The Caspak Trilogy that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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At the dawn of the 20th Century Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of America's most prolific and successful novelist. He wrote the equivalent of 91 novels, published serialised in cheap pulp magazines as it was before paperback books were widely available and 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, also called Caprona. This consists of three novellas, The Land that Time Forgot, The People that Time Forgot, and Out of Time's Abyss2, all initially serialised in the Blue Book magazine in 1918 and later 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). Unusually, 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 would be filmed by Amicus Productions in the mid-1970s.

The Land that Time Forgot (1918, 1924)

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.

The U-33

During the Great War the German Navy, particularly its submarine fleet, attempts to blockade Great Britain by sinking any ship heading to the United Kingdom, 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 in the English Channel as well as the ship's lifeboats. 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 tug, 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 - Benson, Bradley, Brady, James, Olson, Sinclair, Tippet, Whitely and Wilson - in charge of the submarine. There are nine German prisoners, including the captain, Baron Friedrich von Schoenvorts4, 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. 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 IWW5 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 exterior of the island is completely surrounded by an impenetrable cliff that is tall enough to trap hot volcanic air inside, ensuring a tropical atmosphere. The middle of the crater is 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 learnt 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 and Tyrannosaurus rex alongside prehistoric reptiles such as Plesiosaurs and Pterodactyls, mixing animals from the Jurassic and Cretaceous.

Further north where the temperatures are cooler 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 extinct animals there too, particularly sabretooth tigers6 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, however 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 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 man. During one of these encounters Lys and Nobs disappear, with Tyler setting 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 (1918, 1924)

The People that Time Forgot picks off where The Land that Time Forgot left off. The unidentified narrator who discovers Tyler's manuscript takes it to Tyler's father, with a rescue mission mounted by Tom Billings who is Tyler's close friend and secretary of his shipbuilding business. A ship is sent to Caspak along with a one-man aircraft. Billings flies this 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 trilogy7, as soon as Billings crash-lands in Caspak he encounters Ajor, daughter of Jor, Chief of the Galu.

Learning the language of Caspak, 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

Billings learns the tribal divisions of Caspak, with each tribe named below (except Weiroo) relating to a different stage in the evolution of mankind.

  • 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.

    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 beautiful princess 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 into the water that are swept to Caspak's southernmost end. These eggs turn into tadpoles and eventually apes at Caspak's southernmost coast. From apes, each individual gradually evolves into the next step up the evolutionary chain, heading north each time, 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 until they eventually become Galu, modern man, the paragon of animals and pinnacle of evolution. Not every individual will advance to Galu, with most becoming Batu or 'finished' at an earlier stage, from which they are unable to ascend further up the evolutionary chain. 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 (1918, 1924)

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 Weiroo8, 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 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 and the Weiroo are the only species on Caspak to live in cities rather than small villages. Their whole society is based on murdering each other, with personal promotion and social advancement based on the number of Weiroo each individual has murdered.

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 scientific theory of the day than would at first appear. The name 'Alu' was inspired by Ernst Haeckel's speculative 'missing link' between ape and man 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 pass through stages that represent the adult forms of ancestral, lower creatures, so human embryos develop gill slits like a fish, later a reptile-like three-chambered heart, and a mammalian tail before becoming human. Burroughs took this idea, now disproved, further 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 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). In this he speculated that human progress goes through seven distinct stages that match the seven types of ape/human Burroughs mentions.

The trilogy again shows 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 Johann 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, with scientists experimenting to establish if it also affected insects.


The Caspak trilogy are a self-contained series that demonstrates Burroughs' skills as an author. They also 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 learnt 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 so it is never confirmed whether it was intended to be Burroughs' fictional persona who appears in many of his novels. 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 Bowen distrust Lys, without any real motive to do so other than Burroughs' umbrage at trade unionists.

It is notable that Benson is deleted from the highly enjoyable 1975 Amicus Productions adaptation of The Land That Time Forgot starring Doug McClure, which made other changes to successfully streamline and simplify Burroughs' tale. Other changes removed Burroughs' prejudice against the Germans in the original novel 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.9.

Some fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs have speculated that as most of his work is interlinked, Caspak must be too. His underground land of Pellucidar has prehistoric animals and can be accessed from the North and South Pole. Caspak is near Antarctica so the prehistoric animals may have originated from there. Pellucidar too is inhabited by many of the same prehistoric creatures as Caspak, including sabretooth tigers, pterodactyls, hyaenodon, brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex. Like The People that Time Forgot Burroughs' later Pellucidar novel Tarzan at the Earth's Core (1930) involves a one aeroplane rescue mission, only for it to be attacked and destroyed by a pterodactyl.

1Burroughs uses both 'continent' and 'island' interchangeably to describe Caspak.2Presumably he forgot to call it The Abyss that Time Forgot.3No known relation of the 20th Century Britain's most adored female impersonator, Danny La Rue. Notably Lys La Rue is the only character to have their surname changed in the Amicus film adaptation.4The other Germans named are Dietz, Heinz, Hindle, Klatz, Plesser, Schwartz and Schwerke.5The Industrial Workers of the World is a socialist American trade union founded in 1905 that believes in the abolition of the wage system rather than using competing and differing Trades Union to wage wage wars in order to raise wages for all.6Although Burroughs always refers to it as a 'sabretooth tiger' technically the smilodon was not actually a tiger but a cat, just as a killer whale is not a whale and a koala bear is not a bear.7Author Edgar Rice Burroughs had princesses as the heroine/love interest in many of his novels.8Sounds painful...9A film heavily inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels, among other sources.

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