ERB'S EMBRYONIC JOURNEY:
THE TRIMESTERS OF CASPAK
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT
B. Bowen Tyler, Jr. (continued)
Bowen Tyler begins Chapter 4 of his first person narrative by describing
every day as boring as the last one, his crude sextant proving most unsatisfactory
since he knows that they are sailing due north. Then the girl comes to
Bowen with some deep insight.
“‘Pardon me,’ she said, ‘but were I you,
I should watch this man Benson – especially when he is in charge.’ I asked
her what she meant, thinking I could see the influence of von Schoenvorts
raising a suspicion against one of my mosted trusted men.” (LTF/4.)
There now. I know we all had high hopes after the last chapter where Lys
boldly called Wilson and Benson liars without even knowing their names.
We left Bowen wondering if he would now suspect Benson and Wilson, and
now we have our startling answer. He still suspects Lys! Even after she
aided him in taking the ship back from von Schoenvorts: he still believes
Benson is one of his “mosted trusted men.” Remember, Bowen began to wonder
why Benson was allowed to command the sub under von Schoenvorts, but where
did this wondering get him? Only deeper into the mysteries of stupidity.
Bowen would win the Darwin awards hands down in the modern world. One would
assume that no one this stupid would be allowed to live and pass on his
stupid genes to the next stupid generation. Fortunately for Bowen, there
is always Lys to save him. She continues:
“If you will note the boat’s course a
half-hour after Benson goes on duty,’ she said, ‘you will know what I mean,
and you will understand why he prefers a night watch. Possibly, too, you
will understand some other things that have taken place aboard.’
Bowen still hasn’t the seen the real threat facing him. He is still worried
that he has misjudged Benson in the past and not about his current circumstances:
“Then she went back to her room, thus ending
the conversation. I waited until half an hour after Benson had gone on
duty, and then I went on deck, passing through the conning-tower where
Benson sat, and looking at the compass. It showed that our course was north
by west – that is, one point west of north, which was, for our assumed
position, about right. I was greatly relieved to find that nothing was
wrong, for the girl’s words had caused me considerable apprehension. I
was about to return to my room when a thought occurred to me that again
caused me to change my mind – and, incidentally, came near proving my death-warrant.
“When I had left the conning-tower little more
than a half-hour since, the sea had been breaking over the port bow, and
it seemed to me quite improbable that in so short a time an equally heavy
sea could be deluging us from the opposite side of the ship – winds may
change quickly, but not a long, heavy sea. There was only one other solution
– since I left the tower, our course had been altered some eight points.
Turning quickly, I climbed out upon the conning-tower. A single glance
at the heavens confirmed my suspicions; the constellations which should
have been dead ahead were directly starboard. We were sailing due west.
“Just for an instant longer I stood there to
check up my calculations – I wanted to be quite sure before I accused Benson
of perfidy, and about the only thing I came near making quite sure of was
death. I cannot see even now how I escaped it. I was standing on the edge
of the conning-tower, when a heavy palm suddenly struck me between the
shoulders and hurled me forward into space. The drop to the triangular
deck forward of the conning-tower might easily have broken a leg for me,
or I might have slipped off onto the deck and rolled overboard; but fate
was upon my side, as I was only slightly bruised. As I came to my feet,
I heard the conning-tower cover slam. There is a ladder which leads from
the deck to the top of the tower. Up this I scrambled as fast as I could
go; but Benson had the cover tight before I reached it.” (LTF/4.)
“I stood there a moment in dumb consternation.
What did the fellow intend? What was going on below? If Benson was a traitor,
how could I know that there were not other traitors among us? I cursed
myself for my folly in going out on upon the deck, and then this thought
suggested another – a hideous one: who was it had really been responsible
for my being here?” (LTF/4.)
Oh, my God, could he possibly be still suspecting Lys? What is it with
this guy? Why does he automatically trust the word of men over that of
“Thinking to attract attention from inside
the craft, I again ran down the ladder and onto the small deck only to
find that the steel covers of the conningtower windows were shut, and then
I leaned with my back against the tower and cursed myself for a gullible
Here is a fact of which I was totally ignorant: that a U-boat conning tower
had windows. This will prove to be an important point in the story to come
when Bowen navigates the underground river into Caspak. But as far as I
knew, U-boats could only see the surface when submerged by means of its
periscope. A quick Google search (“u-boat portholes”) immediately brought
up an undated article posted at divernet.com, giving me enlightenment:
“Elusive U12 found at last.
