ERB'S EMBRYONIC JOURNEY:
THE TRIMESTERS OF CASPAK
ERB's Map enhanced by Bob Barrett from ERBzine Atlas
Part Two (continued from Part
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
B. Bowen J. Tyler, Jr.
We return to our “first” first person narrator,
Bowen Tyler, the author of the manuscript that our Unidentified Narrator
(U.N.) found floating in a bottle off Cape Farewell, Greenland. As mentioned,
through this technique of many first person narrators ERB could express
different personalities that were not possible in any other format. We
saw that the U.N. was a wealthy, conscientious man, who, after finding
the bottle, had the resources and morality to return it to Bowen Tyler,
Sr., the father of Bowen Jr.
Bowen Jr., as we shall see, is a very intelligent
young man, but way naive in the ways of the world, especially during war
time. He continues his narrative found in the bottle by giving some of
his family background:
“My home is in Santa Monica. I am, or
was, junior member of my father’s firm. We are shipbuilders. Of recent
years we have specialized on submarines, which we have built for Germany,
England, France and the United States. I know a sub as a mother knows her
baby’s face, and have commanded a score of them on their trial runs. Yet
my inclinations were all toward aviation. I graduated under Curtiss, and
after a long seige with my father, obtained his permission to try for the
Lafeyette Escadrille. As a stepping-stone, I obtained an appointment in
the American ambulance service and was on my way to France when three shrill
whistles altered, in as many seconds, my entire scheme of life.” (LTF/1.)
What are we to make of this information. I Googled
the history of the German U-boats in World War I and found that they were
all designed and manufactured in Germany. Some were even exported, but
it appears than none were imported. In other words, the submarines allegedly
built by the Tyler’s in San Diego are totally fictional. This fact will
prove important when dealing with the U-33, which our hero is about to
Bowen Jr., like many American adventurers of the
time – including Ernest Hemingway – wanted to get into the European action.
While Hemingway was a genuine ambulance driver for the American Red Cross,
wounded on the Austrian-Italian front, Bowen Jr. went to France so that
he could really become a member of the French Air Force as part of the
volunteer American fighter pilot squadron known as the Lafeyette Escadrille.
Remember, America was neutral during this time. Going as a prospective
ambulance driver was a just a war ruse. He had no compunctions about killing
America entered the First World War on April 6,
1917, ten months after Bowen Tyler began his narrative on June 3, 1916.
After the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, by a German U-boat,
America began changing its neutral position. Because of American protests,
Germany backed off for awhile, but going for a knock-out punch against
Great Britain, it renewed unrestricted submarine warfare on January 31,
1917, hoping it could win the war before America had had enough.
This is the background ERB was drawing upon as
he wrote his propaganda. Many critics believe that The Land that
Time Forgot is the best series ERB wrote and to call it merely
propaganda surely diminishes its literary quality. But the propagandist
hand is not veiled; the reader is free to judge for him or herself:
“I was sitting on deck with some of the
fellows who were going into the American ambulance service with me, my
Airedale, Crown Prince Nobbler, asleep at my feet, when the first blast
of the whistle shattered the peace and security of the ship. Ever since
entering the U-boat zone we had been on the lookout for periscopes, and
children that we were, bemoaning the unkind fate that was to see us safely
into France on the morrow without a glimpse of the dread marauders. We
were young; we craved thrills, and God knows we got them that day; yet
by comparison with that through which I have since passed they were as
tame as a Punch-and-Judy show.
This is the Lusitania all over again, except it is
an American liner this time. Unlike the British ship, Lusitania, there
is no hint that the ship might be carrying a hidden cargo of munitions.
ERB’s descriptions of the sinking parallel the accounts of the sinking
of the Lusitania, except for the German barbarity that follows the torpedo:
“I shall never forget the ashy faces of the passengers
as they stampeded for their life-belts, though there was no panic. Nobs
rose with a low growl. I rose, also, and over the ship’s side, I saw not
two hundred yards distance the periscope of a submarine, while racing toward
the liner the wake of a torpedo was distinctly visible. We were aboard
an American ship – which, of course, was not armed. We were entirely defenseless;
yet without warning, we were being torpedoed.” (LTF/1.)
