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Volume 6614

In Search of Time
and Stars in Pellucidar
by Alan Hanson

Part One
“This year spend your vacation down under. And I don’t mean with kangaroos. I’m talking way, way down under. Spend two weeks in timeless Pellucidar. Imagine the tan you’ll get on the beach at Amoz at the heart of the Pellucidarian Riviera. Think of the virgin powder you’ll find at the Terrible Mountains ski resorts. Remember, time doesn’t exist there, so your two weeks will probably seem like two years. Get away from all conception of time. Pellucidar beckons you.” (Prospector Tours—Tarzana and Sari)

Suppose Edgar Rice Burroughs and David Innes had seen the potential for developing Pellucidar as a tourist resort. Their partnership in such a venture might have called for David to do the on-site preparation, while Burroughs did the PR work up top. David, of course, would have had his hands full. Get rid of the Mahars, establish political stability in the region, and bring the comforts of civilization to Pellucidar. Burroughs, on the other hand, would have the job, through his writing, of selling the working-class public on the idea of vacationing in Pellucidar.

Burroughs would have known just what Pellucidarian quality he could stress that would set the region apart from and above other resort sites. Timelessness, naturally! After all, people vacation to get away from the unrelenting time clock. It would be easy to sell a vacation spot where time does not exist at all. Therefore, in revealing and detailing Pellucidar, he would stress the lure and illusion of timelessness. “And so, in Pellucidar,” Burroughs wrote in Tarzan At the Earth’s Core, “we have a timeless world which must necessarily be free from those pests who are constantly calling our attention to ‘the busy little bee’ and to the fact that ‘time is money.’ While time may be the ‘soul of this world’ and the ‘essence of contracts,’ in the beatific existence of Pellucidar it is nothing and less than nothing.”

Well, this is all imagination, of course, but the reader cannot help but notice Burroughs’ seemingly unwarranted fixation with the concept of timelessness in his Pellucidar stories. Over and over again, he tried to convince us that time does not exist there. The fact is, despite Burroughs’ efforts to disguise it, time does exist in the earth, just as it does on it.

“You see, in a world where there are no stars and no moon, and a stationary sun hangs constantly at zenith, there is no way to compute time;” Burroughs contended in Land of Terror, “and so there is no such thing as time.” Similar statements appear in all seven of the Pellucidar books. To back up this assertion, Burroughs told us that the native Pellucidarians had “practically no conception of the meaning of time.” Well, the Korsars, at least, have a very clear conception of time. In Tanar of Pellucidar we learn that “every male Korsar above the age of fifteen was free for military service, while those between ten and fifteen were virtually so.” Also, there are examples in all the Pellucidar books of natives from all corners of that world measuring the passage of time in terms of sleeps, meals, and marches. It is obvious that they understand the past and the future are different from the present.

As further evidence that time does not exist in Pellucidar, Burroughs pointed to the language common to all its people. In Tanar of Pellucidar and Back to the Stone Age respectively, Burroughs asserted that their language does not contain equivalents for the words “time” and “day.” Yet there are several examples in the series of Pellucidarians being quoted using the word “day,” and nearly 60 examples of inner-world natives using the word “time” in conversation. This does not even include a couple of dozen other uses of the word by men originally from outer earth, like Perry, Innes, and Ah-gilak, supposedly speaking the Pellucidarian language. Among other time-related words used by native inhabitants are “moment,” “minute,” and “tomorrow.” It could be argued that Burroughs was liberal in translating to English, but the word or words he so often translates as “time” must have some relation to a measurable period in which events happen or conditions exist. That is, they indicate that those who use them have some conception of time.

Although he denied it much more often, Burroughs twice openly admitted that time did exist in Pellucidar. When Tarzan, Jason, and the others were on the sea searching for Korsar near the end of Tarzan At the Earth’s Core, Burroughs observed, “But time did elapse, leagues of ocean passed beneath them and conditions changed.” In Back to the Stone Age, Burroughs confessed, “Time passed, as it must even in a timeless world.”