Six portholes would give someone inside the conning tower a 360 degree
sweep. It’s these windows Bowen refers to. Now that I think about it, H.P.
Lovecraft mentions the portholes of a U-boat in his Cthulhu Mythos story,
“The Temple”; as the commander of the U-boat writes in his log:
“The wreck of the German WWI submarine U12, which
has evaded searchers for nearly 30 years, has been found off Eyemouth,
“The seven-strong dive team located the wreck
in 50m of water, lying ‘bolt upright’ on fine sand. From what they saw,
the wreck did not appear to have been visited before by divers, and there
was no obvious disturbance of the site.
“Defining features were the U-boat’s four torpedo
tubes, two facing forward and two aft; six portholes set into the conning
tower; and damage to the port side of the hull, consistent with accounts
of the sub’s sinking in 1915.
“U12 was sent to the bottom in an action with
three British destroyers, HMS Ariel, HMS Acheron and HMS Attack. During
the engagement, the U-boat was rammed by Ariel.
“Of U12's crew of 29, ten were able to escape
through two deck hatches. The others, including the commander, Hans Kratzch,
went down with the vessel, unable to exit through the jammed conning tower
hatch.” (Id.; emphasis added.)
“In the early evening we rose to the
surface, and found the sea less heavy. The smoke of a battleship was on
the northern horizon, but our distance and ability to submerge made us
safe. What worried us more was the talk of Boatswain Muller, which grew
wilder as night came on. He was in a detestable childish state, and babbled
of some illusion of dead bodies drifting past the undersea portholes; bodies
which looked at him intensely, and which he recognized in spite of bloating
as having been seen dying during some our victorious German exploits.”
Ah, yes, nothing like underwater swimming zombies in pulp fiction. Of course,
the more I think about it, no submarine created by ERB should be without
portholes. His imaginary submarine in the underground Sea of Omean, which
he created in 1912, had many portholes below deck, a fact noted by John
Carter and the gorgeous blonde Princess, Phaidor:
(“The Temple,” by H.P. Lovecraft © 1939,
1943 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei.)
“A moment later an officer resplendid
in the gorgeous trappings of his rank appeared on deck and welcomed Xodar
to the vessel, and in the latter’s wake we filed aboard and below. “The
cabin in which we found ourselves extended entirely across the ship, having
port-holes on either side below the water line.” (The Gods of Mars,
It’s these kind of details in the plot where the mechanics of modern technology
are harnessed in straight forward action sequences by masters of the genre.
ERB was without peer the Tom Clancy of his time. Enough of this. Let us
return to the bungling fool, Bowen Tyler, as he narrates his adventures
in the journal found in the Thermos:
“I glanced at the bow. The sea seemed
to be getting heavier, for every wave now washed completely over the lower
deck. I watched them for a moment, and then a sudden chill pervaded my
entire being. It was not the chill of wet clothing, or the dashing spray
which drenched my face; no, it was the chill of the hand of death upon
my heart. In an instant I had turned the last corner of life’s highway
and was looking God Almighty in the face – the U-33 was slowly submerging.
Those familiar with the first person narratives of John Carter in the Barsoomian
Mythos will know how totally removed this attitude is from the real
life philosophy of ERB, boldly expressed by his alter ego hero. In the
pages to come, we will learn that both Lys and Bowen share a very pessimistic
existentialist view of the world. Realize that coming from this character’s
mouth, the words he speaks are consistent with his personality.
“It would be difficult, even impossible, to set
down in writing my sensations at that moment. All I can particularly recall
is that I laughed, though neither from a spirit of bravado nor from hysteria.
And I wanted to smoke. Lord! how I did want to smoke; but that was out
of the question.
“I watched the water rise until the little deck
I stood on was awash, and then I clambered once more to the top of the
conning-tower. From the very slow submergence of the boat I knew that Benson
was doing the entire trick alone – that he was merely permitting the diving-tanks
to fill and that the diving-rudders were not in use. The throbbing of the
engines ceased, and in its stead came the steady vibration of the electric
motors. The water was halfway up the conningtower! I had perhaps five minutes
longer on the deck. I tried to decide what I should do after I washed away.