“The silence which followed the detonation
of the exploding torpedo was almost equally horrifying. It lasted for perhaps
two seconds, to be followed by the screams and moans of the wounded, the
cursing of the men and the hoarse commands of the ship’s officers. They
were splendid – they and their crew. Never before had I been so proud of
my nationality as I was at that moment. In all the chaos which followed
the torpedoing of the liner no officer or member of the crew lost his head
or showed in the slightest any degree of panic or fear.
And now comes the ERB twist in the story, one of
his infamous coincidences, following the account of war atrocities against
women and children:
“While we were attempting to lower boats, the
submarine emerged and trained guns on us. The officer in command ordered
us to lower our flag, but this the captain of the liner refused to do.
The ship was listing frightfully to starboard, rendering the port boats
useless, while half the starboard boats had been demolished by the explosion.
Even while the passengers were crowding the starboard rail and scrambling
into the few boats left to us, the submarine commenced shelling the ship.
I saw one shell burst in a group of women and children, and then I turned
my head and covered my eyes.” (LTF/1.)
“When I looked again to horror was added
chagrin, for with the emerging of the U-boat I had recognized her as product
of our own shipyard. I knew her to a rivet. I had superintended her construction.
I had sat in that very conning-tower and directed the efforts of the sweating
crew below when first her prow clove the sunny summer waters of the Pacific;
and now this creature of my brain and hand had turned Frankenstein, bent
upon pursuing me to my death.” (LTF/1.)
I don’t believe ERB tossed out a Frankenstein analogy
frivolously at this point. Some believe Mary Shelley’s classic was the
first science fiction novel ever written. The idea of a monster created
by man coming back to haunt him will be a recurring theme in the genre.
Every Mad Scientist must have his Monster. ERB continues his rousing account.
Anyone who has seen the John Cameron film Titanic, can well picture the
“A second shell exploded upon the deck.
One of the lifeboats, frightfully overcrowded, swung at a dangerous angle
from its davits. A fragment of the shell shattered the bow tackle, and
I saw the women and children and the men vomited into the sea beneath,
while the boat dangled stern up for a moment from its single davit, and
at last with the increasing momentum dived into the midst of the struggling
victims screaming upon the face of the waters.
Now, that’s some really great writing, but the fact
that the Germans continue to shell the civilian survivors of a neutral
American ship is pure propaganda. Miraculously, an unused and undamaged
lifeboat pops up bow foremost and flops down keel first, emptying it of
“Now I saw men spring to the rail and leap into
the ocean. The deck was tilting to an impossible angle. Nobs braced himself
with all four feet to keep from slipping into the scuppers and looked up
into my face with a questioning whine. I stooped and stroked his head.
“‘Come on, boy!’ I cried, and running to the
side of the ship, dived headforemost over the rail. When I came up, the
first thing I saw was Nobs swimming about in a bewildered sort of way a
few yards from me. At sight of me his ears went flat, and his lips parted
in a characteristic grin.
“The submarine was withdrawing toward the north,
but all the time it was shelling the open boats, three of them, loaded
to the gunwales with survivors. Fortunately the small boats presented
a rather poor target, which, combined with the bad marksmanship of the
Germans preserved their occupants from harm; and after a few minutes a
blotch of smoke appeared upon the eastern horizon and the U-boat submerged
“All the time the lifeboats had been pulling
away from the danger of the sinking liner, and now, though I yelled at
the top of my lungs, they either did not hear my appeals for help or else
did not dare return to succor me. Nobs and I had gained some little distance
from the ship when it rolled completely over and sank. We were caught in
the suction only enough to be drawn backward a few yards, neither of us
being carried beneath the surface. I glanced hurriedly about for something
to which to cling. My eyes were directed toward the point at which the
liner had disappeared when there came from the depths of the ocean the
muffled reverberation of an explosion, and almost simultaneously a geyser
of water in which were shattered lifeboats, human bodies, steam, coal,
oil, and the flotsam of a liner’s deck leaped high above the surface of
the sea – a watery column momentarily marking the grave of another ship
in this greatest cemetery of the seas.” (LTF/1.)
