Mahars of Pellucidar

by John Eric Holmes
Series: Pellucidar authorized
Reviewed date: 2022 May 7
Rating: 2
218 pages
cover art

Fan Fiction
Mahars of Pellucidar was authorized by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. It feels like a piece of fan fiction. Well-edited, to be sure, because there are almost no typos and the sentences are well-constructed. However there are still some rough transitions. In particular, Chris's introduction to the Mahar scientists (Mike and Zed) is never shown; in chapter 7 he is abruptly being led inside the Mahar laboratory by "my two giant pterodactyls", with no explanation as to how he got there, who the "pterodactyls" are, or why he refers to them as his. We can surmise what happened, but it's sloppy writing that should have been fixed.

The Plot
The plot is single-threaded. It follows Chris and his experiences. It does not feature various groups marching through the jungle like many of ERB's Tarzan books. So it's much simpler to follow.

The Prose
This is not ERB's prose. The plot points are there, but the charm of ERB's window into the primeval savagery of the jungle is not. The battles are perfunctory (except for Chapter XIII. The action sequence in that chapter is fantastic.)

The Romance
The romance is missing. Varna becomes Chris's mate by default. There's no wooing, no moment of falling in love. He sees a pretty girl, rescues her, she leads him to her people, and the next thing you know they're mated. We don't even meet her father. In fact, we know almost nothing about her. She has zero character.

The Creatures
There is no panoply of new creatures. We meet a tarag, a giant sloth, thipdars, and Mahars. The only unique creature Holmes introduces is the tentacled river monster.

Besides that, there is the issue of naming. Chris refers to most of the creatures by their English name--Tyrannosaurus, stegosaurus, triceratops, brontosaurus. OK. But when he does use a Pellucidarian name, it's often wrong. The Tyrannosaurus he calls a dryath. The proper spelling is dyryth, but even then it's wrong: a dyryth is a giant tusked sloth. A Tyrannosaurus Rex in Pellucidar is properly called a zarith.

Another mistake: Chris calls a mammoth a tantor. It should be a tandor. Tantor is what Tarzan calls an elephant.

He refers in passing to a gryf. That's a triceratops from Pal-ul-don, not from Pellucidar.

Chris refers to the lidi as brontosauruses, while other Pellucidar books call them diplodocus, but I suppose that's not exactly wrong; the Pelludidarian species may not correspond directly to the dinosaurs of the outer crust. Similarly, he calls the thipdars pterodactyls, when other Pellucidar books refer to them as giant pteranodons. Again, perhaps thipdars are not quite one or the other.

The Characters
The characters are there but Holmes doesn't use them properly. Chris never had to compete for Varna’s love. The antagonist Gash is there, but after the first escape attempt from Phuma, Gash is forgotten and although he is present and a member of the group, he is hardly mentioned in favor of new characters (Mooh-lah and Elkar). This is a trend throughout the book: characters drop in and out of the plot with frequency. For example, when Chris and Varna first arrive in Phuma, they meet Elak, Tarmash, and Amrock, who help them plot a means of escape. But when the escape happens it is only Chris, Varna, and Gash; the others are never mentioned again. Elak should have become Chris's sidekick and confidant, but Holmes doesn’t seem to recognize that opportunity.

Zed seems to appear and disappear as the needs of the plot require. Chris mentions that the Mahar needs no sleep, so why was Zed not on watch when Gash kidnapped Varna or when the Sagoths attacked? Zed seems to fly off to be alone whenever the plot demands.

Describing Pellucidar
The narrator doesn't explain Pellucidar. I don't want chapters and chapters of explanation, but the idea of a world inside of a hollow earth is novel to the characters in the story, and it is introduced without comment. THERE SHOULD BE A COMMENT. This story only makes sense to readers who are familiar with Pellucidar, but I still would like a page or two about Chris coming to terms with the nature of the interior world. Show him react to the hollow earth. Show him react with surprise to the lack of nighttime.

