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At the dawn of the 20th Century Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of America's most prolific and successful authors. He wrote the equivalent of 91 novels, serialised in cheap pulp magazines as it was before paperback books were widely available. His escapist stories encouraged reading among those who may not otherwise have read for leisure.
One of his greatest successes was his Caspak - the Land that Time Forgot trilogy set on the fictional island/continent1 of Caspak. The Land that Time Forgot, The People that Time Forgot, and Out of Time's Abyss2 were all initially serialised in the Blue Book magazine in 1918 and published as novels in 1924.
When writing this trilogy, Burroughs was heavily influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912) as well as Jules Verne's Captain Nemo novels, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and Mysterious Island (1874). Each novel features a different narrator and follows their different adventures on the mysterious island of Caspak, which is rediscovered by the crew of the U-Boat U-33 in 1916. This series would later inspire the classic film King Kong (1933) and the first two novels would be filmed by Amicus Productions in the mid-1970s.
The Land that Time Forgot
The Land that Time Forgot begins when an unknown narrator finds a thermos flask off the shore of Greenland. Inside is a manuscript written by Bowen J Tyler, in which he relates how he discovered the island of Caspak when on the U-33.
During the Great War the German Navy, particularly its submarine fleet, attempts to blockade Great Britain by sinking any ship heading there, even if the ships are from a neutral country. The story begins on 3 June, 1916 when a German submarine attacks an unarmed American transatlantic liner and its lifeboats in the English Channel. A surviving lifeboat contains the only known survivors: Bowen J Tyler, an American whose father owned a submarine-building firm, his Airedale dog Crown Prince Nobbler usually known as Nobs, and Lys La Rue3, nationality unknown, probably English or American, who had been engaged by her family to an officer in the German Navy.
Tyler and Lys are rescued by an English tugboat, which is then promptly attacked by a submarine, the U-33. Whether this is the same submarine that had sunk the liner is never revealed. During the skirmish, the tug rams the submarine and there is a battle leaving Tyler, Lys and nine of the tug's crew in charge of the submarine. There are nine German prisoners, including the captain, Baron Friedrich von Schoenvorts, who was Lys' fiancé. During the battle, the submarine's radio is somehow destroyed.
Their attempts to sail the German submarine to an English port meet with failure as they are attacked and driven away by the Royal Navy. There are various attempts by the Germans and Allies to capture and recapture the submarine and eventually it is decided to sail to a neutral port. When the submarine runs low on supplies it is discovered that it had been deliberately taken off course by Benson, a member of the tug's crew. He reveals before dying that he sabotaged the radio, chronometer, sextant and compass and planned to maroon the crew in the middle of the ocean without food or fuel because he is a member of the IWW4 and hates Americans and Germans.
Lost at sea in the middle of nowhere without any supplies, all hope seems lost until they discover the mysterious island of Caspak, almost halfway through the first story.
The Island of Caspak
The island of Caspak is located where the South Pacific Ocean meets the Antarctic Ocean. Caspak is the remains of a giant volcano approximately 130 miles across and 180 miles north to south. The island is completely surrounded by an impenetrable cliff that is tall enough to trap hot volcanic air inside, ensuring a tropical atmosphere. The volcano's crater contains an inland sea 60 miles across and 120 miles long, which contains two islands; the northernmost is the island of Oo-oh.
The island had been first discovered in 1721 by an Italian explorer called Caproni who promptly named it Caprona after himself. Unable to land and explore the island's interior, Caproni never learned that it was called Caspak by the inhabitants. With no proof of his discovery, Caproni's claim was discredited. In 1916 the island was rediscovered by the crew of the U-33, who approached its southern shore when desperately in need of food and water.
Even though it is in the Antarctic Ocean, the island's southern side is warmer than the northern, with the further north you travel the cooler it gets. This is because the ground level at the southern side is lower and so benefits the most from the heated, heavy volcanic air but travelling north the ground level rises, making the land colder. This ensures that the cold-blooded dinosaurs that live on the island remain in the south of the island, while warm-blooded animals are found in the north, for the Land that Time Forgot has an extremely unusual ecosystem.
Creatures of Caspak
Animals from multiple times in Earth's history dwell alongside each other in Caspak. The southernmost lands are dominated by dinosaurs, namely Allosaurus, Diplodocus, brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex, alongside prehistoric reptiles such as Plesiosaurs and Pterodactyls, mixing animals from the Jurassic and Cretaceous.
Further north there are mammals including animals familiar to our own time, such as lions and tigers and cows, oh my; panthers, leopards and wolves; horses, deer and goats. There are also several now-extinct animals there too, including sabretooth tigers5 as well as Cave Bear, Cave Lion, Eohippus, Hyeanodons, Mammoths, Mastodons, Megatherium and Woolly Rhino. These are well-known prehistoric animals that have been discovered in Europe and North America. No prehistoric animal unique to the Southern Hemisphere is mentioned. Presumably the list of animals is limited to what the various narrators can identify, or which prehistoric animals Burroughs had heard of.
