Most of the action takes place in Pellucidar, Earth's inner world, which is a vast place with oceans and continents of its own. In this strange realm, Burroughs has unleashed his imagination to run free of the natural restrictions of Earthly lands such as Africa, where the setting, conditions, and creatures need to conform to what is known about the country. Burroughs makes excellent use of this imaginative freedom to populate Pellucidar with fantastic denizens—devising new species of intelligent beings, mixing prehistoric animals with creatures of his own invention, and conjuring up exotic locales to suit the needs of his plot. For instance, when David and Dian need some time together to forge their bonds of love, nearly impassable mountains appear where they can live together isolated from the events of the rest of the world.
The "buried city of Phutra" is a fine creation inhabited by slaves, guards, and the Mahars, winged reptilian beings. The open spaces, the streets, and the interiors of buildings are well described, creating the impression of a very ancient city built to meet the demands of its masters. The temple where the queen and other Mahars feed on humans is suitably primitive yet impressive, built out of rock, with a mysterious interior. The outdoor scenes may not be quite as richly developed as the indoor ones, but the vast plains of Pellucidar teem with wildlife and make excellent terrain for battles, and the mountain home of David and...
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At the Earth's Core is quintessential Edgar Rice Burroughs—it is a magnificent daydream in which the imagination is allowed to create great wonders and to shape cultures into forms that are pleasing to the eye and the libido. As is always the case with Burroughs at his best, the descriptions are sharp and evoke the otherworldliness of the landscape:
Had I still retained the suspicion that we were on Earth, the sight that met my eyes would quite entirely have banished it. Emerging from the forest was a colossal beast which closely resembled a bear. It was fully as large as the largest elephant and with great forepaws armed with huge claws. Its nose, or snout, depended nearly a foot below its lower jaw, much after the manner of a rudimentary trunk. The giant body was covered by a coat of thick, shaggy hair.
Roaring horribly it came toward us at a ponderous, shuffling trot.
Burroughs uses his descriptive skills to conjure up animals and beings that captivate with their strangeness, and he uses them to transport his audience to another world that has its own rules, one full of surprises and thrills.
The structure of At the Earth's Core, is a sophisticated one that reflects Burroughs's literary skills. He uses a frame narrative to set up the main narrative. The frame consists of the first-person voice of an English adventurer who met David Innes in the Sahara; the frame...
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Typical of an Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy adventure, nudity abounds in At the Earth's Core, with women and men stripped to the waist. Shapely, athletic men and women in scanty attire is common in sword-and-sorcery adventures, and young adults who have read Burroughs's other novels or those of authors such as Robert E. Howard or L. Sprague de Camp are likely to be familiar with the customary bare-breasted women. The graceful sensuality of Dian and others is never the focus of the story but is instead just part of the setting—an essential feature of the background that makes Pellucidar an exotic, exciting place for heroic adventure.
Perhaps more worrisome are the scenes of torture and brutality, although they always promote one or more of the chief ideas of the novel. The vivisection scene in which Mahars dissect conscious human beings reflects an issue that was very controversial in Burroughs's day and remains highly contentious even now scientific experimentation on living animals. Burroughs's views on this subject matter could not be clearer he has the hypocritical, vicious Mahars experimenting on the noble, beautiful humans who are innocent victims of ultimately pointless experiments. Other scenes are the stuff of nightmares, as when a sentient but helpless woman is slowly eaten alive by the Mahars. The description may give sensitive readers pause. The intent of the scene is to show that the Mahars are grossly depraved, so vile that they even...
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Topics for Discussion
1. What is the purpose of the scene of a woman being eaten alive?
2. Why is David surprised that ten years had passed while he was in Pellucidar?
3. Why do the Mahars not believe David's account of the surface of the Earth?
4. Why do the humans not overthrow the rule of the Mahars?
5. What are the different intelligent species in Pellucidar? What are their roles in the societies of Pellucidar?
6. Will the humans of Pellucidar build a free society without David? Will the Mahars eventually win?
7. According to David, what qualities do Pellucidar's humans have that make them superior to the humans who live on the outer Earth surface? Do you agree with David that the humans of Pellucidar are superior?
