ERB'S EMBRYONIC JOURNEY:
THE TRIMESTERS OF CASPAK
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT
IN MEMORIAM RAY BRADBURY
As I write this on June 6, 2012 – the 68th anniversary of D-Day
– I have just learned on the internet that Ray Bradbury died this morning.
I feel every reader owes a debt of gratitude to Ray Bradbury and I hope
we may all have an opportunity to express it. It is also my belief – though
I have absolutely no evidence to support it – that like George McWhorter,
Ray Bradbury was a big fan of the Caspakian Trilogy. I know I will miss
B. Bowen Tyler, Jr. (continued)
Sadly, let us now return to our rich boy loser as he reflects
under his dark philosophy the dirt mound that marks the resting place of
John Tippet. We will have to wait until Book Three, Out of Time’s Abyss,
to learn the facts surrounding Tippet’s gruesome death, but don’t despair,
ERB gladly tells it when it’s time to tell it. When will Bowen ever learn?
You just can’t take your attention off the killer environment:
“As I stood looking down upon that sad
and lonely mound, wrapped in the most dismal of reflections and premonitions,
I was suddenly seized from behind and thrown to earth. As I fell, a warm
body fell on top of me, and hands grasped my arms and legs. When I could
look up, I saw a number of giant figures pinioning me down, while others
stood about surveying me. Here again was a new type of man – a higher type
than the primitive tribe I had just quitted. They were a taller people,
too, with better-shaped skulls and more intelligent faces. There were less
of the ape characteristics about their features, and less of the negroid,
too. They carried weapons, stone-shod spears, stone knives, and hatchets
– and they wore ornaments and breech-cloths – the former of feathers worn
in their hair and the latter made of a single snake-skin cured with the
head on, the head depending to their knees.” (LTF/9.)
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time picturing a single snake-skin
cured with the head on. I mean, what kind of snake? Had the skin been shed
or was it skinned off the snake? That cured snake head dangling between
their legs must have been a real nuisance.
Anyway, Bowen doesn’t let us down with his arrogance. Just because his
father was rich and he had the ability to study what he wanted, he takes
it for granted that if you are from California, then you should, like him,
be an expert at ju-jitsu. Now, this is the most extreme kind of martial
arts, the bone-breaking, death blow dealing kind.
When I was in my early Fifties, my ex-brother-in-law – an ex-Navy Seal
– took me to one of his ju-jitsu classes one evening in Clovis. After I
was taught how to do roll-overs and flips and elementary incapacitating
moves, they said they would take me on as a student. But the next morning
I felt like I’d been in a car crash and decided, wisely, that I was much
too old for this kind of self-torture. Enough, let us get back to Bowen:
“Of course I did not take in all these
details upon the instant of my capture, for I was busy with other matters.
Three of the warriors were sitting upon me, trying to hold me down by main
strength and awkwardness, and they were having their hands full in the
doing, I can tell you. I don’t like to appear conceited, but I may as well
admit that I am proud of my strength and the science that I have acquired
and developed in the directing of it – that and my horsemanship I always
have been proud of. And now, that day, all the long hours that I had put
into careful study, practice and training brought me in two or three minutes
a full return upon my investment. Californians, as a rule, are familiar
with ju-jutsu, and I especially had made a study of it for several years,
both at school and in the gym of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, while recently
I had had, in my employ, a Jap who was a wonder at the art.” (LTF/9.)
I know there are readers who condemn ERB for his racism, as in the mention
of negroid characteristics and labeling Japanese as Japs, but this was
normal for almost everyone at the time. In fact, comparatively speaking,
ERB was far from being an overt racist. I choose not to deal with the subject
in this series because I think it is insulting to the author.
The Los Angeles Athletic Club was founded in 1880 and finally in 1912
located at its own twelve- story building in downtown Los Angeles. It had
many celebrity members and was notable for the first building in Southern
California to have a swimming pool on an upper floor.
