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TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
We’ve got several story lines to keep together in our minds as ERB spins us another labyrinth of confusion. We’ve got the original uniting theme of rescuing David Innes from the dungeons of the Korsars. We have Tarzan’s quest to find the 0-220 with Tar-gash and Thoar of Zoram. Let us not forget the situation facing Jason Gridley after he parachutes from the frying pan into the fire of Pellucidarian soap opera. Again, we have the lovely Pellucidarian, Jana, The Red Flower of Zoram, trying to escape a fate worse than death: having to mate with the bestial males of the lowlands. And lest we forget, Von Horst and the Waziri are still nowhere to be found. Somehow ERB is going to have to weave all of these separate strands into one whole fabric. Can he do it? Do we even have to ask?
VIII: JANA AND JASONTar-gash and Thoar looked with wonder upon the wreckage of the plane and Tarzan hastily searched it for the body of the pilot. The ape-man experienced at least temporary relief when he discovered that there was no body there, and a moment later he found footprints in the turf upon the opposite side of the plane – the prints of a booted foot which he recognized immediately as having been made by Jason Gridley – and this evidence assured him that the American had not been killed and apparently not even badly injured by the fall. And then he discovered something else which puzzled him exceedingly. Mingling with the footprints of Gridley and evidently made at the same time were those of a small sandaled foot.Boy, Tarzan is sure getting his one-upmanship from Thoar, who, of course, is more of an expert of things Pellucidarian than the ape-man. Can’t you see Thoar loving every moment of it?
A further brief examination revealed the fact that two persons, one of them Gridley and the other apparently a female or a youth of some Pellucidarian tribe, who had accompanied him, had approached the plane after it had crashed, remained in the vicinity for a short time and then returned in the direction from which they had come. With the spoor plain before him there was nothing for Tarzan to do other than to follow it.
The evidence so far suggested that Gridley had been forced to abandon the plane in air and that he had safely made a parachute descent, but where and under what circumstances he had picked up his companion, Tarzan could not even hazard a guess.
He found it difficult to get Thoar away from the aeroplane, the strange thing having so fired his curiosiy and imagination that he must need remain near it and ask a hundred questions concerning it.
With Tar-gash, however, the reaction was extremely different. He had glanced at it with only a faint show of curiosity or interest, and then he had asked one question, “What is it?”
“This is the thing that passed over us and which you said was a flying reptile,” replied Tarzan. “I told you at the time that one of my friends was in it. Something happened and the thing fell, but my friend escaped without injury.”
“It has no eyes,” said Tar-gash. “How could it see to fly?”
“It was not alive,” replied Tarzan.
“I heard it growl,” said the Sagoth; nor was he ever convinced that the thing was not some strange form of living creature.
They had covered but a short distance along the trail made by Gridley and Jana, after they had left the aeroplane, when they came upon the carcass of a huge pteranodon. Its head was crushed and battered and almost severed from its body and a splinter of smooth wood projected from its skull – a splinter that Tarzan recognized as a fragment of an aeroplane propeller – and instantly he knew the cause of Gridley’s crash.
Half a mile further on the three discovered further evidence, some of it quite startling. An opened parachute lay stretched upon the ground where it had fallen and at short distance from it lay the bodies of four hyaenodons and two hairy men.
An examination of the bodies revealed the fact that both of the men and two of the hyaenodons had died from bullet wounds. Everywhere upon the trampled turf appeared the imprints of the small sandals of Jason’s companion. It was evident to the keen eyes of Tarzan that two other men, both natives, had taken part in the battle in which had been waged here. That they were of the same tribe as the two men that had fallen was evidenced by the imprints of their sandals, which were of identical make, while those of Tarzan’s companion differed materially from all the others.
As he circled about, searching for further evidence, he saw that the two men who had escaped had run rapidly for some distance toward the mouth of a large canyon, and that, apparently following their retreat, Jason and his companion had set out in search of the plane. Later they had returned to the scene of the battle, and when they had departed they also had gone toward the mountains, but along a line considerably to the right of the trail made by the fleeing natives.