Should I swim until exhaustion claimed me, or should I give up and end
the agony at the first plunge?” (LTF/4.)
“From below came two muffled reports.
They sounded not unlike shots. Was Benson meeting with resistance? Personally
it could mean little to me, for even though my men might overcome the enemy,
none would know of my predicament until long after it was too late to succor
me. The top of the conningtower was now awash. I clung to the wireless
mast, while the great waves surged
We can feel better about Bowen knowing that his main suspicions centered
on Benson and not Lys during this touching moment. Bowen’s use of religion
at this moment was the kind of religion ERB tolerated: undefined; and if
it makes you feel better, it has some value.
sometimes completely over me.
“I knew the end was near and, almost involuntarily,
I did that which I had not done since childhood – I prayed. After that
I felt better.” (LTF/4.)
“I clung and waited, but the water rose
no higher. Instead it receded. Now the top of the conning-tower received
only the crests of the higher waves; now the little triangular deck below
became visible! What had occurred within? Did Benson believe me already
gone, and was he emerging because of that belief, or had he and his forces
been vanquished? The suspense was more wearing than that which I had endured
while waiting for dissolution. Presently the main deck came into view,
and then the conning-tower opened behind me, and I turned to look into
the anxious face of Bradley. An expression of relief overspread his features.
Of course the idiot is bewildered: the girl saved his ass again! After
all, she was the only one using her brain to figure out who the traitor
“‘Thank God, man!’ was all he said as he reached
forth and dragged me into the tower. I was cold and numb and rather all
in. Another few minutes would have done for me, I am sure, but the warmth
of the interior helped to revive me, aided and abetted by some brandy which
Bradley poured down my throat, from which it nearly removed the membrane.
That brandy would have revived a corpse.
“When I got down into the centrale, I saw the
Germans lined up on one side with a couple of my men with pistols standing
over them. Von Schoenvorts was among them. On the floor lay Benson, moaning,
and beyond him stood the girl, a revolver in one hand. I looked about,
“‘What has happened down here?’ I asked.
Okay, Bowen, here is your big moment to sweep her off her feet. Please,
please, don’t be an idiot again! But, once again, Bowen will disappoint
the eager reader, for we discover that all through his ordeal he was still
under the belief that the girl had lured him on deck:
“Bradley replied. ‘You see the result, sir,’
he said. ‘It might have been a very different result but for Miss La Rue.
We were all asleep. Benson had relieved the guard early in the evening;
there was no one to watch him – no one but Miss La Rue. She felt the submergence
of the boat and came out of her room to investigate. She was just in time
to see Benson at the diving rudders. When he saw her, he raised his pistol
and fired point-blank at her, but he missed and she fired – and didn’t
miss. The two shots awakened everyone, and as our men were armed, the result
was inevitable as you see it; but it would have been very different had
it not been for Miss La Rue. It was she who closed the diving-tank sea-cocks
and roused Olson and me, and had the pumps started to empty them.” (LTF/4.)
“And there I had been thinking that through
her machinations I had been lured to the deck and to my death! I could
have gone on my knees to her and begged her forgiveness – or at least I
could have, had I not been Anglo-Saxon. As it was, I could only rermove
my soggy cap and bow and mumble my appreciation. She made no reply – only
turned and walked very rapidly toward her room. Could I have heard aright?
Was it really a sob that came floating back to me through the narrow aisle
of the U-33?” (LTF/4.)
Does anyone have a clue to what ERB is getting at by saying that Bowen
is “Anglo-Saxon?” Are they known for never asking for forgiveness? I have
Anglo-Saxon blood flowing in my veins, and I have learned to ask for forgiveness
many times in my infamous past. I think a more appropriate name for Bowen’s
affliction is the fact that he is a number one asshole.
But we are losing our focus. ERB has another surprise for us. Benson
was not really working for the Germans, he was working for his ideal of
the fantasy state:
“Benson died that night. He remained
defiant almost to the last; but just before he went out, he motioned to
me, and I leaned over to catch the faintly whispered words.
Great writing, that. The IWW, or Wobblies (the “International Workers of
the World”), was a stormy social force at the beginning of the 20th Century.
They were founded in June 1905 during a convention held in Chicago of 200
socialists, anarchists, and radical trade unionists from all over the USA.