Since Bowen was a junior member of his father’s shipbuilding business
in Santa Monica, he was close enough to downtown Los Angeles to be a steady
member. Two years after writing the Caspakian Trilogy ERB would buy the
Otis mansion and property, consisting of about half of the northern San
Fernando Valley, including the Santa Monica hills to the Malibu on the
Pacific. He would call it Rancho Tarzana. ERB would later own a house in
Malibu and was known as the Mayor of Malibu at one time. This part of the
west coast was special for him. Now, back to Grasshopper:
“It took me about thirty seconds to break
the elbow of one of my assailants, trip another and send him stumbling
backward among his fellows, and throw the third completely over my head
in such a way that when he fell his neck was broken. In the instant that
the others of the party stood in mute and inactive surprise, I unslung
my rifle – which, carelessly, I had been carrying across my back; and when
they charged, as I felt they would, I put a bullet in the forehead of one
of them. This stopped them all temporarily – not the death of their fellow,
but the report of the rifle, the first they had ever heard. Before they
were ready to attack me again, one them spoke in a commanding tone to his
fellows, and in a language similar but still more comprehensive than that
of the tribe to the south, as theirs was more complete than Ahm’s. He commanded
them to stand back and then he advanced and addressed me.
Can you believe this guy? Again, he doesn’t suspect a thing, even after
the leader has asked him for his rifle. These more advanced men are also
cave dwellers, but theirs’ are not as dirty as the previous tribes. The
cave walls are covered with drawings scratched upon the sandstone, and
the men’s names have two-syllables.
“He asked me who I was, from whence I came and
what my intentions were. I replied that I was a stranger in Caspak, that
I was lost and that my only desire was to find my way back to my companions.
He asked where they were and I told him toward the south somewhere, using
the Caspakian phrase which, literally translated, means ‘toward the beginning.’
His surprise showed upon his face before he voiced it in words. ‘There
are no Galus there,’ he said.
“‘I tell you,’ I said angrily, ‘that I am from
another country, far from Caspak, for beyond the high cliffs. I do not
know who the Galus may be; I have never seen them. This is the farthest
north I have been. Look at me – look at my clothing and my weapons. Have
you ever seen a Galu or any other creature in Caspak who possessed such
“He had to admit that he had not, and also that
he was much interested in my rifle and the way I had handled his three
warriors. Finally he became half convinced that I was telling him the truth
and offered to aid me if I would show him how I had thrown the man over
my head and also make him a present of the ‘bang-spear,’ as he called it.
I refused to give him my rifle, but promised to show him the trick he wished
to learn if he would guide me in the right direction. He told me that he
would do so tomorrow, that it was too late today and that I might come
to their village and spend the night with them. I was loathe to lose so
much time; but the fellow was obdurate, and I accompanied them. The two
dead men they left where they had fallen, nor gave them a second glance
– thus cheap is life upon Caspak.” (LTF/9.)
“Here, as in the last tribe, there were
no children or any old people. The men of this tribe had two names, or
rather names of two syllables, and their language contained words of two
syllables; whereas in the tribe of Tsa the words were all of a single syllable,
with the exception of a very few like Atis and Galus. The chief’s name
was To-jo, and his household consisted of seven females and himself. These
women were much more comely, or rather less hideous than those of Tsa’s
people; one of them, even, was almost pretty, being less hairy and having
a rather nice skin, with high coloring.” (LTF/9.)
Bowen does not tell us how the females were dressed, but we will assume
they were dressed the same as the men, to wit, topless, with breasts fully
exposed. And what does he mean by the girl having nice skin with “high
coloring”? Your guess is as good as mine.
“They were all much interested in me
and examined my clothing and equipment carefully, handling and feeling
and smelling of each article. I learned from them that their people were
known as Band-lu, or spear-men; Tsa’s race was called Sto-lu-hatchet-men.
Below these in the scale of evolution came the Bo-lu, or club-men, and
then the Alus, who had no weapons and no language.” (LTF/9.)