On the Island
The U-33 gains entry to Caspak by navigating an underground river beneath the crater cliffs that leads to the interior of the island. There the Germans and Allies agree to work together, considering the war in Europe on the other side of the planet to be irrelevant when they are constantly surrounded by dinosaurs. Tyler is in charge with tug crewmember Bradley second in command, followed by Olson and von Schoenvorts. They build a shelter they nickname Fort Dinosaur next to the lake where they moor the submarine. They also encounter a number of the island's native population, who at first glance appear to cover all the different links in the chain between the apes and modern humans. During one of these encounters Lys and Nobs disappear. Tyler sets out to rescue them.
What will happen when they discover crude oil on the island? Can it be refined and enable an escape from the Land that Time Forgot? Why is it a rule among the locals that you can never go south, only north? What is the secret of the island's inhabitants, the people that time forgot?
The People that Time Forgot
The People that Time Forgot picks up where The Land that Time Forgot left off. The unidentified narrator who discovers Tyler's manuscript takes it to Tyler's father. A rescue mission is mounted by Tom Billings, Tyler's close friend and secretary of his shipbuilding business. A ship is sent to Caspak along with a one-man aircraft. Billings flies the aircraft over the pinnacles surrounding the island. As soon as he does so, Billings is attacked by a pterodactyl and he is left stranded in the middle of the country. Seemingly to make up for the fact that no princess appears in the whole of the first novel in the trilogy6, as soon as Billings crash-lands in Caspak he encounters Ajor, daughter of Jor, Chief of the Galu.
Learning her language, Billings begins to understand the different tribal divisions of Caspak. He also learns why the 'primitive' tribes have no young and why the women spend time each day 'bathing' in dirty, life-teeming rivers full of what appear to be tadpoles, all of which flow south.
The Peoples of Caspak
Each tribe named below (except Weiroo) relates to a different stage in the evolution of humankind.
- Ho-lu – Ape-men
- Alu – Speechless-men, without tools or language
- Bo-lu - Club-men (Neanderthal)
- Sto-lu - Hatchet-men
- Band-lu - Spear-men (Cro-Magnon)
- Kro-lu - Bow-men
- Galu - Rope-men – Homo sapiens with weaving and some metalworking skills. There are two types of Galu:
- Cor-sva-jo –'From the beginning' those who have evolved through all Caspak's stages.
- Cos-ata-lo / cos-ata-lu: 'No egg woman/man'. Galu born fully human as an infant.
- Weiroo - Winged men
Between each tribe is a Coslupak or 'no man's land' unpopulated region.
Assisted by Ajor, Billings learns the secret of the People that Time Forgot. The women of all the tribes are drawn each day to a south-flowing river as they have the instinctual need to spawn, releasing thousands of tiny eggs that are swept to Caspak's southernmost end in the water. These eggs turn into tadpoles and eventually apes at Caspak's southernmost coast. Each ape gradually evolves into the next step up the evolutionary chain, moving through Alu, Bo-Lu and so on in turn, waiting for the call that signifies they can move north as they have advanced into the next stage. Galu, modern man, is the paragon of animals and pinnacle of evolution. Not every individual will advance to Galu - most become Batu ('finished') at an earlier stage. Only the Galu are able to give birth the mammalian way to infants, which is why there are no children among any of the other tribes.
Will Billings learn what happened to Tyler's terrier, Nobs? Will he be reunited with Tyler, or terrorised by a Tyrannosaurus?
Out of Time's Abyss
The final part of the trilogy is different from the first two, in that it does not involve an introduction from the narrator who may or may not be intended to be Edgar Rice Burroughs. It also is the only tale in the trilogy to be told in the third person rather than first person. It describes what happened to Bradley, one of the tug crew that accompanied Tyler to Caspak on-board the U-33, since he was last seen by Tyler.
Bradley is caught by the Weiroo7, Caspak's fearsome winged-men who are able to fly. They live in cities on the island of Oo-oh in the centre of Caspak's central lake and, unlike the Galu, have developed architecture, a written language and advanced metallurgy. It is implied that the Weiroo may be an even more evolved form of man, more advanced than the Galu, yet this advancement has come at a price: all Weiroo are born male; they do not 'come up from the beginning'.
As they cannot reproduce among themselves, the only way their race survives is by kidnapping Galu women, carrying them to their island and forcibly breeding with them. They are particularly interested in mating with women who are Cos-ata-lo ('not egg woman') as they hope that this may enable them to inherit the ability to reproduce among themselves and give birth to female Weiroo.
