ERB'S EMBRYONIC JOURNEY:
THE TRIMESTERS OF CASPAK
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
OUT OF TIME’S ABYSS
We leave the familiar territory of our first person narrators and enter
into the third person told largely from one person’s point of view, that
of the British Tug Boat first mate, Bradley. I have given my theory of
why there is a change in the mode of narration, and that is that Bradley,
being the epitome of efficiency, would have told the whole story in one
short chapter. We got a whiff of his style in the very brief report he
submitted to Bowen Tyler after his first exploratory expedition. But that
is only a theory. To tell you the truth, I just don’t know why. Maybe he
was just bored with the first person. As it is, Chapter 1 of Out of
Time’s Abyss, the third book in the Caspakian Trilogy, begins like
“This is the story of Bradley, after
he left Fort Dinosaur upon the west coast of the great lake that is in
the center of the island.” (OTA/1.)
Logically, the person telling the story is likely the Unidentified Narrator
(U.N.) of the first two books. Bradley and the survivors of his ill-fated
expedition probably told the U.N. their account and he then embellished
it dramatically. As mentioned before, ERB was an early master of horror,
and the Wieroo’s are very scary creatures, especially in the way they think.
Bradley’s experience among the Wieroo is a very gripping story. But see
“Upon the fourth day of September, 1916,
he set out with four companions, Sinclair, Brady, James, and Tippet, to
search along the base of the barrier cliffs for a point at which they might
be scaled.” (OTA/1.)
We must recall what a debacle of timing this expedition was. It depleted
the amount of non-Germans among the Fort Dinosaur crowd, tilting the balance
of power. We are not sure if oil had been yet discovered, but I submit
that they left right before the discovery. Otherwise, I assume that Bradley
would have been intelligent enough to realize that the fragile allliance
for survival between the British, Americans, and Germans would have been
short lived. But that is water under the bridge. They had enough worries
of their own to be too concerned over what was happening at Fort Dinosaur.
“Through the heavy Caspakian air, beneath
the swollen sun, the five men marched northwest from Fort Dinosaur, now
waist-deep in lush, jungle grasses starred with myriad gorgeous blooms,
now across open meadlow-land and parklike expanses and again plunging into
dense forests of eucalyptus and acacia and giant arboreous ferns with feathered
fronds waving gently a hundred feet above their heads.
As you will recall, the men of Caspak have a similar attitude about the
terror they face on a minute to minute basis. This appears to be an universal
human adaptive quality. Otherwise everyone would be frozen powerless in
fear and no one would survive.
“About them upon the ground, among the trees
and in the air over them moved and swung and soared the countless forms
of Caspak’s teeming life. Always were they menaced by some frightful thing
and seldom were their rifles cool, yet even in the brief time they had
dwelt upon Caprona they had become callous to danger, so that they swung
along laughing and chatting like soldiers on a summer hike.” (OTA/1.)
“‘This reminds me of South Clark Street,’
remarked Brady, who had once served on the traffic squad in Chicago; and
as no one asked him why, he volunteered that it was ‘because it’s no place
for an Irishman.’
I have no idea what South Clark Street and Irishmen and heaven have in
common, but this may refer to Chicago's infamous South Side of which Al
Capone was so infamous. Perhaps a Chicago Mucker can help me out on this
one. You can contact me at email@example.com,
if you have any knowledge you would like to share.
“South Clark Street and heaven have something
in common, then,’ suggested Sinclair. James and Tippet laughed, and then
a hideous growl broke from a dense thicket ahead and diverted their attention
to other matters.” (OTA/1.)
“‘One of them behemoths of “Oly Writ,’
muttered Tippet as they came to a halt and with guns ready awaited the
almost inevitable charge.
We know that Tippet does not die at this time, for we know that Bowen Tyler
discovered his marked grave months later and discovered that a T-Rex had
taken him down. But here we get a foretaste of what brought him down. Tripping
and losing his weapon is not a good way to survive in Caspak. Anyway, back
to the action:
“‘Hungry lot o’ beggars, these,’ said Bradley;
‘always trying to eat everything they see.’