“It did not take me long to clamber over
its side and drag Nobs in to comparative safety, and then I glanced around
upon the scene of death and desolation which surrounded us. The sea was
littered with wreckage among which floated the pitiful forms of women and
children, buoyed up by their useless life-belts. Some were torn and mangled;
others lay rolling quietly to the motion of the sea, their countenances
composed and peaceful; others were set in hideous lines of agony or horror.
Close to the boat’s side floated the figure of a girl. Her face was turned
upward, held above the surface by her life-belt, and was framed in a floating
mass of dark and waving hair. She was very beautiful. I had never looked
upon such perfect features, such a divine molding which was at the same
time human – intensely human. It was a face filled with character and strength
and femininity – the face of one who was created to love and be loved.
The cheeks were flushed to the hue of life and health and vitality, and
yet she lay there upon the bosom of the sea, dead. I felt something rise
in my throat as I looked down upon that radiant vision, and I swore that
I should live to avenge her murder.
Now comes the great ERB set-up when it comes to a
semi or explicit scene with sexual innuendo. ERB always claims not to be
a lady’s man, giving notice to the loyal reader that something racy is
about to come. The English Channel is very cold, and survivors of ship
wrecks had a very small window of survival time if left in it too long.
Death by hypothermia was common. (Who can forget that scene in Titanic
with all of those floating frozen bodies?) But in warming up the girl,
Bowen has, by necessity, taken many liberties with her body.
“And then I let my eyes drop once more to the
face upon the water, and what I saw nearly tumbled me backward into the
sea, for the eyes in the dead face had opened; the lips had parted; and
one hand was raised toward me in a mute appeal for succor. She lived! She
was not dead! I leaned over the boat’s side and drew her quickly in to
the comparative safety which God had given me. I removed her life-belt
and my soggy coat and made a pillow for her head. I chafed her hands and
arms and feet. I worked her over for an hour, and at last I was rewarded
by a deep sigh, and again those great eyes opened and looked into mine.”
“At that I was all embarrassment. I have
never been a lady’s man; at Leland-Stanford I was the butt of the class
because of my hopeless imbecility in the presence of a pretty girl; but
the men liked me, nevertheless. I was rubbing one of her hands when she
opened her eyes, and I dropped it as though it were a red-hot rivet. Those
eyes took me in slowly from head to foot; then they wandered slowly around
the horizon marked by the rising and falling gunwales of the lifeboat.
They looked at Nobs and softened, and then came back to me filled with
Bowen does so and Nobs wastes no time in befriending
the girl. Night comes, leaving our heroes cold and hungry. Bowen makes
a dry place for the girl and bundles her in his soggy coat, but it is not
enough to keep her warm. So now we are prepared for the racy scene. Remember,
pulp fiction was considered lewd media at the time and ERB was not the
King of Pulp Fiction for nothing.
“‘I – I –’ I stammered, moving away and stumbling
over the next thwart. The vision smiled wanly.
“‘Aye-aye, sir!’ she replied faintly, and again
her lips drooped, and her long lashes swept the firm, fair texture of her
“‘I hope that you are feeling better,’ I finally
managed to say.
“‘Do you know,’ she said after a moment of silence,
‘I have been awake for a long time! But I did not dare open my eyes. I
thought I must be dead, and I was afraid to look, for fear that I should
see nothing but blackness about me. I am afraid to die! Tell me what happened
after the ship went down. I remember all that happened before – oh, but
I wish that I might forget it!’ A sob broke her voice. ‘The beasts!’ she
went on after a moment. ‘And to think that I was to have married one of
them – a lieutenant in the German navy.’
“Presently she resumed as though she had not
ceased speaking. ‘I went down and down and down. I thought I should never
cease to sink. I felt no particular distress until I suddenly started upward
at ever-increasing velocity; then my lungs seemed about to burst, and I
must have lost consciousness, for I remember nothing more until I opened
my eyes after listening to a torrent of invective against Germany and Germans.