Thoar, too, was much interested in the various tracks that the participants in the battle by the parachute had left, but he said nothing until Tarzan had completed his investigation.
“There were four men and either a woman or a youth with my friend,” said Tarzan.
“Four of them were low countrymen from Pheli,” said Thoar, “and the other was a woman of Zoram.”
“How do you know?” asked Tarzan, who was always anxious to add to his store of woodcraft.
“The low country sandals are never shaped to the foot as closely as are those of the mountain tribes,” replied Thoar, “and the soles are much thinner, being made usually of the hides of the thag, which is tough enough for people who do not walk often upon anything but soft grasses or in soggy marshland. The sandals of the mountain tribes are soled with the thick hide of Maj, the cousin of Tandor. If you will look at the spoor you will see that they are not worn at all, while there are holes in the sandals of these dead men of Pheli.”
“Are we near Zoram?” asked Tarzan.
“No,” replied Thoar. “It lies across the highest range ahead of us.”
“When we first met, Thoar, you told me that you were from Zoram.”
“Yes, that is my country,” replied Thoar.
“Then, perhaps, this woman is someone whom you know?”
“She is my sister,” replied Thoar.
Tarzan of the Apes looked at him in surprise. “How do you know?” he demanded.
“I found an imprint where there was no turf, only soft earth, and there the spoor was so distinct that I could recognize the sandals as hers. So familiar with her work am I that I could recognize the stitching alone, where the sole is joined to the upper part of the sandal, and in addition there are the notches, which indicate the tribe. The people of Zoram have three notches in the underside of the sole at the toe of the left sandal.”
“What was your sister doing so far from her own country and how is it that she is with my friend?”
“It is quite plain,” replied Thoar. “These men of Pheli sought to capture her. One of them wanted her for his mate, but she eluded them and they pursued her across the Mountains of the Thipdars and down into this valley, where she was set upon by jaloks. The man from your country came and killed the jaloks and two of the Phelians and drove the other two away. It is evident that my sister could not escape him, and he captured her.”Tarzan of the Apes smiled. “The spoor does not indicate that she ever made any effort to escape him,” he said.Their time together is amusing, but I hope you are not missing the sexual tension as she battles her instincts to remain with the strange man from another world. And how does he keep himself from staring at her breasts? We know he is a gentleman, but how much can a gentleman take? Wait, perhaps I have underestimated him because Jana soon catches him peeping:
Thoar scratched his head. “That is true,” he replied, “and I cannot understand it, for the women of my tribe do not care to mate with the men of other tribes and I know that Jana, my sister, would rather die than mate outside the Mountains of the Thipdars. Many times has she said so and Jana is not given to idle talk.”
“My friend would not take her by force,’ said Tarzan. “If she has gone with him, she has gone with him willingly. And I think when we find them you will discover that he is a simply accompanying her back to Zoram, for he is the sort of man who would not permit a woman to go alone and unprotected.”
“We shall see,” said Thoar, “but if he has taken Jana against her wishes, he must die.”
As Tarzan, Tar-gash and Thoar followed the spoor of Jason and Jana a disheartened company of men rounded the end of the great Mountains of the Thipdars, fifty miles to the east of them, and entered the Gyor Cors, or great Plains of the Gyors.
The party consisted of ten black warriors and a white man, and, doubtless, never in the history of mankind had eleven men been more completely and hopelessly lost than these.
Muviro and his warriors, than whom no better trackers ever lived, were totally bewildered by their inability even to back-track successfully.
The stampeding of the maddened beasts, from which they had barely escaped with their lives and then only by what appeared nothing short of a miracle, had so obliterated all signs of the party’s former spoor that though they were all confident that they had gone but a short distance from the clearing, into which the beasts had been herded by the tarags, they had never again been able to locate the clearing, and now they were wandering hopelessly and, in accordance wth Von Horst’s plan, keeping as much in the open as possible in hope that the cruising 0-220 might thus discover them, for Von Horst was positive that eventually his companions would undertake a search for them.
Aboard the 0-220 the grave fear that had been entertained for the safety of the thirteen missing members of the ship’s company had developed into a conviction of disaster when Gridley failed to return within the limit of the time that he might reasonably be able to keep the scout plane in the air.