“For a moment no further sound came from the
thicket. ‘He may be feeding now,’ suggested Bradley. ‘We’ll try to go around
him. Can’t waste ammunition. Won’t last forever. Follow me.’ And he set
off at right angles to their former course, hoping to avert a charge. They
had taken a dozen steps, perhaps, when the thicket moved to the advance
of the thing within it, the leafy branches parted, and the hideous head
of a gigantic bear emerged.
“‘Pick your trees,’ whispered Bradley. ‘Can’t
“The men looked about them. The bear took a couple
of steps forward, still growling menacingly. He was exposed to the shoulders
now. Tippet took one look at the monster and bolted for the nearest tree;
and then the bear charged. He charged straight for Tippet. The other men
scattered for the various trees they had selected – all except Bradley.
He stood watching Tippet and the bear. The man had a good start and the
tree was not far away; but the speed of the enormous creature behind him
was something to marvel at, yet Tippet was in a fair way to make his sanctuary
when his foot caught in a tangle of roots and down he went, his rifle flying
from his hand, and falling several yards away. Instantly Bradley’s piece
was at his shoulder, there was a sharp report answered by a roar of mingled
rage and pain from the carnivore. Tippet attempted to scramble to his feet.”
“‘Lie still!’ shouted Bradley. ‘Can’t
Bradley is obsessed with saving ammunition for good cause. People have
a tendency under panic conditions to keep firing until their gun or rifle
is empty. This was a lesson the Army learned in Vietnam. When I was taught
how to fire an M-16, they taught us to fire in three burst sequences at
a time when it was turned to fully automatic, or rock n’ roll. Otherwise
you could go through a whole 22 bullet magazine in two seconds. If your
aim was off at the beginning, then all 22 bullets would miss their target.
I think the Army eventually calculated that it took one thousand rounds
for every one of the enemy that was killed. Is that effecient? Under the
circumstances, perhaps it was. But it was not uncommon for troops to run
out of ammunition during an ambush for this very reason.
“The bear halted in its tracks, wheeled toward
Bradley, and then back again toward Tippet. Again the former’s rifle spit
angrily, and the bear turned again in his direction. Bradley shouted loudly.
‘Come on, you behemoth of Holy Writ!’ he cried. ‘Come on, you duffer! Can’t
waste ammunition.’ And as he saw the bear apparently upon the verge of
deciding to charge him, he encouraged the idea by backing rapidly away,
knowing that an angry beast will more often charge one who moves than one
who lies still.
“And the bear did charge. Like a bolt of lightning
he flashed down upon the Englishman. ‘Now run!’ Bradley called to Tippet
and himself turned in flight toward a nearby tree. The other men, now safely
ensconced upon the various branches, watched the race with breathless interest.
Would Bradley make it? It seemed scarce possible. And if he didn’t! James
grasped at the thought. Six feet at the shoulder stood the frightful mountain
of blood-mad flesh and bone and sinew that was bearing down with the speed
of an express train upon the seemingly slow-moving man.
“It all happened in a few seconds; but they were
seconds that seemed like hours to the men who watched. They saw Tippet
leap to his feet at Bradley’s shouted warning. They saw him run, stooping
to recover his rifle as he passed the spot where it had fallen. They saw
him glance back toward Bradley, and then they saw him stop short of the
tree that might have given him safety and turn back in the direction of
the bear. Firing as he ran, Tippet raced after the great cave bear – the
monstrous thing that should have been extinct ages before – ran for it
and fired even as the beast was almost upon Bradley. The men in the trees
scarcely breathed. It seemed to them such a futile thing for Tippet to
do, and Tippet of all men! They had never looked upon Tippet as a coward
– there seemed to be no cowards among the strangely assorted company that
Fate had gathered together from the four corners of the earth – but Tippet
was considered a cautious man. Overcautious, some thought him. How futile
he and his little pop-gun appeared as he dashed after that living engine
of destruction! But, oh, how glorious! It was some such thought as this
that ran through Bradley’s mind, though articulated it might have been
expressed otherwise, albeit more forcefully.