All right, it is good to memorize this information, for not only do the
physical characteristics of each tribe change the farther north one travels,
but also their level of sophistication and civilization. These less hairy
people are the highest we have seen so far, the Band-lu, or spearmen. Under
them are Tsa’s tribe, the Stol-lu, who are not good enough to carry spears,
just hatchets. But they are more advanced than the Bo-lu, or clubmen. And
the Alus are weaponless and speak no language. Ahm, the Neanderthal, had
been a Bo-lu. As we shall see, there are several more types of man to come.
“The comely woman of whom I spoke was
called So-ta, and she took such a lively interest in me that To-jo finally
objected to her attentions, emphasizing his displeasure by knocking her
down and kicking her into a corner of the cavern. I leaped between them
while he was still kicking her, and obtaining a quick hold upon him, dragged
him screaming with pain from the cave. Then I made him promise not to hurt
the she again, upon pain of worse punishment. So-ta gave me a grateful
look; but To-jo and the balance of his women were sullen and ominous.”
Is this guy dense, or what? He totally humiliates the chief of a tribe
by first, openly flirting with one of his wives and then overpowering him
when he punishes his wife because she was flirting back. I recall a ju-jitsu
hold where you grab a person’s wrist and twist it behind the person’s back,
rendering the person powerless in pain. This could be the quick hold of
which Bowen speaks.
But this posturing only goes to show that Bowen is still too stupid
to grasp the situation. Could he be making the same mistake he made with
Plesser? Well, we are told that the comely girl had a grateful look on
her face, even though you know that as soon as Bowen is gone she is in
for it. Plesser, however, coldly stood at attention while von Schoenvorts
broke his nose with a riding crop and showed no emotion after Bowen intervened
“Later in the evening So-ta confided
to me that she was soon to leave the tribe.
Wait, Bowen! Surely you are not going to sleep in the chief’s cave after
insulting him in front of his wives after killing two of his warriors?
After all, what grounds do you have for trusting him? Well, pleasant dreams.
“‘So-ta soon me Kro-lu,’ she confided in a low
whisper. I asked her what a Kro-lu might be, and she tried to explain,
but I do not yet know if I understood her. From her gestures I deduced
that the Kro-lus were a people who were armed with bows and arrows, had
vessels in which to cook their food and huts of some sort in which they
lived, and were accompanied by animals. It was all very fragmentary and
vague, but the idea seemed to be that the Kro-lus were a more advanced
people than the Band-lus. I pondered a long time upon all that I had heard,
before sleep came to me. I tried to find some connection between these
various races that would explain the universal hope which each of them
harbored that some day they would become Galus. So-ta had given me the
suggestion; but the resulting idea was so weird that I could scarce even
entertain it; yet it coincided with Ahm’s expressed hope, with the various
steps in evolution I had noted in several tribes I had encountered and
with the range of type represented in each tribe. For example, among the
Band-lu were such types as So-ta, who seemed to me to be the highest in
the scale of evolution, and To-jo, who was just a shade nearer the ape,
while there were others who had flatter noses, more prognathous faces and
hairier bodies. The question puzzled me. Possibly in the outer world the
answer to it is locked in the bosom of the Sphinx. Who knows? I do not.”
“Thinking the thoughts of a lunatic or
a dope-fiend, I fell asleep; and when I awoke, my hands and feet were securely
tied and my weapons had been taken from me. How they did it without awakening
me I can not tell you. It was humiliating, but it was true. To-jo stood
above me. The early light of morning was dimly filtering into the cave.
Bowen cracks me up. He makes jokes at the stupidity of To-jo, but fails
to see his own. Ah, and what about all of those comely women bathing naked
in the pool? Speaking of comely women, again, it takes one to save Bowen
from his folly.
“‘Tell me,’ he demanded, ‘how to throw a man
over my head and break his neck, for I am going to kill you, and I wish
to know this thing before you die.’
