Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The protagonist of At the Earth's Core, David Innes, spends ten years of his life, beginning at age nineteen or twenty, in Pellucidar. He is a serious man with a noble heart who had been diligently working in his late father's firm as a faithful son who wished to fulfill his beloved father's wishes for him. Even though heroic, he is quite bland, without much sense of humor or passions beyond his love for Dian. This is typical of heroes of escapist fiction; authors often make such heroes indistinct, with few individualized characteristics so that their readers may imagine themselves as the hero and attribute their own personalities to him.

If David is bland, the characters around him are not. Perry, inventor of the machine that drills from the surface world into Pellucidar, is eccentric and full of ideas. Prone to wander into trouble, he needs David to keep him out of harm's way. His quick mind and experience as an engineer enable him to create devices like bows and arrows that can help the pair survive. Perry's sheer enthusiasm for all that he sees adds much to the comic relief of At the Earth's Core.

On the other hand, a novel by Burroughs would be incomplete without a romantic interest to motivate the hero, making Dian at least as important as Perry. According to David, Pellucidar humans are usually well built, with the men and women strong and beautiful; they are also nearly always naked save for loin clothes. David has a multitude of lovely young women to attract his eye, but being a novel of high adventure, he accidentally binds himself to Dian, a princess, by gallantly protecting her. This causes her humiliation, because she must submit to David—a matter which David, somewhat dense about women, is at first unaware. The two spend much of the novel at arm's length, each unsure of the other, with Dian being aloof and irritable with him. This pattern should be a familiar one to readers, and its outcome is to be expected: The two eventually declare their love for each other. Although the pattern may be familiar, the love affair is played out in extraordinary...

(The entire section is 861 words.)