It’s purpose was the usual stuff of human delusional fantasy: to promote
worker solidarity in the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the employing
class. It’s motto: “An Injury to One is the Concern of All.” They
had a famous confrontation with the establishment in Fresno during the
fall of 1910, successfully utilizing what they called their “Fighting
for Free Speech” political tactic.
“‘I did it alone,’ he said. ‘I did it because
I hate you – I hate all your kind. I was kicked out of your shipyard at
Santa Monica. I was kicked out of California. I am an I.W.W. I became a
German agent – not because I love them, for I hate them too – but because
I wanted to injure Americans, whom I hated more. I threw the wireless apparatus
overboard. I destroyed the chronometer and the sextant. I devised a scheme
for varying the compass to suit my wishes. I told Wilson that I had seen
the girl talking with von Schoenvorts, and I made the poor egg think he
had seen her doing the same thing. I am sorry – sorry that my plans failed.
I hate you.’
“He didn’t die for a half-hour after that; nor
did he speak again – aloud; but just a few seconds before he went to meet
his Maker, his lips moved in a faint whisper; and as I leaned close to
catch his words, what do you suppose I heard? ‘Now - I - lay - me - down
- to - sleep –’ That was all; Benson was dead. We threw his body overboard.”
I have often thought that Karl Marx is long unrecognized as the father
of social science fiction, for the humans that exist in The Communist Manifesto
do not exist anywhere on Earth that I know of. To believe billions of years
of instinct can be wiped out and an anarchist’s utopia put in its place
by a revolutionary process known as the withering away of the dictatorship
of the proletariat is pure fantasy fiction. George Orwell, knowing human
nature and having first hand experience of the activities of the Communist
Party against anarchist brigades in the Spanish Civil War – for example,
read his excellent Homage to Catalonia – called this neverending state
Big Brother in 1984.
Okay, Bowen has proven conclusively once and for all that he is a clueless
son of a bitch and a disaster when there is a beautiful woman around. No
wonder he was such a joke at Stanford. I can really imagine ERB having
fun playing this character.
They cruise around aimlessly, not trusting the compass because of Benson.
Thinking that they are somewhere off the coast of Peru, they discover that
they are sailing in ice berg waters. In other words, they are somewhere
near Antartica. Then land is sighted at the same time they realize that
Benson had poisoned their water supply. This leads to a big debate over
“We took our bearings with our crude
and inaccurate instruments; we searched the chart; we cudgeled our brains;
and at last it was Bradley who suggested a solution. He was in the tower
and watching the compass, to which he called my attention. The needle was
pointing straight toward the land. Bradley swung the helm to starboard.
I could feel the U-33 respond, and yet the arrow still clung straight and
sure toward the distant cliffs.
You have to hand it to ERB. I don’t remember all that much about Italian
navigators and it wasn’t until I Googled Caproni that I knew for sure that
it is all pure ERB invention. The old myth within a myth routine.
“‘What do you make of it?’ I asked him.
“‘Did you ever hear of Caproni?’ he asked.
“‘An early Italian navigator?’ I returned.
“‘Yes; he followed Cook about 1721. He is scarcely
mentioned even by contemporaneous historians – probably because he got
into political difficulties on his return to Italy. It was the fashion
to scoff at his claims, but I recall reading one of his works – his only
one, I believe – in which he described a new continent in the south seas,
a continent made up of ‘some strange metal’ which attracted the compass;
a rockbound, inhospitable coast, without beach or landing; nor in the several
days he cruised about it did he see sign of life. He called it Caprona
and sailed away. I believe, sir, that we are looking upon the coast of
Caprona, uncharted and forgotten for two hundred years.” (LTF/4.)
“If you are right, it might account for
much of the deviation of the compass during the past two days,’ I suggested.
‘Caprona has been luring us upon her deadly rocks. Well, we’ll accept her
challenge. We’ll land upon Caprona. Along that long front there must be
a vulnerable spot. We’ll find it, Bradley, for we must find it. We must
find water on Caprona, or we must die.
Did you notice that it is always Bradley who is always so astute? Perhaps
this is the reason ERB broke mold with his first person narrator experiment
and told Bradley’s story in the third person in the last book in the triology.
“And so we approached the coast upon which no
living eyes had ever rested. Straight from the ocean’s depths rose towering
cliffs, shot with brown and blues and greens – withered moss and lichen
and the verdigris of copper, and everywhere the rusty ocher of iron pyrites.