“Of all the ingenuous declarations I have ever
heard, this one copped the proverbial bun. It struck me as so funny that,
even in the face of death, I laughed. Death, I may remark here, had, however,
lost much of his terror for me. I had become a disciple of Lys’ fleeting
philosophy of the valuelessness of human life. I realized that she was
quite right – that we were but comic figures hopping from the cradle to
the grave, of interest to practically no other created thing than ourselves
and our few intimates.
“Behind To-jo stood So-ta. She raised one hand
with the palm toward me – the Caspakian equivalent of a negative shake
of the head.
“‘Let me think about it,’ I parried, and To-jo
said that he would wait until night. He would give a day to think it over;
then he left, and the women left – the men for the hunt, and the women,
as I later learned from So-ta, for the warm pool where they immersed their
bodies as did the shes of the Sto-lu. ‘Ata,’ explained So-ta, when I questioned
her as to the purpose of the matutinal rite; but that was later.” (LTF/9.)
“I must have lain there bound and uncomfortable
for two or three hours when at last So-ta entered the cave. She carried
a sharp knife – mine, in fact, and with it she cut my bonds.
They bicker for awhile, then compromise, with him taking her as far as
the Kro-lu and then returning to lead his people as far north as possible.
She brings him all of his belongings – rifle, ammunition, knife, and thermos
bottle (remember he left his pistol and Nobs with Lys) – and they descend
the cliff and disappear into the surrounding countryside. Three days later
he drops her off and then thinks about her as they part ways.
“‘Come!’ she said. ‘So-ta will go with you back
to the Galus. It is time that So-ta left the Band-lu. Together we will
go to the Kro-lu, and after that the Galus. To-jo will kill you tonight.
He will kill So-ta if he knows that So-ta aided you. We will go together.’
“‘I will go with you to the Kro-lu,’ I replied,
‘but then I must return to my own people “toward the beginning.”’
“‘You cannot go back,’ she said. ‘It is forbidden.
They would kill you. Thus far have you come – there is no returning.’
“‘But I must return,’ I insisted. ‘My people
are there. I must return and lead them in this direction.’” (LTF/9.)
“She was a dear girl and a stanch and
true comrade – more like a man than a woman. In her simple barbaric way
she was both refined and chaste. She had been the wife of To-jo. Among
the Kro-lu she would find another mate after the manner of the strange
Caspakian world; but she told me very frankly that whevever I returned,
she would leave her mate and come to me, as she preferred me above all
others. I was becoming a ladies’ man after a lifetime of bashfulness!”
Yes, a true ladies’ man, who regards the girl as another man, even though
she is willing to mate with him and is topless the whole time. Like I said,
this guy cracks me up. Of course, this lameness when it comes to sex saves
ERB from any intense scrutiny from the censors, a big fear since his hero
is wandering around for three day and nights with a topless savage.
On his return he avoids the Band-lu and on the sixth day, he returns
to the cliffs of the Sto-lu, where he had left Lys. However, there is no
sign of life, just humanlike bones picked clean of flesh. Fortunately,
he finds no skull as human as Lys’, giving him hope that she still lives.
For another three days he searches east and west mostly in the rain.
At last, he gives up and heads back toward Fort Dinosaur.
“The beasts I met with were fewer in
number but infinitely more terrible in temper; yet I lived on until there
came to me the realization that I was hopelessly lost, that a year of sunshine
would not again give me my bearings; and while I was cast down by this
terrifying knowledge, the knowledge that I never again could find Lys,
I stumbled upon another grave – the grave of William James, with its little
crude headstone and its scrawled characters recording that he had died
upon the 13th of September – killed by a saber-tooth tiger.
And on this high moral note, Chapter 9 whines to a finish. We are almost
at the place where Bowen writes what he believes is his final entry in
the journal before he seals it into the thermos and pitches it out into
the Pacific Ocean, hoping for favorable currents to take it to its ultimate
fate in Greenland.