“Just then it occurred to Brady to fire and he,
too, opened upon the bear, but at the same instant the animal stumbled
and fell forward, though still growling most fearsomely. Tippet never stopped
running or firing until he stood within a foot of the brute, which lay
almost touching Bradley and was already struggling to gain his feet. Placing
the muzzle of his gun against the bear’s ear, Tippet pulled the trigger.
The creature sank limply to the ground and Bradley scrambled to his feet.
“‘Good work, Tippet,’ he said. ‘Mightily obliged
to you – awful waste of ammunition, really!’
“And then they resumed the march and in fifteen
minutes the encounter had ceased even to be a topic of conversation.” (OTA/1.)
“For two days they continued upon their
perilous way. Already the cliffs loomed high and forbidding close ahead
without sign of break to encourage hope that somewhere they might be scaled.
Late in the afternoon the party crossed a small stream of warm water upon
the sluggishly moving surface of which floated countless millions of tiny
green eggs surrounded by a light scum of the same color, though of a darker
shade. Their past experience of Caspak had taught them that they might
expect to come upon a stagnant pool of warm water if they followed the
stream to its source; but they were almost certain to find some of Caspak’s
grotesque, manlike creatures. Already since they had disembarked from the
U-33 after its perilous trip through the subterranean channel beneath the
barrier cliffs had brought them into the inland sea of Caspak, had they
encountered what had appeared to be three distinct types of these creatures.
There had been the pure apes – huge, gorilla-like beasts – and those who
walked a trifle more erect and had features with just a shade more of the
human cast about them. Then there were men like Ahm, whom they had captured
and confined at the fort – Ahm, the club-man. ‘Well-known club-man,’ Tyler
had called him. Ahm and his people had knowledge of speech. They had a
language, in which they were unlike the race just inferior to them, and
they walked much more erect and were less hairy: but it was principally
the fact that they possessed a spoken language and carried a weapon that
differentiated them from the others.” (OTA/1.)
ERB skates over the fact that the millions of green eggs and scum is a
new observation about Caspak and will prove to be a key to its unique evolution.
“All of these peoples had proven belligerent
in the extreme. In common with the rest of the fauna of Caprona the first
law of nature as they seemed to understand it was to kill – kill – kill.
And so it was that Bradley had no desire to follow up the little stream
toward the pool near which were sure to be the caves of some savage tribe;
but fortune played him an unkind trick, for the pool was much closer than
he imagined, its southern end reaching fully a mile south of the point
at which they crossed the stream, and so it was that after forcing their
way through a tangle of jungle vegetation they came out upon the edge of
the pool which they had wished to avoid.
It is this kind of comparison that caused ERB to be termed a racist among
critics. They were able to accuse ERB of saying the black race was inferior
because they had characteristics that were more “ape-like.” But if they
would have paid more attention to the story rather than to their own prejudices,
they would have realized that ERB was one of the more progressive white
men of the time when it came to the acceptance of all races.
“Almost simultaneously there appeared south of
them a party of naked men armed with clubs and hatchets. Both parties halted
as they caught sight of one another. The men from the fort saw before them
a hunting party evidently returning to its caves or village laden with
meat. They were large men with features closely resembling those of the
African Negro though their skins were white. Short hair grew upon a large
portion of their limbs and bodies, which still retained a considerable
trace of apish progenitors. They were, however, a distinctly higher type
than the Bo-lu, or club-men.” (OTA/1.)
Perhaps the makers of the John Carter film were a little too sensitive
about this when they had to invent a entirely new take on the Therns, making
them from another planet or galaxy seeking universal domination. By this
method they didn’t have to deal with the First Born, a black race that
preceded the Red Race of Martians, for the plot doesn’t appear to have
left any room for this development.