The cliff-tops, though ragged, were of such uniform height as to suggest
the boundaries of a great plateau, and now and again we caught glimpses
of verdure topping the rocky escarpment, as though bush or jungle-land
had pushed outward from a lush vegetation farther inland to signal to an
unseeing world that Caprona lived and joyed in life beyond her austere
and repellent coast.
“But metaphor, however poetic, never slaked a
dry throat. To enjoy Caprona’s romantic suggestions we must have water,
and so we came in close, always sounding, and skirted the shore. As close
in as we dared cruise, we found fathomless depths, and always the same
undented coastline of bald cliffs. As darkness threatened, we drew away
and lay well off the coast all night. We had not as yet really commenced
to suffer for lack of water; but I knew that it would not be long before
we did, and so at the first streak of dawn I moved in again and once more
took up the hopeless survey of the forbidding coast.
“Toward noon we discovered a beach, the first
we had seen. It was a narrow strip of sand at the base of a part of the
cliff that seemed lower than any we had before scanned. At its foot, half
buried in the sand, lay great boulders, mute evidence that in a bygone
age some mighty natural force had crumpled Caprona’s barrier at this point.
It was Bradley who first called our attention to a strange object lying
among the boulders above the surf.” (LTF/4.)
“‘Looks like a man,’ he said, and passed
his glasses to me.
Remember, anthropology was a young science at this time. Besides, as we
shall learn, the evolution of Caprona is different from the evolution that
we know, and so the creature Bowen observes will not fit into any known
patterns he may have learned at Stanford.
“I looked long and carefully and could have sworn
that the thing I saw was the sprawled figure of a human being. Miss La
Rue was on deck with us. I turned and asked her to go below. Without a
word she did as I bade. Then I stripped, and as I did so, Nobs looked questioningly
at me. He had been wont at home to enter the surf with me, and evidently
he had not forgotten it.
“‘What are you going to do, sir?’ asked Olson.
“‘I’m going to see what that thing is on shore,’
I replied. ‘If it’s a man, it may mean that Caprona is inhabited, or it
may merely mean that some poor devils were shipwrecked here. I ought to
be able to tell from the clothing which is more near the truth.’
“‘How about sharks?’ queried Olson. ‘Sure, you
ought to carry a knoife.’
“‘Here you are, sir,’ cried one of the men.
“It was a long slim blade he offered – one that
I could carry between my teeth – and so I accepted it gladly.
“‘Keep close in,’ I directed Bradley, and then
I dived over the side and struck out for the narrow beach. There was another
splash directly behind me, and turning my head, I saw faithful old Nobs
swimming valiantly in my wake.
“The surf was not heavy, and there was no undertow,
so we made shore easily, effecting an equally easy landing. The beach was
composed largely of small stones worn smooth by the action of water. There
was little sand, though from the deck of the U-33 the beach had appeared
to be all sand, and I saw no evidences of mollusca or crustacea such as
are common to all beaches I have previously seen. I attribute this to the
fact of the smallness of the beach, the enormous depth of the surrounding
water and the great distance at which Caprona lies from her nearest neighbor.
“As Nobs and I approached the recumbent figure
farther up the beach, I was appraised by my nose that whether or not, the
thing had been organic and alive, but that for some time it had been dead.
Nobs halted, sniffed and growled. A little later he sat down upon his haunches,
raised his muzzle to the heavens and bayed forth a most dismal howl. I
shied a small stone at him and bade him shut up – his uncanny noise made
me nervous. When I had come quite close to the thing, I still could not
say whether if had been man or beast. The carcass was badly swollen and
partly decomposed. There was no sign of clothing upon or about it. A fine,
brownish hair covered the chest and abdomen, and the face, the palms of
the hands, the feet, the shoulders and back were practically hairless.
The creature must have been about the height of a fair sized man; its features
were similar to those of a man; yet had it been a man?” (LTF/4.)
“I could not say, for it resembled an
ape no more than it did a man. Its large eyes protruded laterally as do
those of the semiarboreal peoples of Borneo, the Philippines and other
remote regions where low types still persist. The countenance might have
been that of a cross between Pithecanthropus, the Java ape-man, and a daughter
of the Piltdown race of prehistoric Sussex. A wooden cudgel lay beside
The so-called discovery of Piltdown Man in a gravel pit in Sussex, England,
helped spur the science vs. religion debate caused by the theory of evolution.