8. How valuable is Perry's scientific knowledge in Pellucidar? Could his knowledge be valuable in real-life adventures? Would you be able to apply the science you have learned in real life to your survival if you were in Pellucidar?
9. One reason that Burroughs ends At the Earth's Core the way he does is that he needs David to return to the surface of the Earth to tell his story. What other reasons would he have for creating an enigmatic ending?
10. Why do David and Dian not live in the mountains, raise a family, be happy, and ignore the rest of Pellucidar?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Who was John Cleves Symmes? What was his hollow-Earth theory?
2. Write a history of the belief that the Earth is hollow, ending with modern advocates of that view. You might begin with Edmund Halley, the English astronomer, who in 1692 proposed that the Earth was hollow with a sun at its center.
3. What do most scientists say is actually beneath the surface of the Earth and at the Earth's core? What evidence do they cite to support their views? You may wish to make and include a diagram that illustrates the different geological layers which scientists say lie beneath the surface of our planet.
4. Pellucidar is a vast world, almost equal to the outer Earth in size, allowing for the invention of many different cultures and settings. Write a story that takes place in Pellucidar. Try your hand at making your own hero, telling how he or she copes with the many dangers of Pellucidar.
5. Compare Tarzan at the Earth's Core to At the Earth's Core. Which is the better novel? How successful is Burroughs at integrating Tarzan into the Pellucidar series?
6. Compare At the Earth's Core to Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864). What traits do the novels have in common? Which is more scientific? In what ways? Which is more entertaining? Why?
7. Pellucidar exists without the contrasts of night and day and other signs of the passage of time. What does scientific...
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David Innes never became the popular character that Tarzan and John Carter (of Mars) did, perhaps because he was too bland; but Pellucidar became a popular setting, and Burroughs wrote a short (for him) series of novels in which the action takes place on Earth's inner world. Even Tarzan makes an appearance (Tarzan at the Earth's Core, 1930), showing off what a real action hero can do to Pellucidar's villains. Crucial to the success of the books is that Pellucidar remains a wonderful world for daydreams, where any reader could become a brave hero or heroine who wins the love of a beautiful or handsome, semi-clad princess or prince.
A British motion picture At the Earth's Core was released in 1976. Its producers were Max J. Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky, and John Dark, and it was directed by Kevin Connor. Doug McClure stars as David Innes, with Peter Cushing as Dr. Abner Perry. McClure is too old for the part—in the novel, David Innes begins his adventure when nineteen or twenty years old—but he may be the best part of the picture, playing a dashing, redoubtable hero. Cushing's polished performance also adds to the motion picture's appeal. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the picture verges on the amateurish. Only one special effect succeeds for a moment in creating the illusion of being in another world—the view of the city of the Mahars as seen from a cliff-side trail. Otherwise, the...
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For Further Reference
Aldiss, Brian W. "From Barsoom to Beyond the Borderlands: Swords, Sorceries and Zitidars." In Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. New York: Avon Books, 1986 (2d ed.), pp. 155-173. Aldiss summarizes the contribution of Burroughs to science fiction and tries to explain why his work is science fiction yet is not science fiction. Accompanied by photographs of Burroughs.
Beetz, Kirk H. "Edgar Rice Burroughs." In Research Guide to Biography and Criticism. Vol. V. Edited by Walton Beacham, et al. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, 1991, pp. 108-114. Discusses the biographical and critical resources for researching Burroughs and his work.
Farmer, Philip Jose. "Burroughs, Edgar Rice." In 20th-century American Literature. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980, pp. 113-115. (Great Writers Student Library.) A bibliography of Burroughs's books along with a short critical introduction to the major themes of his work.
Gunn, James. Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction. [New York]: A & W Visual Library, 1975, pp. 107-113. Discusses the successful career of Burroughs. Well illustrated with photographs.
Lupoff, Richard A. Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure. New York: Ace, 1968. Provides information on Burroughs's sources and evaluations of his books.
Porges, Irwin. Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. Provo, UT:...
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