Then it was that Zuppner had sent Dorf out with another searching party, but at the end of seventy hours they had returned to report absolute failure. They had followed the trail to a clearing where jackals fed upon rotting carrion, but beyond this, there was no sign of spoor to suggest in what direction their fellows had wandered.
Going and coming they had been beset by savage beasts and so ruthless and determined had been the attacks of the giant tarags that Dorf reported to Zuppner that he was confident that all of the missing members of the party must by this time have been destroyed by these great cats.
“Until we have proof of that, we must not give up hope,” replied Zuppner, “nor may we relinquish our efforts to find them, whether dead or alive, and that we cannot do by remaining here.”
There was nothing now to delay the start. While the motors were warming up, the anchor was drawn in and the air expelled from the lower vacuum tanks. As the giant ship rose from the ground Robert Jones jotted down a brief note in a greasy memorandum book: “We sailed from here at noon.”
When Skruk and his companion had left the field to the victorious Jason, the latter had returned his six-gun to its holster and faced the girl. “Well,” he inquired, “what now?”
She shook her head. “I cannot understand you,” she said. “You do not speak the language of the gilaks.”
Jason scratched his head. “That being the case,” he said, “and as it is evident that we are never going to get anywhere on conversation which neither one of us understands, I am going to have a look around for my ship, in the meantime, praying to all the gods that my thirty-thirty and ammunition are safe. It’s a cinch that she did not burn for she must have fallen close by and I could have seen the smoke.”
Jana listened attentively and shook her head.
“Come on,” said Jason, and started off in the direction that he thought the ship might be.
“No, not that way,” exclaimed Jana, and running forward she seized his arm and tried to stop him, pointing back to the tall peaks of the Mountains of the Thipdars, where Zoram lay.
Jason essayed the difficult feat of explaining in a weird sign language of his own invention that he was looking for an aeroplane that had crashed somewhere in the vicinity, but the conviction soon claimed him that that would be a very difficult thing to accomplish even if the person to whom he was trying to convey the idea knew what an aeroplane was, and so he ended up by grinning good naturedly, and, seizing the girl by the hand, gently leading her in the direction he wished to go.
Again that charming smile disarmed The Red Flower of Zoram and though she knew that this stranger was leading her away from the caverns of her people, yet she followed docilely, though her brow was puckered in perplexity as she tried to understand why she was not afraid, or why she was willing to go with this stranger, who evidently was not even a gilak, since he could not speak the language of men.
A half hour’s search was rewarded by the discovery of the wreck of the plane, which had suffered far less damage than Jason had expected.
It was evident that in its plunge to earth it must have straightened out and glided to landing. Of course, it was wrecked beyond repair, even if there had been any facilities for repairs, but it had not burned and Jason recovered his thirty-thirty and all his ammunition.
Jason was intently interested in the plane and examined every portion of it minutely. Never in her life had she wished so much to ask questions, for never in her life had she seen anything that had so aroused her wonder. And here was the one person in all the world who could answer her questions, but she could not make him understand one of them. For a moment she almost hated him, and then he smiled at her and pressed her hand, and she forgave him and smiled back.
“And now,” said Jason, “where do we go from here? As far as I am concerned one place is as good as another.”Being perfectly well aware that he was hopelessly lost, Jason Gridley felt that the only chance he had of being reunited with his companions lay in the possibility that the 0-220 might chance to cruise over the very locality where he happened to be, and no matter wither he might wander, whether north or south or east or west, that chance was as slender in one direction as another, and, conversely, equally good. In an hour the 0-220 would cover a distance fully as great as he could travel in several days of outer earthly time. And so even if he chanced to be moving in a direction that led away from the ship’s first anchorage, he could never go so far that it might not easily and quickly overtake him, if its search should chance to lead it to his direction. Therefore he turned questioningly to the girl, pointing first in one direction, and then in another, while he looked inquiringly at her, attempting thus to convey to her the idea that he was ready and willing to go in any direction she chose, and Jana, sensing his meaning, pointed toward the lofty Mountains of the Thipdars.Yeah, I’m sure it was her beautiful teeth that really got his interest. But if you happen to be lost, Jana, The Red Flower of Zoram, is not a bad part of the problem.