It was not exposed as a forgery – it consisted of a lower jawbone of an
orangutan and the fully developed skull of a human being – until 1953,
three years after ERB’s death, proving that both sides were willing to
cheat to win points.
“Now this fact set me thinking. There was no
wood of any description in sight. There was nothing about the beach to
suggest a wrecked mariner. There was absolutely nothing about the body
to suggest that it might possibly have been of a seafaring race. Therefore
I deduced that it was native to Caprona – that it lived inland, and that
it had fallen or been hurled from the cliffs above. Such being the case,
Caprona was inhabitable, if not inhabited, by man; but how to reach the
inhabitable interior! That was the question. A closer view of the cliffs
than had been afforded me from the deck of the U-33 only confirmed my conviction
that no mortal man could scale those perpendicular heights; there was not
a finger-hold, not a toe-hold, upon them. I turned away baffled.” (LTF/4.)
Our heroes continue cruising around the island, looking for some kind
of entrance point. Then they spy a tree branch with leaves on it floating
off the cliffs. Deducing a river, they search the cliffs until they spy
more jungle vegetation. They discover a fresh water source in an underground
river that runs under the water level of the cliffs. They all know that
it will be a death risk to travel into this tunnel in hopes of entering
Caprona, but they all agree to it:
“‘To the diving-stations!’ I commanded,
and in less than a minute the deck was deserted, the conning-tower covers
had been slammed to and the U-33 was submerging – possibly for the last
time. I know that I had this feeling, and I think that most of the others
Did Bowen mention that this close call in Dead Man’s Curve was just the
first danger? For our adventurers have just entered the enchanted land
of Caspak: the most dangerous place for a human being on earth!
“As we went down, I sat in the tower with the
searchlights projecting its seemingly feeble rays ahead. We submerged very
slowly and without headway more than sufficient to keep her nose in the
right direction, and as we went down, I saw outlined ahead of us the black
opening in the great cliff. It was an opening that would have admitted
a half-dozen U-boats at one and the same time, roughly cylindrical in contour
– and dark as the pit of perdition.
“As I gave the command which sent the U-33 slowly
ahead, I could not but feel a certain uncanny presentiment of evil. Where
were we going? What lay at the end of this great sewer? Had we bidden farewell
forever to the sunlight and life, or were there before us dangers even
greater that those which we now faced? I tried to keep my mind from vain
imagining by calling everything which I observed to the eager ears below.
I was the eyes of the whole company, and I did my best not to fail them.
We had advanced a hundred yards, perhaps, when our first danger confronted
us. Just ahead was a sharp right-angle turn in the tunnel. I could see
the river’s flotsam hurtling against the rocky wall upon the left as it
was driven on by the mighy current, and I feared for the safety of the
U-33 in making so sharp a turn under such adverse conditions; but there
was nothing for it but to try. I didn’t warn my fellows of the danger –
it could have but caused them useless apprehension, for if we were to be
smashed against the rocky wall, no power on earth could avert the quick
end that would come to us. I gave the command full speed ahead and went
charging toward the menace. I was forced to approach the dangerous left-hand
wall in order to make the turn, and I depended upon the power of the motors
to carry us through the surging waters in safety. Well, we made it; but
it was a narrow squeak. As we swung around, the full force of the current
caught us and drove the stern against the rocks; there was a thud which
sent a tremor through the whole craft, and then a moment of nasty grinding
as the steel hull scraped the rock wall. I expected momentarily the inrush
of waters that would seal our doom; but presently from below came the welcome
word that all was well.” (LTF/4.)
“In another fifty yards there was a second
turn, this time toward the left! but it was more of a gentle curve, and
we took it without trouble. After that it was plain sailing, though as
far as I could know, there might me most anything ahead of us, and my nerves
strained to the snapping-point every instant. After the second turn the
channel ran comparatively straight for between one hundred and fifty and
two hundred yards. The waters grew suddenly lighter, and my spirits rose
accordingly. I shouted down to those below that I saw daylight ahead, and
a great shout of thanksgiving reverberated through the ship. A moment later
we emerged into sunlit water, and immediately I raised the periscope and
looked about me upon the strangest landscape I had ever seen.