Dr. Moritz (Doc) - co-creator of the matter transmitter
Dr. Kingsley (Tiny) - co-creator of the matter transmitter
Dr. Holmes - Narrator/author
Christopher West, aka Chris-No-hajdak (Red Axe) - protagonist
Tanak-Ah - God of the Had-bar
Gash the Mighty
Hooka the Swift
Maka the Brave
The Twelves - Mahar bigwigs
Great Ones
Elak - gilak from Phuma
Tarmash - gilak
Amrock - gilak
Mike, aka Twelve Twenty Two Mike - Mahar scientist
Zed - Mahar scientist
Specs - Mahar technician
Ug-Lak - Sagoth?
Akar - ?
Elkar - gilak from Phuma
Mooh-lah - tailed monkey-man

Mountains of Rains
Had-bar - village of the Had-bar tribe
plain of Phuma
Phuma - subterranean city of the Mahars

tarag - sabre-toothed tiger
thipdar - giant pterodactyl
Mahars - intelligent winged race of Pellucidar
Sagoths - gorilla-men servants of the Mahars
gilaks - humans of Pellucidar
tantor - misnamed mammoth
shovel-toothed pseudo-mastodon
dryath (sometimes spelled dyryth) - misnamed Tyrannosaurus Rex
gryf - misnamed triceratops
lidi - brontosaurus
water-dryths - presumably an aquatic (misnamed) tyrannosaur
small pterodactyls

Matter transmitter
Mohole project
Had-bar - tribe of Gash
Val-an - tribe of Varna

I. Beneath the Earth’s Crust
Chris West goes to see the work of Drs. Moritz and Kingsley. They have used their matter transmitter to send a probe deep into the earth’s crust, where they have found a cavern. They watch the video feed from the remote control unit and see a human being.

II. Down the Beam
More humans appear on the video feed. They have a Stone Age culture that Moritz and Kingsley are unable to identify. Dazzled by the probe’s searchlight, the people build an altar and bring animal sacrifices to the probe. When they bring a human sacrifice-two men and a woman-West demands to be transmitted down to the cavern so he can stop the sacrifice. He arrives armed with a pocketknife and a red fire axe.

III. The Battle in the Cave
Chris is too late to save the men. He kills the high priest with his axe and frees the girl. The two escape through a tunnel and emerge into the world of Pellucidar. Chris cannot return to the cavern with the probe to be transmitted back to the laboratory because the Had-bar tribe still bars the way, so he goes with the girl. Her name is Varna and she leads Chris through the jungle toward the land of her people, the Val-an. She gives Chris the name No-hajdak, which means Red Axe. Chris is convinced he has ended up somewhere in the primeval Amazon rainforest, until the two come face-to-face with a sabre-toothed-tiger.

IV. Varna’s Tribe
Chris and Varna kill the tarag. They cross a veldt and avoid a hunting thipdar. Varna tells Chris about Mahars and Sagoths. They arrive at Varna’s village and the tribe welcomes them. Chris takes Varna as his mate with lives as a caveman with the Val-an tribe. He teaches the tribesmen to make bows. After some time two strangers arrive: Gash the Mighty and Hooka the Brave. They are from Had-bar and they bring gifts from Dr. Kingsley, with a promise to take Chris back to the cavern where he can be transmitted back to the surface.

Chris and Varna distrust the Had-bar messengers, but Chris feels he must take this opportunity to return home.

V. Prisoners of the Mahars
p66 “the natives of Pellucidar have a homing instinct or directional sense. They can find their way to any place they have been—without, of course, any help from the sun or the stars.”

Chris bids farewell to Varna and travels with Gash and Hooka for several sleeps. They disturb a giant sloth, which attacks them. Varna saves them by spearing the sloth in the eye; she has been following them. Varna joins the party.

At the next sleep, Gash and Hooka tie up Varna and Chris in their sleep. They force them into an iron cage and deliver them to two Sagoths who arrive on flying thipdar mounts. The Sagoths kill Hooka, take Gash prisoner as well, and fly them all back to the city of the Mahars. The city is filled with Sagoths (hairy gorilla-like men) and some pale, flabby gilaks (humans). The Sagoths have orders to take Chris to the places of the Twelves and send the others to the pens, but Chris refuses to be separated from Varna.