“There,” she said, “lies Zoram, the land of my people.”
“Your logic is unassailable,” said Jason, “and I only wish I could understand what you are saying, for I am sure that anyone with such beautiful teeth could ever be uninteresting.”
Jana did not wait to discuss the matter, but started forthwith for Zoram and beside her walked Jason Gridley of California.Jana’s active mind had been working rapidly and she had come to the conclusion that she could not for long endure the constantly increasing pressure of unsatisfied curiosity. She must find some means of communicating with this interesting stranger and so to the accomplishment of this end she could conceive of no better plan than teaching the man her language. But how to commence! Never in her experience or that of her people had the necessity arisen for teaching a language. Previously she had not dreamed of the existence of such a means. If you can feature such a state, which is doubtful, you must concede to this primitive girl of the stone age a high degree of intelligence. This was no accidental blowing off of the lid of the teapot upon which might be built a theory. It required, as a matter of fact, a greater reasoning ability. Give a steam engine to a man who had never heard of steam and ask him to make it go – Jana’s problem was almost as difficult. But the magnitude of the reward spurred her on, for what will one not do to have one’s curiosity satisfied, especially if one happens to be a young and beautiful girl and the object of one’s curiosity an exceptionally handsome, young man. Skirts may change, but human nature never.This was a few years before the release of Tarzan the Ape Man, the first MGM Johnny Weissmuller – Maureen O’Sullivan talkie in 1932, where Tarzan and Jane mainly reenact this same scene, except Jason does not thump his chest and say, “Me, Jason,” and then thump her chest and say, “You, Jana.”
And so The Red Flower of Zoram pointed at herself with a slim, brown forefinger and said, “Jana.” She repeated this several times and then she pointed at Jason, raising her eyebrows in interrogation.
“Jason,” he said, for there was no misunderstanding her meaning. And so the slow, laborious task began as the two trudged upward toward the foothills of the Mountains of the Thipdars.There lay before them a long, hard climb to the higher altitudes, but there was water in abundance in the tumbling brooks, dropping down the hillside, and Jana knew the edible plants, and nuts, and fruits which grew in riotous profusion in many a dark, deep ravine. and there was game in plenty to be brought down, when they needed meat, by Jason’s thirty-thirty.This great description competes with the knowledge of what the girl is wearing: next to nothing. This description was the 1928 equivalent of staring at the Playmate of the Month fold-out in Playboy magazine.
As they proceeded in their quest for Zoram, Jason found greater opportunity to study his companion and he came to the conclusion that nature had attained the pinnacle of physical perfection with the production of this little savage. Every line and curve of that lithe, brown body sang of symmetry, for The Red Flower of Zoram was a living poem of beauty.
If he had thought that her teeth were beautiful he was forced to admit that they held no advantage in that respect over her eyes, her nose or any other of her features. And when she fell to with her crude stone knife and helped him skin a kill and prepare the meat for cooking, when he saw the deftness and celerity with which she made fire with the simplest and most primitive of utensils, when he witnessed the almost uncanny certitude with which she located nests of eggs and edible fruit and vegetables, he was conscious that her perfections were not alone physical and he became more than ever anxious to acquire a sufficient understanding of her tongue to be able to communicate with her, though he realized that he might doubtless suffer a rude awakening and disillusionment when, through an understanding of her language, he might be able to judge the limitations of her mind.Wow, talk about cultural bias. ERB is such an mischievous writer, but at least he mentions slyly that the girl is nearly naked and that her body is perfect in the eyes of man. A thousand years of civilization might rise up in horror, but we also know that in the ways of a man and woman, civilization is not the only thing that rises up.
When Jana was tired she went beneath a tree, and, making a bed of grasses, curled up and fell asleep immediately, and, while she slept, Gridley watched, for the dangers of the primitive land were numerous and constant. Fully as often as he shot for food he shot to protect them from some terrible beast, and the encounters became so prosaic and commonplace as does the constant eluding of death by pedestrians at congested traffic corners in cities of the outer crust.
