Land of Terror
Series: Pellucidar 6
Reviewed date: 2019 Dec 7
I thought Back to the Stone Age was the first Burroughs book I read, but I remember clearly the discussion between David and U-Val about the Bandar Az and its names. So I guess Land of Terror is my first Burroughs adventure.
It's a dismal book.
In form it resembles a typical Burroughs adventure, but it hits all the wrong notes. Burroughs sets up the typical scenarios--a hero captured by bad guys who have a strange and different society--but then the plot loses steam. On several occasions, the hero David simply walks away from captivity while his captors are distracted. That's no fun. We want to see a duel, a clash of wills, or a fight in the arena. We want to see the hero spark upheaval and change in the society. We want him to find loyal friends and to help depose cruel tyrants. But in Land of Terror, David just walks away.
In the Oog story, David escapes from captivity and slavery by simply walking away. When the women are distracted fighting an attacking force, David just slips away. David also just walks away from the Jukans, and from the giant ants.
It's lazy writing and boring story.
(Burroughs also used this lazy plot device in Back to the Stone Age, when von Horst and company just walk away from Gorbuses.)
Disturbing and Gruesome
Worse, Burroughs shows the gruesome and horrifying side of Pellucidar. What we really want is a romanticized version of the primeval, savage world. But this time, what we get is just sickening.
Disposing of the body
In chapter 9, David kills a bad guy (much deserved), and then opines how much more satisfying it is to mete out justice by one's own hand than to call the police. Then there's a long sequence where David and his friends dispose of the body by burying it in a shallow grave in their sleeping quarters, and David grumbles about how heavy and inconvenient dead people are to carry.
It's a truly unpleasant passage. Normally the romanticized savagery of Burroughs skips over the unsettling bits like disposing of bodies, but this time Burroughs seems determined to make us uneasy.
In another genuinely disturbing passage, David sees a woman murdering her little boy, and he doesn't prevent it. As he's led away, he hears the boy's screams. Child murder is not what I want to hear about in a Burroughs novel. Attempted child murder, prevented by the hero, maybe. Our hero listening to the screams of a boy getting his throat cut? No.
David comes across a tribe called the Jukans. The Jukans are all insane, which could be the foundation for a grand adventure in a truly intriguing little civilization, but Burroughs just uses it as a lazy plot device. When he writes himself into a tight spot, say for example when David disguises himself and sneaks into the city but is about to be revealed as an imposter, instead of finding a clever way out, Burroughs just has someone fall down into a grand mal seizure.
"Here, Bruma," he cried, "is a—"
That was as far as he got. Suddenly he stiffened, his eyes rolled up and set, and he pitched forward to the floor at Bruma's feet, in the throes of an epileptic fit. As he lay there, jerking spasmodically and frothing at the mouth, Bruma looked inquiringly at me.
This seizure comes out of nowhere. And what do seizures have to do with insanity? No other Jukans have seizures. Just this characters, and only once, when the plot demands it.
Yeah. Woo hoo. David Innes sure is lucky. If there’s anything I like, it’s a story about a hero who never has to actually do anything because he’s so incredibly lucky. To his credit, Burroughs knows how awful this story is, and hangs a lantern on it.
Here I was, in a palace from which I could not find my way without a guide, surrounded by maniacs, all of whom were potential enemies … I realized that I had over- estimated both my luck and my cunning.
And underestimated authorial laziness.
Moko [staggered] forward into the room. He looked like a cadaver temporarily endowed with the power of locomotion. … So I hadn't killed Moko, after all; and now, by an ironical trick of Fate, he had come back, perhaps to save me.
Are you kidding me!? A dead character stumbles on stage to get David out of a tough spot? A character who David killed days ago, and whose dead body he dragged into a secret passageway and hid. No way. No way.
It's a crummy book.