If it appears, then, that time actually does exist in Pellucidar, and that its natives have a firm conception of (if not a respect for) it. Let us go back to Burroughs’ contention, stated earlier, that there is no way to measure time in the inner world. In fact, in the Pellucidar books many methods are used to measure duration, some with more precision than others.

Perhaps the least precise ways to measure time are the ones that the Pellucidarians use most often. They frequently speak of duration in terms of sleeps, but for several reasons that is not a very reliable measure. “As there was nothing else to do,” Burroughs wrote in Savage Pellucidar, “they slept a great deal of the time. It is the custom of Pellucidarians. They seem to store up energy thus, so that they need less sleep afterward. Thus they prepare themselves for long journeys or arduous undertakings.” This irregularity in their sleep patterns, depending on what they do when awake, could result in one person’s three sleeps being the same duration as another’s short catnap. In addition, Pellucidarians seem to have a tendency to lose count of sleeps after just a few.

Estimating elapsed time by meals and marches is also common and just as lacking in constancy. As with sleeping, Pellucidarians eat with great irregularity, eating prodigious meals at times to store energy for those occasions when they have to go long periods without food. Counting marches can also be deceiving. Burroughs pointed out that warriors of one tribe attacking a neighboring tribe might stealthily cover the distance to the enemy village in three marches and then, fearing pursuit after the attack, hastily cover the same distance back to their own village in one march.

Counting sleeps, meals, and marches, despite their vagaries, are nevertheless very real attempts by the inhabitants of Pellucidar to measure time in their world.

The laws of nature, assuming they operate the same in Pellucidar as they do on the outer surface (and it appears they do), are used at times to measure time intervals. Von Horst in Back to the Stone Age made good use of the biological clock. As he lay in the circle of the Trodon’s paralyzed victims, Von Horst noticed that the creature’s young seemed to hatch at regular intervals. From this he estimated how much time he had to recover from the paralysis and save himself. Later, after escaping from the Gorbuses, Von Horst confirmed his feeling that the captivity was a long one by noticing that he and the other captives had put on considerable weight. Again, when Von Horst later pursued La-ja and her abductors, nature told him a story of time. He found a campfire with the embers still glowing. “They could not be far,” Burroughs concluded, “for no matter how much the timelessness of Pellucidar might deceive the mind of man it could not befuddle the laws of combustion—fire would consume wood as quickly and embers would remain hot as long here as upon the outer crust and no longer.”

All of these gave Von Horst general indications of time passage over short periods, but nature in Pellucidar also provided the means for measuring time with exactness over long periods of time. The passage of years can be counted by observing the wind direction. In Savage Pellucidar, David explained that the prevailing winds in Pellucidar generally blow from south to north or from north to south, depending on whether it is winter at the North or South Pole on the outer surface. That David did take note of this phenomenon in Pellucidar was confirmed when he observed, “at this time of year the direction of the wind seldom varies.”

However, it is through Pellucidar’s moon that nature provided a very exact method of measuring time in the inner world. David immediately saw its potential. “Here I saw a chance to give time to Pellucidar,” he explained in Pellucidar, “using this mighty clock, revolving perpetually in the heavens, to record the passage of the hours for the earth below. Here should be located an observatory, from which might be flashed by wireless to every corner of the empire the correct time once each day.” In the next book of the series, we learn that David abandoned the idea of keeping time in Pellucidar because the natives found it too restrictive. Still, it cannot be denied that Pellucidar does provide the means for measuring time, and, therefore, time does exist there.

If the native Pellucidarians have little interest in knowing the time and date, that is obviously not the case with immigrants from outer earth, like Innes and Perry. In Savage Pellucidar, when Ah-galik said he was shipwrecked on the outer surface in 1845, David on the spot calculated the old man’s age at 153 years, showing that David then knew the current year on the outer crust. Later, Perry displayed similar knowledge by stating that President William Henry Harrison died 118 years ago.