When Jason felt the need for sleep, Jana watched and sometimes they merely rested without sleeping, usually beneath a tree for there they found the greatest protection from their greatest danger, the fierce and voracious thipdars from which the mountains took their name. These hideous, flying reptiles were a constant menace, but so thoroughly had nature a defense against them that the girl could hear their wings at a greater distance than either of them could see the creatures.
Jason had no means for determining how far they had travelled, or how long they had been upon their way, but he was sure that considerable outer earthly time must have elapsed since he had met the girl, when they came to a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, for already he had made considerable progress toward mastering her tongue, and they were exchanging short sentences, much to Jana’s delight, her merry laughter, often marking one of Jason’s more flagrant errors in pronunciation or construction.
And now they had come to a deep chasm with overhanging walls that not even Jana could negotiate. To Jason it resembled a stupendous fault that might have been caused by the subsidence of the mountain range for it paralleled the main axis of the range. And if this were true he knew that it might extend for hundreds of miles, effectually barring the way across the mountains by the route they were following.
For a long time Jana sought a means of descent into the crevice. She did not want to turn to the left as that route might lead her eventually back to the canyon that she had descended when pursued by Skruk and his fellows and she well knew how almost unscalable were the perpendicular sides of this terrific gorge. Another thing, perhaps, which decided her against the left hand route was the possibility that in that direction they might again come in contact with the Phelians, and so she led Jason toward the right and always she searched for a way to the bottom of the rift.
Jason realized that they were consuming a great deal of time in trying to cross, but he became also aware of the fact that time meant nothing in timeless Pellucidar. It was never a factor with which to reckon for the excellent reason that it did not exist, and when he gave the matter thought he was conscious of a mild surprise that he, who had been always a slave of time, so easily and naturally embraced the irresponsible existence of Pellucidar. It was not only the fact that time itself seemed not to matter but that the absence of this greatest of all task masters singularly effected one’s outlook upon every other consideration of existence. Without time there appeared to be no accountability for one’s acts since it is to the future that the slaves of time have learned to look for their reward or punishment. Where there is no time, there is no future. Jason Gridley found himself affected much as Tarzan had been in that sense of his responsibility for the welfare of his fellows seemed deadened. What had happened to them had happened and no act of his could alter it. They were not there with him and so he could not be of assistance to them, and as it was difficult to visualize the future beneath an eternal noonday sun how might one plan ahead for others or for himself?
Jason Gridley gave up the riddle with a shake of his head and found solace in contemplation of the profile of The Red Flower of Zoram.
“Why do you look at me so much?” demanded the girl; for by now they could make themselves understood to one another.
Jason Gridley flushed slightly and looked quickly away. Her question had been very abrupt and surprising and for the first time he realized that he had been looking at her a great deal. He started to answer, hesitated and stopped. Why had he been looking at her so much? It seemed silly to say that it was because she was beautiful.
“Why do you not say it, Jason?” she inquired.
“Say what?” he demanded.
“Say the thing that is in your eyes when you look at me,” she replied.
Gridley looked at her in astonishment. No one but an imbecile could have misunderstood her meaning, and Jason Gridley was no imbecile.
Could it be possible that he had been looking at her that way? Had he gone stark mad that he was even subconsciously entertaining such thoughts of this little barbarian who seized her meat in both hands and tore pieces of it with her flashing, white teeth, who went almost as naked as the beasts of the field and with all of their unconsciousness of modesty? Could it be that his eyes had told this untutored savage that he was harboring thoughts of love for her? The artificialities of a thousand years of civilization rose up in horror against such a thought.Upon the screen of his memory there flashed a picture of the haughty Cynthia Furnois of Hollywood, daughter of the famous director, Abelard Furnois, ne Abe Fink. He recalled Cynthia’s meticulous observance of the minutest details of social usages and the studied perfection of her deportment that had sometimes awed him. He saw, too, the aristocratic features of Barbara Green, daughter of old John Green, the Los Angeles realtor, from Texas. It is true that old John was no purist and that his total disregard of the social precedence of forks often shocked the inner sensibilities that Mrs. Green and Barbara had laboriously achieved in the universities of Montmarte and Cocoanut Grove, but Barbara had had two years at Marlborough and knew her suffixes and her hardware.How easy it is to lie to oneself. Jason would not want to be a hypocrite, but because of this obvious rationalization, we see him fully exposed as a horny male with cultural handcuffs, not willing to admit that the girl makes him horny because he is, after all, a perfect gentleman.