Tell me, please, all that happened after the ship sank.’” (LTF/1.)
“‘Isn’t there something I can do?’ I
asked. ‘You can’t lie there chilled through all night. Can’t you suggest
Ah, casting prudery to the winds! And on that bold
sexual innuendo, ERB ends the first chapter. A man grabbing a defenseless
woman, holding her tight as she struggles against him...that was really
racy stuff for the times. And yet it is all so proper for the censors.
“She shook her head. ‘We must grin and bear it,’
she replied after a moment.
“Nobbler came and lay down on the thwart beside
me, his back against my leg, and I sat staring in dumb misery at the girl,
knowing in my heart of hearts that she might die before morning came, for
what with the shock and exposure, she had already gone through enough to
kill almost any woman. And as I gazed down at her, so small and delicate
and helpless, there was born slowly within my breast a new emotion. It
had never been there before; now it will never cease to be there. It made
me almost frantic in my desire to find some way to keep warm and cooling
life blood in her veins. I was cold myself, though I had almost forgotten
it until Nobbler moved and I felt a new sensation of cold along my leg
against which he had lain, and suddenly realized that in that one spot
I had been warm. Like a great light came the understanding of a means to
warm the girl. Immediately I knelt beside her to put my scheme into practice
when suddenly I was overwhelmed with embarrassment. Would she permit it,
even it I could muster the courage to suggest it? Then I saw her frame
convulse shudderingly, her muscles reacting to her rapidly lowering temperature,
and casting prudery to the winds, I threw myself down beside her and took
her in my arms, pressing her body close to mine.
‘She drew away suddenly, voicing a little cry
of fright, and tried to push me from her.
“‘Forgive me,’ I managed to stammer. ‘It is the
only way. You will die of exposure if you are not warmed, and Nobs and
I are the only means we can command for furnishing warmth.’ And I held
her tightly while I called Nobs and bade him lie down at her back. The
girl didn’t struggle any more when she learned my purpose; but she gave
two or three little gasps, and then began to cry softly, burying her face
on my arm, and thus she fell asleep.” (LTF/1.)
Of course, most readers would have already guessed
what the solution to their dilemma should be, but the way ERB sets it up
is oh so wicked. Remember, we are not told what the girl was wearing under
her life-belt. Chapter Two begins almost scandalously.
“Toward morning, I must have dozed, though
it seemed to me at the time that I had lain awake for days, instead of
hours. When I finally opened my eyes, it was daylight, and the girl’s hair
was in my face, and she was breathing normally. I thanked God for that.
She had turned her head during the night so that as I opened my eyes I
saw her face not an inch from mine, my lips almost touching hers.” (LTF/2.)
If this were a modern novel, our heroes would likely
make love at this time; but this is 1917. The American public is still
in the last gasps of the Victorian age when Puritanical prudery still ruled
the nation’s morals. Most male readers were likely hoping for something
like this, but the idea of spontaneous love-making between two strangers
was just too shocking for most tastes. But never fear. The wonders of Caspak
have yet to be explored.
A short time later they spy smoke coming from
a tug, searching for ships it can tow into either English or French ports.
The tug spots them and pulls up and rescues them. They hustle the girl
into the captain’s cabin and Bowen into the boiler room, where they are
both stripped of their wet clothes, which are hung up to dry. The girl
slips into the captain’s bunk to get warm.
As soon as their clothes are dry they find themselves
back into the war:
“But peace upon the English Channel has
been but a transitory thing since August 1914. It proved itself such that
morning, for I had scarce gotten into my dry clothes and taken the girl’s
apparel to the captain’s cabin when an order was shouted down into the
engine-room for full speed ahead, and an instant later I heard the dull
boom of a gun. In a moment I was up on deck to see an enemy submarine about
two hundred yards off our port bow. She had signaled us to stop, and our
skipper had ignored the order; but now she had her gun trained on us, and
the second shot grazed the cabin, warning the belligerent tug-captain that
it was time to obey. Once again an order went down to the engine-room,
and the big tug reduced speed. The U-boat ceased firing and ordered the
tug to come about and approach. Our momentum had carried us a little beyond
the enemy craft, but we were turning now on the arc of a circle that would
bring us alongside her. As I stood watching the maneuver and wondering
what was to become of us, I felt something touch my elbow and turned to
see the girl standing at my side. She looked up into my face with a rueful
expression. ‘They seem bent on our destruction,’ she said, ‘and it looks
like the same boat that sunk us yesterday.’