A smaller pterodactyl creature arrives and communicates in sign language with the Sagoths. The new orders: all the captives are to be brought to the Twelves. Varna informs Chris that this intelligent reptilian creature is a Mahar—their captor.

VI. Human Guinea Pig
The Sagoths take them to the underground city—the entire city is in a cavern with the ceiling pierced by light shafts—and turn them over to a gilak, Elak, who shows them their quarters. Elak assured them there is no escape from Phuma, the city of the Mahars.

Periodically the Sagoths take Chris to be subjected to experiments by the Mahars, who remain unseen. First a maze; later a Skinner Box. Chris, a scientist by profession, becomes enchanted with the idea of demonstrating his intelligence and communicating directly with the Mahars.

Elak vouches for him and Chris is let into the gilak underground, where he meets Tarmash and Amrock. From one of them, Chris obtains some paper. He leaves written messages for the Mahars in the experiment chambers.

Varna gets angry with Chris for caring more about the Mahar experiments than about trying to escape.

VII. The Scientists
The Mahars notice Chris’s intelligence and teach him their written language. Chris becomes well acquainted with two Mahar scientists, who he named Mike and Zed. The Mahars question Chris about his origins but profess disbelief when Chris tells them he comes from a land without Mahars where humans have built grand cities.

Chris asks the Mahars for better treatment for him and his friends, which is granted, though they are still prisoners.

The Mahars, who are completely deaf and communicate by telepathy, are interested by Chris’s explanation of human sensitivity to atmospheric vibrations. With the help of a Mahar that Chris nicknames Specs (for the glasses it wears) he builds an electric microphone to demonstrate how human hearing works. During the course of this electrical work, Chris discovers that radio vibrations bother the Mahars, and surmises their telepathy operates via radio frequency.

Chris devises a plan to escape the Mahar city through the river that flows out of the city through an underground tunnel. For this he asks for help from Gash, who agrees to help.

The Mahars remove Tarmash’s eyes.

VIII. Escape
Chris talks to Specs and Zed about Tarmash. Zed explains they are experimenting on Tarmash, but assures Chris that they have no immediate plans to vivisect him. Chris decided to escape as soon as possible. To that end, he and Gash steal some glass, some rubber, and some gas cylinders from the Mahars to fashion some rudimentary scuba equipment.

Chris, Gash, and Varna swim down the river but the way out is blocked by an underwater grate. They are attacked by a tentacled monster; Chris wounds it but does not kill it. The three are forced to return upriver back to the Mahar city, where Sagoths capture them.

IX. Temple of the Mahars
The Sagoths take them to a prison where they wait with other gilaks. Chris observes through a window the fate that awaits them: to be eaten by the Mahars.. Chris becomes friendly with two prisoners named Elkar and Mooh-lah.

Chris rallies the other prisoners, and when the Sagoths come to take them to the feeding pit, the prisoners fight back. They kill the Sagoths and escape the prison. However they are unable to fight their way out of the city of Phuma, and after fierce street fighting with Sagoth guards they are forced to take refuge in a nearby building. In the building is a large Mahar.

X. Out of the Trap
Chris beheads the Mahar, and several more Mahars. Sagoths storm the building. Chris and the others fight back. The building has incubator rooms filled with Mahar eggs, so they threaten to destroy the eggs unless the Sagoths retreat and bring a Mahar to negotiate.

The Mahars leaders arrive to negotiate but don’t believe any gilak can write the Mahar language; Chris tells them to bring Zed to explain. They do, and Zed is sent into the building to negotiate. Chris offers to return the eggs unharmed after his party has been allowed to leave Phuma. Zed brings the counter-offer: if Chris and his men leave the eggs in the incubators and exit the building, they will be permitted to leave Phuma. Chris questions Zed and Zed admits it is a trap: the men will be killed by Sagoths the moment they exit the building.