It was fascinating at this year’s Dum Dum to hear Jim Morris speak about
the problems they had writing the plot for the screenplay. He said that
because of the portal problem caused by the Arizona cave, they had to come
up with a different angle to make it plausible, and so they had to reinvent
the Therns. This amazed me because they were the ones to begin that created
the socalled portal problem. They just didn’t like ERB’s mysterious gasses
that caused him to go into a death trance and hence astral travel to Mars.
Sure, their space portal is a much more modern “Star Gate” idea, but
is it more probable?
And then one thing led to another, causing them to change the personality
of John Carter from a divine being to a screwed-up Civil War Confederate
war veteran from Virginia with a grudge against the Union Army for causing
the death of his wife and child. Then they went on to butcher Tars Tarkas
and Sola. Jim Sullos, head of ERB Inc. wanted to know if there was going
to be a sequel. While good for ERB Inc., is it really good for the fans?
Good grief, do we really want to see a sequel that bad?
It is obvious to me that Disney was doing the same to John Carter that
MGM had done to Tarzan, making the characters and story their own, making
it possible to do sequels without any input or permission from the original
creators, otherwise known as ripping off the author, an old Hollywood standby,
and a plague that ERB had to tolerate most of his writing life. He learned
the hard way that if you are going to sleep with Hollywood you have to
expect to get screwed.
But without Hollywood, he wouldn’t have become a legend in his own time.
One has to choose their brand of Hemlock wisely.
“Bradley would have been glad to have
averted a meeting; but as he desired to lead his party south around the
end of the pool, and as it was hemmed in by the jungle on one side and
the water on the other, there seemed no escape from an encounter.
Yes, we are getting our first glimpse of a Wieroo, other than as told by
Ajor. From this description, we cannot expect any kindness from a Wieroo,
which at first, may not seem any different from any other creature in Caspak.
But we know that the other peoples of Caspak can be kind to members of
their own tribe, or to those who are kind to them.
“On the chance that he might avoid a clash, Bradley
stepped forward with upraised hand. ‘We are friends,’ he called in the
tongue of Ahm, the Bo-lu, who had been held a prisoner at the fort; ‘permit
us to pass in peace. We will not harm you.’
“At this the hatchet-men set up a great jabbering
with much laughter, loud and boisterous. ‘No,’ shouted one, ‘you will not
harm us, for we shall kill you. Come! We kill! We kill!’ And with hideous
shouts they charged down upon the Europeans.
“‘Sinclair, you may fire,’ said Bradley quietly.
‘Pick off the leader. Can’t waste ammunition.’
“The Englishman raised his piece to his shoulder
and took quick aim at the breast of the yelling savage leaping toward them.
Directly behind the leader came another hatchet-man, and with the report
of Sinclair’s rifle both warriors lunged forward in the tall grass, pierced
by the same bullet. The effect upon the rest of the band was electrical.
As one man they came to a sudden halt, wheeled to the east and dashed into
the jungle, where the men could hear them forcing their way in an effort
to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the authors
of this new and frightful noise that killed warriors at a great distance.
“Both of the savages were dead when Bradley approached
to examine them, and as the Europeans gathered around, other eyes were
bent upon them with greater curiosity than they displayed for the victims
of Sinclair’s bullet. When the party again took up the march around the
southern end of the pool the owner of the eyes followed them – large, round
eyes, almost expressionless except for a certain cold cruelty which glinted
malignly from under their pale gray irises.”
We will leave our semi-happy group at this stage. This will be one of the
last moments of semi-joy they will have. We will conclude Chapter 1 in
the next installment.
“All unconscious of the stalker, the
men came late in the afternoon, to a spot which seemed favorable as a campsite.
