gardner's privately published
Journey to the Earth's Interior, printed originally
in 1913 and reprinted expanded to 456 pages only a few years later.
According to Gardner, the Earth was hollow, it was a shell 800 miles thick,
with 1400 mile openings at each pole. Inside, there was a sun,
600 miles in diameter, giving life and heat perpetually to the inner world.
Other planets were built the same way, the Martian ice caps were evidence
that Mars was hollow. By this time, of course, there had actually
been several expeditions to the North Pole and the South Pole.
Gardner worked hard to argue that they never actually made it. Apart
from that, he was pretty much making the same sorts of arguments as his
Gardner's book, of course, allows Farley to offer up a fig leaf of deniability.
Apparently, he and Burroughs corresponded over this and Farley maintained
that he took his inspiration from the same book that Burroughs did, probably
Gardner's work of pseudoscience, written in 1913 and revised, expanded
and reprinted in 1926.
Well, okay, fair enough. Except that At the Earth's Core
was published in 1914-15 and Pellucidar came out around a year later.
Tanar of Pellucidar and Tarzan at the Earth's Core appeared in magazines
The Radio Flyers appears in 1929. The Radio Gun
Runners appears subsequently. This is after Burroughs has
chugged out no less than four Pellucidar novels, including one which crosses
over with his most famous creation, Tarzan.
Farley is a huge fan of Burroughs, and his Radio series is pretty much
a homage to Burroughs Martian series, and he was also a friend of Burroughs.
So, are we expected to believe that Farley never read the Pellucidar novels,
wasn't inspired by them? Come on, who is kidding who here?
No, instead he claims he took his inspiration from Gardner.
Yeah, and Otis Adelbert Kline's Jan and Tam took nothing
from Tarzan, and Kline's Martian novels have no resemblance to Barsoom.
Did Farley take nothing from Gardner's book? Well, I'll put it
this way. What I think he took from Gardner was the license.
Gardner gave him a kind of plausible deniability, grounds to say he wasn't
working in Burroughs world, but merely taking his inspiration from the
same source, producing a similar work. Yeah, right. Whatever.
I'm pretty sure that Farley didn't get his gorilla-man and pterodactyls
from Gardner, no way, no how.
There's a certain
justification to Farley. Remember that basically, all these
writers were working in shared worlds, worlds that were grounded in the
reality of the time, in the social narratives and concepts of the time
known to readers as well as writers. The wild west was a shared
world, the mysterious Orient was a shared world, darkest Africa, old dying
Mars and young thriving Venus. These were all places that existed
as shared landscapes irrespective of their realities. Africa
wasn't dark, the West had only been briefly wild, Mars and Venus would
turn out to be quite unlike our concepts. But each of these places
meant something to people, they had a look, a feel, a sort of landscape
and history associated with each.
Pellucidar, or Gardner's Hollow Earth, was another one of these
shared worlds. It was a minor one, but there was an evolved
vision, a narrative, a sort of consensus landscape there. So
Farley had a fig leaf to hide behind.
Of course, the trouble is that Burroughs vision became more famous and
more pervasive than Gardner's ever was. Even more than Burroughs
Barsoom shaped the visions of Mars, Burroughs Pellucidar defined and described
the inner world.
Look, it's been a long time, everyone is dead, the copyrights have expired,
so we may as well just fess up and be honest about the whole thing. The
Radio Flyers and Radio Gun-Runners are just a couple of
Pellucidar novels from a contemporary and peer of Burroughs.
Let's just call it what it is.