Chris scavenges some electrical wire from the roof of the building. Zed is sympathetic to Chris’s plight, so Chris asks him to help them escape. Zed takes the cable, flies up to a light-shaft in the cavern ceiling, and secures it. Chris and the gilaks climb the cable to the light shaft, then they cut the cable to prevent the Sagoths from following. They climb and shaft and emerge onto the surface of Pellucidar. They have escaped.

XI. The Endless Swamp
The ten escapees carefully make their way past a herd of pseudo-mastodons, being careful not to disturb them. The Mahar Zed joins them; as a traitor he has no home in Phuma. The Sagoths are pursuing them, so the party decides to split up to make pursuit more difficult. Everyone will head in the direction of their own homeland. Mooh-lah’s hunting grounds lie in the direction of Val-an, so he accompanies Chris and Varna. Elkar is from Phuma and has no other home, so he joins them as well. Had-bar is in the same direction so Gash joins them, and Zed accepts Chris’s invitation to accompany them.

The others depart for their own homes, and the party of six heads toward Val-an. They stop to rest and eat a large lizard; later they take to the trees as the traveling is easier through the thick, breezy canopy than on the hot and humid ground. They arrive at a large swamp, and a dinosaur emerges.

XII. Land of Monsters
The lidi are plant-eaters and harmless. Zed scouts the swamp. It is oval and impassable. They will have to go around. They witness a Tyrannosaurus Rex take down and kill a brontosaurus (lidi).

They make their way around the swamp, still traveling in the forest canopy. Chris nearly falls when a branch breaks, but Mooh-lah catches him with his tail. Chris has long discussions with Zed, conversing about the differences between the wildlife of Pellucidar and the outer world. Gash distrusts Zed, and he and Chris argue about it.

After one sleep, Chris awakens to a struggle: Sagoths have found them! They kill two Sagoths but the third escapes. Gash was supposed to be on watch, but he and Varna are missing: Gash has kidnapped her.

Mooh-lah is an expert tracker, so he and Elkar and Chris follow Gash’s trail through the forest canopy until the dense forest gives way to open country. Chris spots Gash and Varna in the distance climbing a tree: they are being pursued by a Tyrannosaurus!

XIII. The Jaws of Death
Gash and Varna are safe in the tree but the tyrannosaurus circles below. None of the nearby trees are close enough for Chris to reach their tree to help them. However, Chris persuades Mooh-lah and Elkar to help him weave a hawser of vines. Chris clings to it, and Mooh-lah and Elkar swing him back and forth until he is close enough to take a flying leap across into the other tree.

Chris misjudges the jump, crashes through the foliage, and lands on the tyrannosaur’s head. He slides down the beast’s back, jumps off, and evades the monster long enough to clamber up the tree. Gash has tied Varna up and hung her off a branch with vines, and threatens to cut the vine if Chris comes nearer.

Zed arrives, as does Mooh-lah, and distracts Gash enough for Chris to make a move. Gash manages to cut the vine, but Chris grabs the vine in one hand and hangs onto the branch with the other, saving Varna. Gash moves in to kill Chris. Mooh-lah grabs the vine, rescuing Varna and freeing Chris to fight Gash. Chris throws Gash to the tyrannosaurus.

Varna remarks that after Gash kidnapped her, he was so focused on escaping from Chris that he did not take the time to rape her.

Thoughts: OK, in an ERB pastiche you do not mention rape. You just don’t. You allude to it but you never come out and say it.

XIV. Out of the Frying Pan. . .
Still pursued by Sagoths and by the tyrannosaurus, the group flees through the treetops. A triceratops delays the tyrannosaurus and the group takes this opportunity to come down from the trees. Sagoths arrive, and there is a mad scramble with dinosaurs and the Sagoths. Chris and Varna get separated from the others and cornered by the tyrannosaurus. Suddenly the tyrannosaurus is cleaved in two: the disintegration ray from the laboratory in California (courtesy of Doc and the others) has broken through. Doc can’t send weapons through, but Chris uses the disintegrator itself to kills the attacking Sagoths—both those on the ground and others riding thipdars.

Doc says they can set up the matter transmitter and return Chris to California. He declines, stating he would rather stay in Pellucidar with “the most beautiful girl in two worlds.” Doc approves.

Archive | Search