This is the big scene Hollywood moment in the story, the first time our
naked eyes feast on the strange new world of Caspak. It is meant to be
dramatic and ERB does not disappoint:
“We were in the middle of a broad and now sluggish
river the banks of which were lined by giant, arboraceous ferns, raising
their mighty fronds fifty, one hundred, two hundred feet into the quiet
air. Close by us something rose to surface of the river and dashed at the
periscope. I had a vision of wide, distended jaws, and then all was blotted
out. A shiver rand down into the tower as the thing closed upon the periscope.
A moment later it was gone, and I could see again. Above the trees there
soared into my vision a huge thing on batlike wings – a creature large
as a large whale, but fashioned more after the order of a lizard. Then
again something charged the periscope and blotted out the mirror. I will
confess that I was almost gasping for breath as I gave the commands to
emerge. Into what sort of strange land had fate guided us?” (LTF/4.)
“The instant the deck was awash, I opened
the conning-tower hatch and stepped out. In another minute the deck-hatch
lifted, and those who were not on duty below streamed up the ladder, Olson
bringing Nobs under one arm. For several minutes no one spoke; I think
they must each have been as overcome by awe as was I. All about us was
a flora and fauna as strange and wonderful to us as might have been those
upon a distant planet had we suddenly been miraculously transported through
ether to an unknown world. Even the grass upon the nearer bank was unearthly
– lush and high it grew, and each blade bore upon its tip a brilliant flower
– violet or carmine or blue – making as gorgeous a sward as human imagination
might conceive. But the life! It teemed. The tall, fernlike trees were
alive with monkeys, snakes, and lizards. Huge insects hummed and buzzed
hither and thither. Mighty forms could be seen moving upon the ground in
the thick forest, while the bosom of the river wriggled with living things,
and above flapped the wings of gigantic creatures such as we are taught
have been extinct throughout countless ages.
Yes, this guy still doesn’t get it. What an attitude towards women! Especially
the woman who has saved his life and ship two times already. But we must
not forget about the hungry jungle all around them.
“‘Look!’ cried Olson. ‘Would you look at the
giraffe comin’ up out o’ the bottom of the say?’ We looked in the direction
he pointed and saw the long, glossy neck surmounted by a small head rising
above the surface of the river. Presently the back of the creature was
exposed, brown and glossy as the water dripped from it. It turned its eyes
upon us, opened its lizard-like mouth, emitted a shrill hiss and came for
us. The thing must have been sixteen or eighteen feet in length and closely
resembled pictures I had seen of restored plesiosaurs of the lower Jurassic.
It charged us as savagely as a mad bull, and one would have thought it
intended to destroy and devour the mighty U-boat, as I verily believe it
“We were moving slowly up the river as the creature
bore down upon us with distended jaws. The long neck was far outstretched,
and the four flippers with which it swam were working with powerful strokes,
carrying it forward at a rapid pace. When it reached the craft’s side,
the jaws closed upon one of the stanchions of the deck rail and tore it
from its socket as though it had been a toothpick stuck in putty. At this
exhibition of titanic strength I think we all simultaneously stepped backward,
and Bradley drew his revolver and fired. The bullet struck the thing in
the neck, just above its body; but instead of disabling it, merely increased
his rage. Its hissing rose to a shrill scream as it raised half its body
out of the water onto the sloping sides of the hull of the U-33 and endeavored
to scramble upon the deck to devour us. A dozen shots rang out as we who
were armed drew our pistols and fired at the thing; but though struck several
times, it showed no signs of succumbing and only floundered father aboard
“I had noticed that the girl had come on deck
and was standing not far behind me, and when I saw the danger to which
we all were exposed, I turned and forced her toward the hatch. We had not
spoken for some days, and we did not speak now; but she gave me a disdainful
look, which was quite as eloquent as words, and broke loose from my grasp.
I saw I could do nothing with her unless I exerted force, and so I turned
with my back to her that I might be in a position to shield her from the
strange reptile should it really succeed in reaching the deck; and as I
did so I saw the thing raise one flipper over the rail, dart its head forward
and with the quickness of lightning seize upon one of the boches. I ran
forward, discharging my pistol into the creature’s body in an effort to
force it relinquish its prey; but I might as profitably have shot at the
“Shrieking and screaming, the German was dragged
from the deck, and the moment the reptile was clear of the boat, it dived
beneath the surface of the water with its terrified prey. I think we were
all more or less shaken by the frightfulness of the tragedy – until Olson
remarked that the balance of power now rested where it belonged. Following
the death of Benson we had been nine and nine – nine Germans and nine ‘Allies,’
as we called ourselves; now there were but eight Germans. We never counted
the girl on either side, I suppose because she was a girl, though we knew
well enough that she was ours.” (LTF/4.)