While you might think that having to kidnap human women to be able to breed would seriously limit their population, the obverse seems to be true: the Weiroo are the only species on Caspak to live in cities rather than small villages, and their whole society is based on murdering each other, with personal promotion and social advancement the reward.
The Weiroo are fiercely competing with the Galu for dominance of Caspak, but who will win? Will Bradley find a way to escape their savage clutches and find a beautiful woman to regularly rescue? How will he escape the inescapable prison he finds himself in? Will Bradley be reunited with Tyler, Bowen and Nobs the dog, tying up all the loose ends in the Land that Time Forgot?
The Pseudo-Science that Time Forgot
Though Burroughs was unafraid to let science get in the way of a good tale, this story was more influenced by genuine contemporary scientific theory than would at first appear. The name 'Alu' was inspired by Ernst Haeckel's speculative 'missing link' between apes and humans that he named Pithecanthropus alalu, meaning 'speechless ape-man', in Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (1868), published in English as The History of Creation in 1876 and still influential until the 1920s. Haeckel is best known for his Recapitulation Theory. He believed that higher animals' embryos, when developing, passed through stages that represent the adult forms of ancestral, lower creatures, so human embryos would develop gill slits like a fish, later a reptile-like three-chambered heart, and then a mammalian tail before becoming human. Burroughs took this idea, now disproved, and applied it to adult apes and humans, explicitly saying that the People that Time Forgot 'go through a similar process of evolution outside the womb as develops our own young within'.
Burroughs used the scientific knowledge of the day to describe the various different stages of humans. He was unaware that the 'Piltdown man' discovered in 1911, on which he based the Alu, was a forgery. Similarly the Neanderthal inspiration for the Bo-Lu was based on a Neanderthal discovered in 1908 known as 'The Old Man of La Chapelle-aux-Saints', the first fairly-complete Neanderthal skeleton found. It has since been proved that this individual was atypical, having severe arthritis, and subsequently Burroughs' depiction of a Neanderthal's bearing and posture as being very apelike is inaccurate for most members of the species.
Another key influence was Lewis Henry Morgan's Ancient Society: Or, Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization (1877), which speculated that human progress goes through seven distinct stages that match the seven types of ape/human Burroughs mentions.
The trilogy illustrates Burroughs' view of heredity, in which it is the male parent that has the greatest influence on the child. In his view the offspring of a male Weiroo and female Galu is always a Weiroo, just as in his Moon trilogy a child born to a human father and Kalkar mother remains human while a child born to a Kalkar father and Human mother is considered a Kalkar. This was before the discovery of the role of DNA in heredity. In fact, the science of genetics was in its infancy. Gregor Mendel's pioneering work on plants that led to his theory of Mendelian Inheritance in 1866 had been largely ignored until 1900 and, at the time Burroughs was writing, was still generally assumed to only apply to plants.
The Caspak trilogy is a self-contained series that demonstrates Burroughs' skills as an author. The stories show him at his best, incorporating many of the themes and scenarios he would explore again and again in later years, yet in this tale they are fresh.
Like many of his novels, the books begin with a narrator describing how he learned about the real-life events being depicted. This is usually a fictional version of Edgar Rice Burroughs; however, the narrator who discovers Tyler's manuscript in The Land that Time Forgot and participates in the rescue mission at the start of The People that Time Forgot is never identified. The unidentified narrator discovers Tyler's manuscript off the shore of Greenland almost immediately after Tyler threw it into the Antarctic Ocean. This means that the tide carried it not only to opposite hemisphere but the opposite side of the world entirely – the North Atlantic rather than North Pacific – virtually instantly.
Burroughs has his usual right-wing prejudices to the fore. Trade Unionist Benson maroons the submarine at sea and destroys everything, even attempting to make Tyler distrust Lys, without any real motive to do so other than Burroughs' dislike of trade unionists.
It is notable that Benson is deleted from the 1975 Amicus Productions adaptation of The Land That Time Forgot, amongst other changes made to streamline and simplify Burroughs' tale. Burroughs' prejudice against the Germans in the original novel is also removed by making Schoenvorts a more sympathetic character. He, like Lisa Clayton (as Lys la Rue is renamed) is an amateur scientist. Sadly Amicus Productions' last film, The People That Time Forgot (1977), was less successful; it strays widely from Burroughs' novel, the studio collapsed during production and it simply could not compete against Star Wars.8.
Most of Edgar Rice Burroughs' work is interlinked. As in The People that Time Forgot, Burroughs' later novel Tarzan at the Earth's Core (1930) involves a one-aeroplane rescue mission, only for the aircraft to be attacked and destroyed by a pterodactyl. Some fans have speculated that, as the underground land of Pellucidar has prehistoric animals and can be accessed from Earth's North and South Pole, and Caspak is near Antarctica, the prehistoric animals may have originated from there.