The Polar Portal to Pellucidar
By John Martin
David Discovers the North
David Innes and four companions travel to the end of one world and the
beginning of another in Chapter 14 of "Tanar of Pellucidar."
But after a brief glimpse of the gray, Arctic sea
and the blazing red sun of the outer world, David and company turn from
the globe’s Polar opening back to Pellucidar and it is then, in Chapter
15, that they make a soul-stirring discovery.
There, a few miles inside the entrance to the inner
world, lies the wicker basket of a balloon, some pieces of rotted cordage
and the well-preserved remnants of oiled silk which once formed a huge
To Ja, Tanar, Stellara and Gura, the find is only
a curiosity. But to David, who spent the first 20 years of his life upon
the outer surface, it is more than that, perhaps even the solution to a
"The poor devils," said David, as he looked at
the remains of the balloon. "They made a greater discovery than they could
have hoped for in their wildest dreams. I wonder if they lived to realize
Author Edgar Rice Burroughs gives few other details,
and we are left to wonder what it was that David Innes knew that caused
him to make an educated guess about the origin of that balloon.
Man has always been tantalized by real-life mysteries.
We’d like to know, for instance, if the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance
really has been solved by some of the discoveries made in the Pacific,
such as a plane fragment and a piece of shoe from the central Pacific’s
What mysteries were in the headlines of David Innes’
ERB began writing "At the Earth’s Core," the first
book of the inner world saga, in January 1913, but we don’t know how long
he had waited after hearing the story before putting it on paper. Assuming
he didn’t waste time, and that he got the story in 1912, we can state that
David Innes probably originally went to the Earth’s core no later than
1902, since he spent 10 years there before returning to tell his story.
Modern man reads news of moon landings and probes
to Mars and beyond; but the news in the years before David Innes went to
Pellucidar was of another frontier, the North Pole.
Men like Dr. Frederick Cook and Robert Peary, though
not staking their claims to North Pole discovery until the last part of
the Twentieth Century’s first decade, were nonetheless in the news as David
grew to manhood.
Peary began full-time study of the Arctic regions
in 1891. He studied the Eskimos’ methods of travel and explored the Arctic.
In 1892, he crossed Greenland and proved for the first time that it was
Cook spent some time with Peary in Greenland, then
explored it on his own in 1893 and 1894.
Cook would eventually claim to have discovered
the North Pole in 1908, and Peary claimed to have done it a year later.
David Innes was in Pellucidar by then, but he would
have remembered another Arctic explorer, less remembered today, perhaps,
but well known at the time.
The man’s name was Salomon A. Andree. He was born
in Sweden in 1854 and had a somewhat normal childhood, studying classics
and sports, much like David Innes had done.
While crossing the Atlantic on a ship bound for
America in 1876, Andree found and was fascinated by a balloon aeronautics
book in the ship’s library.
At the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the
"bold, proud and just a little cocky" 22-year-old took up with John E.
Wise, an experienced aeronaut with 400 balloon ascents to his credit.
Andree had an insatiable curiosity and the guts
to test his theories without regard to his own comfort or even his life.
He considered the possibility of his early demise of relatively little
importance if sacrificing it would advance the cause of science.
Arctic exploration began to intrigue him in 1882,
when he went with a meteorological expedition to the Arctic island of Spitsbergen.
It was inevitable that Andree, eventually chief
engineer with the Swedish Patent Office and a science professor at the
University of Stockholm, would combine his two major interests – ballooning
and the Arctic – with a proposal to fly in a balloon to the as yet undiscovered
Such was his announcement when he stood in the
Great Hall of the Royal Colonial Institute in London to propose to the
sixth International Geographical Congress his plan to reach the Pole by
There was some skepticism, but a lot of enthusiasm,
something Andree exuded to the point that it was contagious. Asked what
he would do if his balloon collapsed in the water, Andree had a simple
but characteristic response: "Drown."
His first balloon flight was in 1892. After that,
he bought his own balloon and flew across the sea from Sweden to Finland.
He developed a steering system of ropes and sails which he believed could
propel his craft to the pole.
There were obstacles to overcome, and false starts,
but at 1:45 a.m. on July 11, 1897, about five years before David Innes
took a prospector ride to the Earth’s core, Andree’s balloon, 97 feet high
and 67 feet in diameter, filled with 160,000 cubic feet of hydrogen, took
off from Danes Island in the Greenland Sea.
Aboard, in addition to Andree, were Knut Fraenkel,
a youthful lieutenant in the Swedish Corps of Engineers, and Dr. Nils Strindberg,
a physicist. The spectators on Danes Island cheered as the balloon, named
the Eagle, disappeared over the horizon. They were the last people to see
Months, then many years passed, and nothing was
heard of Andree. David Innes was always interested in explorers* and surely
would have known of the mystery of the disappearance of the Andree party,
which remained unsolved at the time he entered the interior of the Earth.
"Tanar of Pellucidar" first saw print in March
1929 when serialization of the story began in "The Blue Book Magazine."
The first edition of the book came out May 29 of 1930, and at that time
the fate of Andree was still as much a mystery to the outer world as it
was to David Innes.
But in the summer of 1930, the trio’s fate was
finally learned, and in a way which, while not confirming Innes’ find as
Andree’s balloon, certainly left the door open to that interpretation.
On White Island, east of Spitsbergen Island, a
Norwegian sealing vessel discovered Andree’s last camp and the skeletons
of the three balloonists, along with Andree’s journal, which told the story
of the doomed expedition.
One thing Andree had not fully calculated was the
reaction of a balloon to changes in temperature and to the moisture content
of the surrounding air. In sunlight, inflating gas heated and expanded,
and the balloon rose. But when it entered clouds, and mist gathered on
the canopy, the weight of the water and the change in temperature caused
it to drop dangerously close to the sea.