“And so Olson’s remark helped to clear
the atmosphere, for the Allies at least, and then our attention was once
more directed toward the river, for around us there had sprung up a perfect
bedlam of screams and hisses and a seething caldron of hideous reptiles,
devoid of fear and filled only with hunger and with rage. They clambered,
squirmed and wriggled to the deck, forcing us steadily backward, though
we emptied our pistols into them. There were all sorts and conditions of
horrible things – huge, hideous, grotesque, monstrous – a veritable Mesozoic
nightmare. I saw that the girl was gotten below as quickly as possible,
and she took Nobs with her – poor Nobs had nearly barked his head off;
and I think, too, that for the first time since his littlest puppy-hood
he had known fear; nor can I blame him. After the girl I sent Bradley and
most of the Allies and then the Germans who were on deck – von Schoenvorts
being in irons below.
I will say one thing for our heroes: they know how to rapidly adjust to
a new situation. Watch how ERB sets up this last scene in Chapter 4:
“The creatures were approaching perilously close
before I dropped through the hatchway and slammed down the cover. Then
I went into the tower and ordered full speed ahead, hoping to distance
the fearsome things; but it was useless. Not only could any of them easily
outdistance the U-33, but the further upstream we progressed the greater
number of our beseigers, until fearful of navigating a strange river at
high speed, I gave orders to reduce and moved slowly and majestically through
the plunging, hissing mass. I was mighty glad that our entrance into the
interior of Caprona had been inside a submarine rather than in any other
form of vessel. I could readily understand how it might have been that
Caprona had been invaded in the past by venturesome navigators without
word of it ever reaching the outside world, for I can assure you that only
by submarine could man pass up that great sluggish river, alive.” (LTF/4.)
“We proceeded up the river for some forty
miles before darkness overtook us. I was afraid to submerge and lie on
the bottom overnight for fear that the mud might be deep enough to hold
us, and as we could not hold with the anchor, I ran in close to shore,
and in a brief interim of attack from the reptiles we made fast to a large
tree. We also dipped up some of the river water and found it, though quite
warm, a little sweeter than before. We had food enough, and with the water
we were all quite refreshed; but we missed fresh meat. It had been weeks,
now, since we had tasted it, and the sight of the reptiles gave me an idea
– that a steak or two from one of them might not be bad eating. So I went
on deck with a rifle, twenty of which were aboard the U-33. At sight of
me a huge thing charged and climbed to the deck. I retreated to the top
of the conning-tower, and when it had raised its mighty bulk to the level
of the little deck on which I stood, I let it have a bullet right between
And so Chapter 4 ends on this light note.
“The thing stopped then and looked at me a moment
as much as to say: ‘Why this thing has a stinger! I must be careful.’ And
then it reached out its long neck and opened its mighty jaws and grabbed
for me; but I wasn’t there. I had tumbled backward into the tower, and
I mighty near killed myself doing it. When I glanced up, that little head
on the end of its long neck was coming straight down on top of me, and
once more I tumbled into greater safety, sprawling upon the floor of the
“Olson was looking up, and seeing what was poking
about in the tower, ran for an ax; nor did he hesitate a moment when he
returned with one, but sprang up the ladder and commenced chopping away
at that hideous face. The thing didn’t have sufficient brainpan to entertain
more than a single idea at once. Though chopped and hacked, and with a
bullethole between its eyes, it still persisted madly in its attempt to
get inside the tower and devour Olson, though its body was many times the
diameter of the hatch; nor did it cease its efforts until after Olson had
succeeded in decapitating it. Then the two men went on deck through the
main hatch, and while one kept watch, the other cut a hind quarter off
Plesiosaurus Olsoni, as Bradley dubbed the thing. Meantime Olson cut off
the long neck, saying that it would make fine soup. By the time we had
cleared away the blood and refuse in the tower, the cook had juicy steaks
and a steaming broth upon the electric stove, and the aroma arising from
P. Olsoni filled us all with a hitherto unfelt admiration for him and all
his kind.” (LTF/4.)