A cold spring bubbled from the base of a rocky formation which overhung
and partially encircled a small inclosure. At Bradley’s command, the men
took up the duties assigned them – gathering wood, building a cook-fire
and preparing the evening meal. It was while they were thus engaged that
Brady’s attention was attracted by the dismal flapping of huge wings. He
glanced up, expecting to see one of the great flying reptiles of a bygone
age, his rifle ready in his hand. Brady was a brave man. He had groped
his way up narrow tenement stairs and taken an armed maniac from a dark
room without turning a hair; but now as he looked up, he went white and
“‘Gawd!’ he almost screamed. ‘What is it?’
“Attracted by Brady’s cry the others seized their
rifles as they followed his wide-eyed, frozen gaze, nor was there one of
them that was not moved by some species of terror or awe. Then Brady spoke
again in almost inaudible voice.
‘Holy Mother protect us – it’s a banshee!”
“Bradley, always cool almost to indifference
in the face of danger, felt a strange, creeping sensation run over his
flesh, as slowly, not a hundred feet above them, the thing flapped itself
across the sky, its huge, round eyes glaring down upon them. And until
it disappeared over the tops of the trees of a near-by wood the five men
stood as though paralyzed, their eyes never leaving the weird shape; nor
never one of them appearing to recall that he grasped a loaded rifle in
“With the passing of the thing came the reaction.
Tippet sank to the ground and buried his face in his hands. ‘Oh, Gord,’
he moaned. ‘Tyke me awy from this orful plice.’ Brady, recovered from the
first shock, swore loud and luridly. He called upon all the saints to witness
that he was unafraid and that anybody with half an eye could have seen
that the creature was nothing more than ‘one av thim flyin’ alligators’
that they all were familiar with.
“‘Yes,’ said Sinclair with fine sarcasm, ‘we’ve
saw so many of them with white shrouds on ‘em.’
“‘Shut up, you fool!’ growled Brady. ‘If you
know so much, tell us what it was after bein’ then.’
“Then he turned toward Bradley. ‘What was it,
sor, do you think?’ he asked.
“Bradley shook his head. ‘I don’t know,’ he said.
‘It looked like a winged human being clothed in a flowing white robe. Its
face was more human than otherwise. That is the way it looked to me; but
what it really was I can’t even guess, for such a creature is as far beyond
my experience of knowledge as it is beyond yours. All that I am sure of
is that whatever else it may have been, it was quite material – it was
no ghost; rather just another of the strange forms of life which we have
met here and with which we should be accustomed by this time.’
“Tippet looked up. His face was still ashy. ‘Yer
cawn’t tell me,’ he cried.
‘Hi seen hit. Blime, Hi seen hit. Hit was ha
dead man flyin’ through the hair. Didn’t Hi see ‘is heyes? Oh, Gord! Didn’t
Hi see ‘em?’
“‘It didn’t look like any beast or reptile to
me,’ spoke up Sinclair. ‘It was lookin’ right down at me when I looked
up and I saw its face plain as I see yours. It had big round eyes that
looked all cold and dead, and its cheeks were sunken in deep, and I could
see its yellow teeth behind then, tight-drawn lips – like a man who had
been dead a long while, sir,’ he added, turning toward Bradley.
“‘Yes!’ James had not spoken since the apparition
had passed over them, and now it was scarce speech which he uttered – rather
a series of articulate gasps. ‘Yes – dead – a – long – while. It – means
something. It – come – for some – one. For one – of us is goin’ – to die.
I’m goin’ to die!’ he ended in a wail.
“‘Come! Come!’ snapped Bradley. ‘Won’t do. Won’t
do at all. Get to work, all of you. Waste of time. Can’t waste time.’
“His autoritative tones brought them all up standing,
and presently each was occupied with his own duties; but each worked in
silence and there was no singing and no bantering such as had marked the
making of previous camps. Not until they had eaten and to each had been
issued the little ration of smoking tobacco allowed after each evening
meal did any sign of relaxation of taut nerves appear. It was Brady who
showed the first signs of returning good spirits. He commenced humming
‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ and presently to voice the words, but he
was well into his third song before anyone joined him, and even then there
seemed a dismal note in even the gayest of tunes.” (OTA/1.)
(Continued in Part Nineteen)