Of course Cynthia was a rotten little snob, not only on the surface but to the bottom of her shallow, selfish soul, while Barbara’s snobbishness, he felt, was purely artificial, the result of mistaking for the genuine the silly artificialities and affectations of the almost celebrities and sudden rich that infest the public places of Hollywood.
But nevertheless these two did, after a fashion, reflect the social environment to which he was accustomed and as he tried to answer Jana’s question he could not but picture her seated at dinner with a company made up of such as these. Of course, Jana was a bully companion upon an adventure such as that in which they were engaged, but modern man cannot go advertizing forever in the Stone Age. If his eyes had carried any other message to Jana than that of friendly companionship he felt sorry, for he realized that in fairness to her, as well as to himself, there could never be anything more than this between them.
I wonder if there was a misprint with the status of Barbara Green, the daughter of the wealthy Los Angeles realtor from Texas, since she is referred to as “Mrs.” Green. Was Jason cavorting with a married women in his dealings with the Hollywood social mavens? Was he thinking, “As long as the women were of high social standing, you could be horny with a clear conscience?” You never know with ERB.
We know that he had several bones to pick with the locals because of his real estate gamblings in which he lost large sums of money, and perhaps this was a way of snidely getting revenge. But, not to lose our point, the social attitude here, now almost obliterated from history, but then tyrannical in its dominance, was the idea that you should only fall in love with a woman of your own status. Anything less is just slumming, and if you are taking advantage of women of a lower social order, then you either do so with an attitude of superiority or out of cruelty or malice. Rarely is it just to have a good time because you are intoxicated. If you have read the Caspakian Trilogy, you will recall the educated men going through these same agonies as they fell in love with Caspakian babes. After all, ERB’s heroes are always gentlemen of good conscience.
The fact is, that by lusting for Jana, Jason is betraying his cultural upbringing, and the more he feels it, the more it causes him to rethink the accepted social order. By the end of this novel we will see Jason go through some Olympian mental gymnastics vis-a-vis Jana. By the way, this modern view would not have been possible without the earth-shaking social revolutions caused by WWI. But that is another story.As Jason hesitated for a reply, the eyes of The Red Flower of Zoram searched his soul and slowly the half expectant smile faded from her lips. Perhaps she was a savage little barbarian of the Stone Age, but she was no fool and she was a woman.Of course, by this time, every male reader is feeling Jason’s let down, but he should have been more savvy, especially since he had spent so much time around snobbish women. From a Pellucidarian point of view, his response is totally cowardly, meaning that he is not willing to engage in a long term relationship with the girl, a girl that is the most desirable girl to steal in the primitive mating game. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Jana looking like Kate Upton or Scarlett Johansson – whose private nude photos were released online to the public by hackers the other day – the hottest babe of Pellucidar! No wonder Jana felt insulted and gave Jason the royal Stone Age cold shoulder, as well as one of the greatest insults directed to a man in Pellucidar, calling him a “jalok,” a hyaenodon. She’ll be damned if she will let him enjoy her for his own personal pleasure. After all, she is still a woman. Some things never change.
Slowly she drew her slender figure erect as she turned away from him and started back along the rim of the rift toward the great gorge through which she had descended from the higher peaks when Skruk and his fellows had been pursuing her.
“Jana,” he exclaimed, “don’t be angry. Where are you going?”
She stopped and with her haughty little chin in air turned a withering look back upon him across a perfect shoulder. “Go your way, jalok,” she said, “and Jana will go hers.”
We will return to Tarzan in the next chapter.
INTRODUCTORY AND CONTENTS PAGE FOR
THE EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS SERIES OF ARTICLES
BY WOODROW EDGAR NICHOLS, JR.
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