“I think that I almost gave up then. Never in
my life have I felt more hopeless or helpless or alone. I was lost. I could
not find my friends. I did not even know that they still lived; in fact,
I could not bring myself to believe that they did. I was sure that Lys
was dead. I wanted myself to die, and yet I clung to life – useless and
hopeless and harrowing a thing as it had become. I clung to life because
some ancient, reptilian forbear had clung to life and transmitted to me
through the ages the most powerful motive that guided his minute brain
– the motive of self-preservation.
“At last I came to the great barrier-cliffs;
and after three days of mad effort – of maniacal effort – I scaled them.
I built crude ladders; I wedged sticks in narrow fissures; I chopped toe-holds
and finger-holds with my long knife; but at last I scaled them. Near the
summit I came upon a huge cavern. It is the abode of some mighty winged
creature of the Triassic – or rather it was. Now it is mine. I slew the
thing and took its abode. I reached the summit and looked out upon the
broad gray terrible Pacific of the far-southern winter. It was cold up
there. It is cold here today; yet here I sit watching, watching, watching
for the thing I know will never come – for a sail.” (LTF/9.)
The Tenth and final chapter of the First Book begins where the last
one ended. Bowen has made a bow and arrow, worried by how little ammunition
he has left. He decides to discard the rags he wears for clothing, having
made a leopard skin garment like Tarzan. He is safe high up on the cliff
plateau, but he has no hope. You almost wish he would just get it over
and shoot himself he is so full of self pity. Finally, we get to the part
where Bowen was at the beginning of Chapter 7, where he was about to launch
the thermos into the sea.
“I am about done. Presently I shall fold
these pages and push them into my thermos bottle. I shall cork it and screw
the cap tight, and then I shall hurl it as far out into the sea as my strength
will permit. The wind is off-shore; the tide is running out; perhaps it
will be carried into one of those numerous ocean currents which sweep perpetually
from pole to pole and from continent to continent, to be deposited at last
upon some inhabited shore. If fate is kind and this does happen, then,
for God’s sake, come and get me!
He hopes that it is Lys, for the report was that of a pistol, which he
had left in her possession when he went on his foolish hunt with the men
of Tsa’s tribe. He soon backtracks on his hope when he realizes that the
human figure below is doomed. There is no way he can descend the cliffs
in time to save her. He has a single dim hope. He aims his rifle knowing
how hard it is to hit a target at his great height, yet he manages to cooly
squeeze off three rounds, dropping all three of the beasts.
“It was a week ago that I wrote the preceding
paragraph, which I thought would end the written record of my life upon
Caprona. I had paused to put a new point on my quill and stir the crude
ink (which I made by crushing a black variety of berry and mixing it with
water) before attaching my signature, when faintly from the valley far
below came an unmistakable sound which brought me to my feet, trembling
with excitement, to peer eagerly downward from my dizzy ledge. How
full of meaning that sound was to me you may guess when I tell you that
it was the report of a firearm! For a moment my gaze traversed the landscape
beneath until it was caught and held by four figures near the base of the
cliff – a human figure held at bay by three hyaenodons, those ferocious
and blood-thirsty wild dogs of the Eocene. A fourth beast lay dead or dying
near by.” (LTF/10.)
“From my ledge to the base of the cliff
is a matter of several thousand feet of dangerous climbing; yet I venture
to say that the first ape from whose loins my line has descended never
could have equaled the speed with which I literally dropped down the face
of the that rugged escarpment. The last two hundred feet is over a steep
incline of loose rubble to the valley bottom, and I had just reached the
top of this when there arose to my ears an agonized cry – ‘Bowen! Bowen!
Quick, my love, quick!’
At first Bowen has misgivings about taking Lys up the perilous climb to
the top of the cliff, but he forgets that he had left her with a tribe
of rock climbing cave dwellers, and she beats him to the top. She tells
him that Tsa’s tribe had been driven off by another one, and many of Tsa’s
tribe had been slain. She tells him how Kho had desired her and how she
spent days driving him away from her, helped by Nobs at first, but then
Nobs had mysteriously disappeared and Kho had captured her and taken her
to his cave, but before they got there Lys managed to escape him. He then
pursued her for three days, ending with Bowen’s timely rescue.