These circumstances would doom the air voyage within
Andree and crew had to jettison precious supplies,
on occasion, just to keep the balloon aloft. By the afternoon of July 12,
the gondola was being dragged along the ice. Andree was recording eight
touches in 30 minutes. At ten that evening, the ice-encrusted Eagle came
to a dead stop, with everything dripping wet.
Andree wrote in his diary: "Is it not a little
strange to be floating here above the Polar Sea. To be the first that have
floated here in a balloon. How soon, I wonder, shall we have successors?
Shall we be thought mad or will our example be followed? I cannot deny
that all three of us are dominated by a feeling of pride. We think we can
well face death, having done what we have done. Isn’t it all, perhaps,
the expression of an extremely strong sense of individuality which cannot
bear the thought of living and dying like a man in the ranks, forgotten
by coming generations? Is this ambition?"
The balloon stayed motionless for 13 hours. At
10:55 the morning of July 13, the wind picked up and moved the balloon
north. The latitude was 82 degrees N.
Once again, though, the balloon dropped and began
bumping along the ice cap. Andree realized they could not continue. After
7 a.m. the morning of July 14, they landed and climbed from the balloon
at 82 degrees 56’ N, and camped on a floe of ice in a sea of drifting ice.
They unloaded and abandoned the balloon and began
trying to make headway with three sledges, 400 pounds of provisions, and
a collapsible boat. The going was highly dangerous; many more supplies
were discarded along the way; they occasionally found some Arctic animals
to shoot to extend their food supply. The ice drift on which they traveled
floated west faster than they could march toward the east. They eventually
stayed put until they came within rowing distance of an island. On Oct.
4, they landed on that island. Death came shortly thereafter; Andree’s
last diary entry was Oct. 17, the day before his 43rd birthday.
For years, it was assumed they had died from exposure
to the cold. But in 1949 a Danish doctor, Adam Tryde, read Andree’s description
of the illness they suffered and guessed the cause of death. He scraped
meat from a bearskin which had been found in Andree’s camp and had it analyzed.
The meat was infected with trichinae. They had died by eating improperly
cooked polar bear meat.
What of the balloon? Relieved of the weight of
supplies and, with varying Arctic weather conditions, it is not unreasonable
to imagine that the wind may have lifted it again and wafted it to its
final resting place, a few miles inside the inner world where another explorer,
David Innes, would find it some day.
Innes guessed incorrectly that the trio had actually
ridden the balloon to its final landing point. But the details of his find
actually jive accurately with what we would expect: He found no human remains,
no supplies – just an empty balloon, which is exactly what Andree left
*I could become a Columbus, a Magellan, a Captain
Cook, and a Balboa, all rolled into one. – David Innes, Chapter 19, "Land
"The Arctic Grail," Pierre Berton, Viking Penguin
Inc., NY, 1988
"The People’s Almanac #2," David Wallechinsky
& Irving Wallace, Bantam, NY, 1978
"Ballooning," Dick Wirth & Jerry Young, Random
House, NY, 1991
"Tanar of Pellucidar," E.R. Burroughs, Metropolitan,
Concave on Earth; Convex
In the latter half of the 19th Century, Steele's
Science, "New Descriptive Astronomy," copyright 1869 and 1884, one will
find on page 154 in the chapter on Mars, under the heading "Telescopic
Features," the simple statement, "No mountains have yet been discovered."
In 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli discovered the canals
on Mars and he is credited with finding "high" features on Mars late in
the 19th century, although a superficial search does not turn up an exact
year. It appears, though, that the discovery must have come just a few
years after Steele's Science book was published, or perhaps even before,
although -- the internet not being available in those days -- Steele simply
may not have gotten the news before his book went to press.
But there's a logical reason why Steele himself,
as well as others, may have looked through a telescope directly at -- and
yet not seen -- what came to be known as Olympus Mons, which spreads out
as widely as the state of Missouri and is three times taller than Mount
Everest. It was simply so large that one could look right at it and not
realize what they were looking at.
This is the same principle that Edgar Rice Burroughs
noted in describing the North Pole opening to Pellucidar.
In "Tarzan at the Earth's Core," Jason Gridley
explains to Tarzan that the polar opening: "...is so large that a ship,
dirigible, or an airplane could dip down into it a short distance and return
without ever being aware of the fact...."
Nowadays, of course, thanks to observation by better
telescopes and various space probes, we have done a good job of exploring
Olympus Mons and know much more of it, and its great size. It is too bad
that we are so obsessed with exploring worlds millions of miles away that
we have forgotten that we still have a world of our own which has not yet
been fully explored. For a smidgin of the amount of money spent shooting
satellites into space, we probably could have undertaken an effort that
would have adequately found and mapped the polar opening to Pellucidar
I share this observation with you in the world
of ERB only because of its interest but in no way am I advocating that
we write letters to our government requesting a search for and study of
the polar opening. For we know that, as Burroughs himself pointed out in
another of his anthropological tomes on events taking place among various
cultures on the face of our globe, that men from the civilized portions
of the upper crust, given the opportunity to explore new lands, would only
bring, along with the refining influence of civilization, "imperial conquest,
trained mercenaries and abhorrent diseases." (1)
And looking beyond Burroughs, how long would it
be before Pellucidar would be ravaged with such things as income and sales
taxes, high-cost cable TV with a poor selection of channels, and its own
NFL franchises with accompanying merchandising?
So, yes, spend the money exploring the stars and
planets. Pellucidar is well enough left alone.
(1) "The War Chief," Chapter 1