How do Innes and Perry keep track of the passage of years? They apparently have a permanent contact with the outer world via the Gridley Wave. That contact was first established between Jason Gridley in Tarzana and Abner Perry at the Imperial Observatory at Greenwich in Tanar of Pellucidar. We know the contact was continued because three books later, Land of Terror opens with David informing the reader that, “Jason Gridley got in touch with me recently by radio and told me it was The Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Thirty-Nine on the outer crust.”

David could also have kept up with the passage of time during his trips to the outer surface. That’s right—David made more than one return trip to his native world. In Land of Terror we learn that as of 1939, David and Abner had been in Pellucidar for 36 years. That means they first arrived in the inner world in the iron mole in 1903. We know David made his first trip back to the surface 10 years later, which would make it 1913. Yet, in Savage Pellucidar, David explained that he “went back to the outer crust after the Great War that ended in 1918.” There could have been other trips to the surface, although no others are mentioned specifically.

We can, then, come to a couple of conclusions concerning the concept of timelessness in Pellucidar. First, time does exist there. Second, the native Pellucidarians do understand the concept of time, even it if does not weigh as heavily in their society as in ours. Third, various means of measuring time do exist in Pellucidar for those who care to use them.

What is perhaps more important than the question of time’s existence in Pellucidar, however, are the psychological effects on the inhabitants of living in a world without alternating day and night. 

Part 2

ERB map of Pellucidar
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God?”

This passage from Emerson was used by Issac Asimov to introduce his classic short story Nightfall. The story explores the psychological trauma experienced by a populace on a planet of perpetual daylight when it finally knows a nightfall. Edgar Rice Burroughs never attempted such a dramatic experiment in Pellucidar, but he did occasionally explore the psychological effects on people who live in a world without night.

First, let’s start with the obvious. Burroughs surely would have agreed with Einstein that time is a relative thing. Two people parting at one point in time and meeting again at another point might have very different conceptions of how much time passed while they were apart. The most exaggerated example of this is in the first book of the Pellucidar series. After David Innes and Abner Perry were separated in fleeing a charging thag in the Mahar arena, David escaped the city, traveled great distances, met Ja, visited the Mezops’ island home, and observed the Mahar temple before eventually making his way back to Phutra. He thought he has been gone for months, but when he confronted Perry, the old man felt it had been only an hour since the two were parted.

This example is obviously overstated, but the point is made. If two people are to have the same conception of time during a separation, they must use the same method of measuring the duration of that interlude. David attempted to do this in Pellucidar when he instructed Juag to wait for him for a reasonable time. “I pointed to a great lake upon the surface of the pendent world above us,” explained David, “telling him that if after this lake had appeared four times I had not returned to go either by water or land to Sari.”

Also, the method of measuring time used by the separated people must mean the same to both. An example of the problem that can result occurs in Land of Terror. When David left Dian in a cave while he returned to the Jukan city in search of Zor and Kleeto, he told Dian to wait in the cave for three sleeps. If he had not returned by then, she was to make her way alone to Sari. David entered the city and later returned to the cave, apparently without sleeping at all, only to find Dian had left. She evidently had put in her three sleeps and headed for home. Physically, the time duration was the same for David and Dian; psychologically it varied greatly. Time is relative when there is no common means of measuring it.

Another interesting psychological aspect of not measuring time in Pellucidar is the effect it has on the aging process. We know, of course, that men originally from outer earth age much slower once transplanted to Pellucidar. At the opening of Land of Terror, David learned it was 1939 on the outer surface, making him 56 years old and Abner Perry 101 years old. Yet David observed, “neither Perry nor I show any physical evidence of the passage of time. I was twenty when the iron mole broke through the crust of Pellucidar, and I don’t look nor feel a great deal older now.”

We also know, however, that the aging process has merely been slowed and not stopped. Ah-gilak, an unwilling immigrant from the outer world, is evidence of that. In Savage Pellucidar, we learn that he was 40 years old when he was washed into Pellucidar after a shipwreck in 1845. David calculated his present outer-earthly age at 153 years. It is clear that in those 113 years since he came to Pellucidar Ah-gilak has physically aged beyond his 40 years spent on the outer surface. He is described as, “a little, wizened old man with a white beard that almost concealed the rest of his features. He had no teeth, and his eyes were the eyes of a very old man.”

