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“A Romp In Merry Old Pellucidar”
This “novel” consists of four short novelettes linked together:
The Return to Pellucidar was written in September 1940.
Men of the Bronze Age was written in October 1940.
Tiger Girl was written November 1940
Savage Pellucidar was written October 1944.
According to Porges, “Burroughs’ remarkable writing discipline and the flexibility of his imagination were illustrated in his shifts between three fantasy worlds, leaving one series incomplete while turning to another or working on two series at the same time.” (658)
Here is the writing schedule Porges presents.
Captured on Venus (May 4-July 20, 1940)
Frozen Men of Mars (Llana of Gathol) (July 24-September 6, 1940)
*** The Return to Pellucidar (September,7-15 1940) “Hodon and O-aa”
The Fire Goddess (Escape on Venus) September 16-24, 1940
*** Men of the Bronze Age( October 6-13)
The Living Dead (Escape on Venus) October 15-22
Escape on Mars (Llana of Gathol) (October 24-30)
Beyond the Farthest Star, October 24-November 5
*** Tiger Girl was written November 6-10, 1940
War on Venus (Escape on Venus) November 12-16, 1940
So, Savage Pellucidar’s first three stories were written in the middle of Llana of Gathol, Escape on Venus, and Beyond the Farthest Star. This may indeed seem rather complicated, yet it is a common practice when an artist is thoroughly familiar with his subjects. Beethoven worked just this way on multiple projects. The interesting fact is that as far as I know, no one has checked to see the common thematic links between these stories. Beethoven used common themes and motifs when working on multiple projects, and I expect that ERB did as well. It is great fun to notice these themes playing in their variety of incarnations in separate works. It is more than seeing his well-worn formulas at play here, but actual character links may be apparent once these works are carefully studied. I hope to do this thematic linking when I have finished reading all of ERB’s late works.
I believe that ERB’s late work is very complicated and intertwines in new, very creative ways that raises these tales to new heights of literary inventiveness. Although they may seem to be slight efforts on the surface, they may well be some of ERB’s greatest accomplishments. The comedic playfulness that underlies these tales reveals a creative mind that was able to forge a new perspective upon his 30 or more years of literary efforts.
ERB’s work was not falling off, but rather it was redefinition and reflection upon the whole of his magnificently large opus.
Rather than dying away, ERB circled around his own characters and caught them in the act of being themselves.
Thus, his long, long series of series became a familiar home that he could relax into and bounce on his knee like his grandchildren. These final acts of his famous characters were not mere puppet shows but very human romps in the worlds of fantasy he had made come alive for millions of people throughout the world.
Part I: The Return to Pellucidar1
Abner Perry builds an aeroplane that David Innes tries to fly, but it blows up before it can leave the ground.
An Emperor of Pellucidar, David decides to go to Fash, the King of Suvi to remove him from the throne since he had once captured his mate, Dian the Beautiful. David sails the EPS Sari to Amoz where he picks up 50 warriors to join his own 50. Next they start on foot to Kali. David sends Hodon, the Fleet One, ahead to let Oose, King of Kali know they are coming. When Hodon arrives he is tricked into delivering his message to Fash, who has already taken over the caves of Kali. (These “cities” are all really cave man villages.) Hodon us captured and put in a cave with Oose, the real King of Kali and 50 of his own warriors. The false messenger tells David to come to Kali, planning to ambush him on the way. Hodon escapes by a ruse.
Perry makes a natural gas balloon to ascend into the sky. Hodon runs to tell David of a possible ambush and comes upon O-aa, daughter of Oosa. (these are really Cro-Magnons with the sensibilities of medieval courtiers.) They run together to find David. O-aa talks a lot, especially about her strong brother who will teach Hodon a thing or two (because he does not treat her like the daughter of a King) and about her beautiful sister. Ghak the Hairy One, King of Sari embarks with a 1000 warriors on 2 ships to aid David’s war. The ships carry 8 cannons each, which may or may not work. David’s men are tricked and captured by the Suvians. Hodon and O-aa arrive in time to observe this event. Fash tells David he is now Emperor of Pellucidar and punches him to the ground.
Hodon returns to the caves of Kali with a plan to rescue David. David is placed in the same high cave Hodon escaped from. Hodon goes back and kisses O-aa, and she cuts him with her stone knife.
Hodon and O-aa help David and the Kalians escape by throwing rocks on the heads of the guards and lowering lianas for them to climb. Oose, O-aa’s father, wants her to marry a Neanderthal type named Blug. Hodon fights Blug and punches him down. O-aa runs away into the forest, and Oose and Blug follow while David and Hodon remain to free his Sarians. David and Hodon finally have to flee as well.
Hodon makes spears while David makes a bow and arrows. Hodon saves O-aa from a Ta-ho, a cave lion, and O-aa disappears. Hodon follow her; he feels angry she has left him and almost wants to kill her. She wants him to kill Blug and he is beginning to think she is not worth having as a mate. They are being watched by 6 strange looking creatures.