ERB got bored writing unless there was almost constant
action. This is why he was so popular. It wasn’t good enough that our heroes
were rescued. He had to almost immediately put them back into harm’s way.
“‘It is,’ I replied. ‘I know her well. I helped
design her and took her on her first run.’
“The girl drew back from me with a little exclamation
of surprise and disappointment. ‘I thought you were an American,’ she said.
‘I had no idea you were a – a – ’
“‘Nor am I,’ I replied. ‘Americans have been
building submarines for all nations for many years. I wish, though, that
we had gone bankrupt, my father and I, before ever we turned out that Frankenstein
of a thing.’” (LTF/2.)
“We were approaching the U-boat at half speed
now, and I could almost distinguish the features of the men upon her deck.
A sailor stepped to my side and slipped something hard and cold into my
hand. I did not have to look at it to know that it was a heavy pistol.
‘Tyke ‘er an’ use ‘er,’ was all he said.
“Our bow was pointed straight toward
the U-boat now has I heard word passed to the engine for full speed ahead.
I instantly grasped the brazen effrontery of the plucky English skipper
– he was going to ram five hundred tons of U-boat in the face of her trained
gun. I could scarce repress a cheer. At first the boches didn’t seem to
grasp his intention. Evidently they thought they were witnessing an exhibition
of poor seamanship, and they yelled their warnings to the tug to reduce
speed and throw the helm hard to port.
No one could write straight-forward action better
than ERB. The tug's crew rescues Bowen and the girl from the water and
they take tally after the carnage. The skipper and eight others perished,
but ten of the tug’s crew are left, including the girl. They killed sixteen
Germans, leaving only nine left, including the commander.
“We were within fifty feet of them when they
awakened to the intentional menace of our maneuver. Their gun-crew was
off its guard; but they sprang to their piece now and sent a futile shell
above our heads. Nobs leaped about and barked furiously. ‘Let ‘em have
it!’ commanded the tug-captain, and instantly revolvers and rifles poured
bullets upon the deck of the submersible. Two of the gun-crew went down;
the others trained their piece at the water-line of the oncoming tug. The
balance of those on deck replied to our small-arms fire, directing their
efforts toward the man at our wheel.
“I hastily pushed the girl down the companionway
leading to the engine room, and then I raised my pistol and fired my first
shot at a boche. What happened in the next few seconds happened so quickly
that details are rather blurred in my memory. I saw the helmsman lunge
forward upon the wheel, pulling the helm around so that the tug sheered
off quickly from her course, and I recall realizing that all our efforts
were to be in vain, because of all the men aboard, Fate had decreed that
this one should fall first to an enemy bullet. I saw the depleted gun-crew
on the submarine fire their piece and I felt the shock of impact and heard
the loud explosion as the shell struck and exploded in our bows.
“I saw and realized these things even as I was
leaping into the pilot-house and grasping the wheel, standing astride the
dead body of the helmsman. With all my strength I threw the helm to starboard;
but it was too late to effect the purpose of our skipper. The best I did
was to scrape alongside the sub. I heard someone shriek an order into the
engine-room; the boat shuddered and trembled to the sudden reversing of
the engines, and our speed quickly lessened. Then I saw what that madman
of a skipper planned since his first scheme had gone wrong.
“With a loud-yelled command, he leaped to the
slippery deck of the submersible, and at his heels came his hardy crew.
I sprang from the pilot-house and followed, not to be left out in the cold
when it came to strafing the boches. From the engine-room companionway
came the engineer and stokers, and together we leaped after the balance
of the crew and into the hand-to-hand fight that was covering the wet deck
with red blood. Beside me came Nobs, silent now, and grim. Germans were
emerging from the open hatch to take part in the battle on deck. At first
the pistols cracked amidst the cursing of the men and the loud commands
of the commander and his junior; but presently we were too indiscriminately
mixed to make it safe to use our firearms, and the battle resolved itself
into a hand-to-hand struggle for possession of the deck.