“I had been too much occupied with the dangers
of the descent to glance down toward the valley; but that cry which told
me that it was indeed Lys, and that she was again in danger, brought my
eyes quickly upon her in time to see a hairy, burly brute seize her and
start off at a run toward the nearby wood. From rock to rock, chamoislike,
I leaped downward toward the valley, in pursuit of Lys and her hideous
“He was heavier than I am by many pounds, and
so weighted by the burden he carried that I easily overtook him; and at
last he turned, snarling, to face me. It was Kho of the tribe of Tsa, the
hatchet-men. He recognized me, and with a low growl he threw Lys aside
and came for me. ‘The she is mine,’ he cried. ‘I kill! I kill!’
“I had had to discard my rifle before I commenced
the rapid descent of the cliff, so that now I was armed only with a hunting
knife, and this I whipped from its scabbard as Kho leaped toward me. He
was a mighty beast, mightily muscled, and the urge that has made males
fight since the dawn of life on earth filled him with blood-lust and the
thirst to slay; but not one whit less did it fill me with the same primal
passions. Two abysmal beasts sprang at each other’s throats that day beneath
the shadow of earth’s oldest cliffs – the man of now and the man-thing
of the earliest, forgotten then, imbued by the same deathless passion that
has come down unchanged through all the epochs, periods and eras of time
from the beginning, and which shall continue to the incalculable end –
woman, the imperishable Alpha and Omega of life.
“Kho closed and sought my jugular with his teeth.
He seemed to forget the hatchet dangling by its aurochs-hide thong at his
hip, as I forgot, for the moment, the dagger in my hand. And I doubt not
but that Kho would have easily bested me in an encounter at that sort had
not Lys’ voice awakened within my momentarily reverted brain the skill
and cunning of reasoning man. ‘Bowen!’ she cried. ‘Your knife! Your knife!’
It was enough. It recalled me from the forgotten eon to which my brain
had flown and left me once again a modern man battling with a clumsy, unskilled
brute. No longer did my jaws snap at the hairy throat before me; but instead
my knife sought and found a space between two ribs over the savage heart.
Kho voiced a single horrible scream, stiffened spasmodically and sank to
the earth. And Lys threw herself into my arms. All the fears and sorrows
of the past were wiped away, and once again I was the happiest of men.”
“I nodded my head in assent and crushed
her to me. And then we talked and planned as I cooked antelope-steaks over
my fire, and we came to the conclusion that there was no hope of rescue,
that she and I were doomed to live and die upon Caprona. Well, it might
be worse! I would rather live here always with Lys than to live elsewhere
without her; and she, dear girl, says the same of me; but I am afraid of
this life for her. It is a hard, fierce, dangerous life, and I shall pray
always that we shall be rescued from it – for her sake.
Wow, that’s quite an ending. Most Christians would still believe that they
are living in sin, but what the hell: there are no Christian Caspakians.
And their philosophy: no matter how many things keep going right, they
still are without hope as the bottle goes into the sea. But we know something
they do not: in fact, as we shall discover, God wills that they be rescued
and not punished for their alleged sin. And He has also arranged for the
right man to find the thermos. And that man, the Unnamed Narrator (U.N.),
picks up where Bowen left off.
“That night the clouds broke, and the moon shone
down upon our little ledge; and there, hand in hand, we turned our faces
toward heaven and plighted our troth beneath the eyes of God. No human
agency could have married us more sacredly than we are wed. We are man
and wife, and we are content. If God wills it, we shall live out our lives
here. If He wills otherwise, then this manuscript which I shall now consign
to the inscrutable forces of the sea shall fall into friendly hands. However,
we are each without hope. And so we say good-bye in this, our last message
to the world beyond the barrier cliffs.
(Signed) Bowen J. Tyler, Jr.
Lys La R. Tyler” (LTF/10.)
Continued in Part One of The People that Time Forgot.