This is a very long chapter with closely following fugal themes. Perry’s test with rocks in the basket of his balloon is a success, so Dian goes up despite his misgivings. She is very high at the end of the rope that holds the balloon fastened to the ground. Hodon and O-aa are captured by sabertooth men -- they are black with long, prehensile tails with practically no head above the brows. Their tusks curve down from their mouths. They are cannibals. (Hodon and O-aa continue bickering at each other during their capture.) They are taken to the sabertooth men’s cave, a volcanic tube. Dian goes higher and higher in the balloon until suddenly Perry screams. David worries when Hodon does not return. He follows his trail and discovers they have been captured by the sabertooth men. He ascends the volcano. In the volcano crater, Hodon and O-aa meet a little old man with a white beard and a Cape Cod accent. He has been a prisoner in this “Hell” since he was a young man. He is the sole survivor of the arctic whaling ship, the “Dolly Dorcas,” that has sailed through a polar opening into Pellucidar. He is a cannibal who has eaten his entire crew and has had thoughts of eating his own leg. Perry did not fasten the rope to the drum, so Dian sails away. David finds Hodon and O-aa in the crater of the volcano. (The thematic story threads now come one paragraph after another!) Hodon suggests an escape to the old man. David creates a diversion with smoke, and Hodon, O-aa, and the old man easily climb the volcano to meet him. In the balloon Dian is getting cold and hungry. David and his escaping friends are followed by the sabertooth men. He holds them off with bow and arrows until they reach a cave. The old man wants to eat O-aa right away. Very humorous dialogue follows. When they really run out of food this “Dolly Dorcas” tries to kill O-aa, and Hodon wants to kill him, so he runs out of the cave screaming. The sabertooths let him run through their mob into the forest.Ghak arrives at Kali with his 1000 men. He beats the Suvians and frees the Sarian prisoners. The old man who claims he is "not Dolly Dorcas” runs into camp. He tells Ghak about Hodon and David’s plight. Hodon has saved half of his food for O-aa, and she has saved half of her food for him. They kiss. She confesses she has no brother or sister. Ghak comes and rescues them all.
E S S A Y
With Savage Pellucidar we have one of ERB’s funniest parodies of his own work to date. It’s a brilliant piece of writing that pokes fun at many of his own famous themes, yet it’s handled in a straight forward way so that many of his jokes became a mystery to his publishers and fans alike.
It is such a clever parody that one is forced to read it over and over again to see all of the permutations and juxtapositions he embedded in the story. It is like one of his famous mystery puzzles that make us take out our pencils to keep track of where everything is going.
Hodon and O-aa
The working title of this story was “Hodon and O-aa.” Burroughs intended it to be one of his typical stone-age love stories, and it is all of that in spades. Hodon even mentions the fact that the ususal method of getting a mate is to club her over the head and drag her by the hair into his cave. As in every Burroughsian love affair, the boy does not understand the girl, and she leads him on until the very end, when he finally does get a kiss without being slashed by her knife.
Here is a brief retelling of their love story:
A cave man joins the advance force of a fleet of ships sailed by other cave men who have been convinced they are in Homer’s Iliad by a man who thinks he is the Emperor living at the center of the earth. Being a cave man, he goes along with the joke, but ends up being captured and put in a cave by other cave men. Not liking this particular cave he escapes.
Next the cave man happens upon a lovely cave girl. Together, they run through their primitive world to warn other cave men who are arriving on ships filled with cannons about a possible ambush. They are too late! Their Emperor is captured.
The cave man kisses the cave girl, and she slashes him with a stone knife.
The cave man and the cave girl throw rocks on other cave men and rescue their Emperor. The cave girl’s father wants her to marry an Neanderthal, which seems reasonable to everyone except the girl. The heroic cave man who really loves the girl who has slashed him fights the Neanderthal and wins, but the girl runs away. Then they all run away from the cave men who object to being attacked by pre-Adamic Homeric heroes.
The cave man and the cave girl are captured by men who look and act like sabertooth tigers. They escape with an old man who is a cannibal. The old man wants to eat everyone, but the cave men heroes from the ships arrive at the nick of time. The cave man and the cave girl kiss.
The man who is “not Dolly Dorcas” is the comic incarnation of the long-time prisoners that ERB sometimes places at the center of his labyrinths. Unlike David, he shows all the signs of his great age, which is very old indeed since his Cape Cod whaling ship was wrecked in the Arctic in 1845. To him Pellucidar is a Hell, for unlike the typical Burroughsian hero, he lives without hope, so he has never tried to escape.
He is a confirmed cannibal who has eaten all of his shipmates and has once even considered eating one of his own legs. Dolly Dorcas is the comic image of all of the cannibals ERB has sprinkled throughout his stories over the years, and at the furthest reach he is even a mocking image of the old author himself, a crazy old man who is eating up his heroic characters and lovely heroines before they can sally forth into the breech once more my friends.
He is the old salt who has lost his savor, but his nastiness is wholly comic. When he runs out of the cave, even his eternal captors stand aside in amazement. They make a path for madness as he passes through their ranks, a sacred sacrifice to an insanity that dwells at the core of the earth.
This unhinged no-man who cries he is “not Dolly Dorcas” is a Ulysses who never escaped from the cave of Polyphemus. He has twisted the heroic myth into a broad joke worthy of an Aristophanes. We are not moved to pity or terror at his antics but laugh along with the author as he tries in vain to end the story by an eating of the protagonists. We too stand in amazement at his gigantic audacity. He is memorable because he is one of ERB’s rarities, a comic villain who cannot bear the weight of hatred or scorn.
Somehow we are put-off by ERB’s comic transformations. This master of heroic fantasy should not be mucking around these regions of dark comedy when he has spent so many years building the kingdoms of faith and light. Of course, Burroughs has always lightened his writing with flashes of comedy, but here the lightning bolt has become grounded in a character larger than his whole world. The old cannibal threatens to devour the myth itself, and all we can do is laugh at his splendid effrontery.