There are a couple of points to be made about the retarded aging process of Pellucidar. First of all, it is psychologically caused and not a result of the air, the food, or any other environmental factor. Abner Perry recognized this when, in the introduction to Tanar of Pellucidar, he observed, “nor are we old because the earth has circled the sun seventy times since our birth, for we do not know that this has occurred.”

This leads to the second point, which is related to the relativity of time. The Pellucidarians do not age as fast because they do not know how fast the years are going by. One does not say, “I’m fifty now, so I had better slow down.” Rather, the Pellucidarians, particularly those transplanted from the outer earth, always feel they are younger than they really are. For example, when David returned to the outer surface for the first time, he thought one year had passed since he and Abner left, when in fact 10 years had elapsed. Also, in Land of Terror, David could scarcely believe it when he found out he had been in Pellucidar for 36 years. To David it seemed “scarcely any time at all since Abner Perry and I bored our way through the Earth’s crust to the inner world.” The point is that although a Pellucidarian may live longer in terms of outer-world years, in his own experience his lifespan seems no longer than it would to someone living up top. Time is relative to our personal experiences, and Pellucidar offers no fountain of youth, physically or psychologically.

A third psychological effect of timelessness in Pellucidar is the tendency toward being dilatory that it causes in the inhabitants. There are many examples of Pellucidarians being in no particular hurry to do something or get somewhere. In fact, they resist changes in their lifestyle that would add a degree of punctuality or efficiency to their labors. A good example is in Savage Pellucidar when Abner Perry had constructed a plant to pump water through pipes directly into the village of Sari. Rejecting this advance, “many of the women still insisted upon walking half a mile to the spring and carrying water back in gourds balanced on the tops of their heads.” Furthermore, in Tanar of Pellucidar, it’s revealed that the native Pellucidarians did not appreciate David’s efforts to measure time in their world. “They found that it put restrictions and limitations upon them that they never had felt before and the came to hate it and ignore it.”

Outer-earth men who came to Pellucidar seemed to quickly embrace the subconscious irresponsible attitude that the natives have had since birth. This is most clearly demonstrated in Tarzan At the Earth’s Core. After Tarzan became lost while hunting, he soon found his sense of responsibility toward his 0-220 shipmates submerged beneath the reverie of wandering and exploring Pellucidar. It took a concerted effort of will for him to turn his focus to finding the 0-220. 

Later, after his plane crash, another up-worlder became a victim of Pellucidar’s arrested sense of duty. “Jason Gridley found himself affected much as Tarzan had been in that the 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?”

Von Horst in Back to the Stone Age is another example of a surface immigrant who was dragged backwards to embrace the values of a primitive world. Finding himself isolated from his shipmates, Von Horst had no option but to take up Pellucidarian manners of hunting, eating, shelter, travel and so forth. However, he also often found himself thinking in terms of the Stone Age. He took human life with less compunction that he would have in civilization. Near the end of the story he determined to take La-ja by force and remove Gaz, his rival for her, by murder. “He realized that he had changed,” observed Burroughs, “that he was not the same man who had entered the inner world … Environment had metamorphosed him — savage Pellucidar had claimed him as her own.”

In closing this review of the psychological effects of timelessness in Pellucidar, let’s give Edgar Rice Burroughs the last word. The following passage is perhaps the most eloquent of the numerous statements to be found on the subject in the Pellucidar series.

“The long, Pellucidarian day dragged on … It was the same day and hour that this world was born, the same day and hour that would see its death—the eternal day, the eternal hour, the eternal minute of Pellucidar.”

—the end—

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1. At the Earth's Core
2. Pellucidar
3. Tanar of Pellucidar
4. Tarzan at the Earth's Core
5. Back to the Stone Age
6. Land of Terror
7. Savage Pellucidar

Guide to the Alan Hanson Appearances in ERBzine

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