“The sole aim of each of us was to hurl one of
the opposing force into the sea. I shall never forget the hideous expression
upon the face of the great Prussian with whom chance confronted me. He
lowered his head and rushed at me, bellowing like a bull. With a sharp
side-step and ducking low beneath his outstretched arms, I eluded him;
and as he turned to come back at me, I landed a blow upon his chin which
sent him spinning toward the edge of the deck. I saw his wild endeavors
to regain his equilibrium; I saw him reel drunkenly for an instant upon
the brink of eternity and then, with a loud scream, slip into the sea.
At the same instant a pair of giant arms encircled me from behind and lifted
me entirely off my feet. Kick and squirm as I would, I could neither turn
toward my antagonist nor free myself from his maniacal grasp. Relentlessly
he was rushing me toward the side of the vessel and death. There was none
to stay him, for each of my companions was more than occupied by from one
to three of the enemy. For an instant I was fearful for myself, and then
I saw that which filled me with a far greater terror for another.
“My boche was bearing me toward the side of the
submarine against which the tug was still pounding. That I should be ground
to death between the two was lost upon me as I saw the girl standing alone
upon the tug’s deck, as I saw the stern high in the air and bow rapidly
settling for the final dive, as I saw death from which I could not save
her clutching at the skirts of the woman I knew all too well that I loved.
“I had perhaps the fraction of second longer
to live when I heard an angry growl behind us mingle with a cry of pain
and rage from the giant who carried me. Instantly he went backward to the
deck, and as he did so he threw his arms outwards to save himself, freeing
me. I fell heavily upon him, but was upon my feet in the instant. As I
arose, I cast a single glance at my opponent. Never again would he menace
me or another, for Nobs’ great jaws had closed upon his throat. Then I
sprang toward the edge of the deck closest to the girl upon the sinking
“‘Jump!’ I cried. ‘Jump!’ And I held out my arms
to her. Instantly as though with implicit confidence in my ability to save
her, she leaped over the side of the tug onto the sloping, slippery side
of the U-boat. I reached far over to seize her hand. At the same instant
the tug pointed its stern straight toward the sky and plunged out of sight.
My hand missed the girl’s by a fraction of an inch, and I saw her slip
into the sea; but scarce had she touched the water when I was in after
“The sinking tug drew us far below the surface;
but I had seized her the moment I struck the water, and so we went down
together, and together we came up – a few yards from the U-boat. The first
thing I heard was Nobs barking furiously; evidently he had missed me and
was searching. A single glance at the vessel’s deck asssured me that the
battle was over and that we had been victorious, for I saw our survivors
holding a handful of the enemy at pistol points while one by one the rest
of the crew was coming out of the craft’s interior and lining up on deck
with the other prisoners.” (LTF/2.)
“‘Not a bad day’s work,’ said Bradley,
the mate, when he had completed his roll. ‘Only losing the skipper,’ he
added, ‘was the worst. He was a fine man, a fine man.’
Bradley and Olson are astonished and put Bowen in
command after he explains his tedious story to them. And this is as good
as place as any to end this segment.
“Olson – who in spite of his name was Irish,
and in spite of his not being Scotch had been the tug’s engineer – was
standing with Bradley and me. ‘Yis,’ he agreed, ‘it’s a day’s wor-rk we’re
after doin’, but what are we goin’ to be doin’ wid it now we got it?’
“‘We’ll run her into the nearest English port,’
said Bradley, ‘and then we’ll all go ashore and get our V.C.’s,’ he concluded,
“‘How you goin’ to run her?’ queried Olson. ‘You
can’t trust these Dutchmen.’
“Bradley scratched his head. ‘I guess you’re
right,’ he admitted. ‘And I don’t know the first thing about a sub.’
“‘I do,’ I assured him. ‘I know more about this
particular sub than the officer who commanded her.’” (LTF/2.)