Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The People That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The sequel that saved a series
Originally published in Blue Book Magazine in 1918, The People That Time Forgot is the second novel in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Caspak trilogy, following The Land That Time Forgot and preceding Out of Time’s Abyss. I didn’t care much for The Land That Time Forgot because it took too long to get anywhere and was more of an introduction to the series than a complete novel in and of itself. Still, I was intrigued enough by the world Burroughs created to tough it out for another volume. The People That Time Forgot, thankfully, actually does qualify as a self-contained novel with a beginning, middle, and end all its own. Picking up where the last book left off, this adventure story hits the ground running and fares much better at engaging the reader than its predecessor.

The first book was narrated by Bowen J. Tyler, who wrote of his adventures in the lost continent of Caprona, which the locals call Caspak. Tyler stuffed his manuscript into a bottle and tossed it into the sea. In the second book, the man who found that bottle (ostensibly Burroughs himself) takes the manuscript to Tyler’s family in California. Tom Billings, a sort of servant’s-kid-turned-adopted-brother to Bowen, quickly organizes an expedition to find Caprona and rescue his lost friend. Billings’s ship locates Caprona easily enough, but the island is surrounded by steep cliffs that prevent entry into the interior. The resourceful Billings solves this problem by flying over the cliffs with a seaplane. His rescue effort is jeopardized, however, when his plane crashes and he must concentrate his efforts on rescuing himself.

In Caspak, prehistoric creatures of every stage of evolution coexist, anything but peacefully. One never knows if he will run into an Allosaurus, a Smilodon, or an Australopithecus behind the next grove of palm trees. The native inhabitants of Caspak are segregated into a social strata of tribes based on their stage of evolutionary development, from the Alu (ape men), to the Sto-lu (missing links), Bo-lu (Neanderthals), Band-lu (Cro-Magnons), Kro-lu (early homo sapiens), and Galu (modern homo sapiens). The People That Time Forgot is aptly titled because this volume primarily focuses on Billings moving about among these various peoples, interacting with them, and unintentionally getting involved in their tribal politics. Early in the book Billings encounters a Galu woman named Ajor, a beautiful but filthy barbarian, who becomes his companion as he travels toward the coast in hopes of reuniting with his shipmates.

This book is by no means a masterpiece. It gets pretty dull at times, and the evolutionary workings of Caspak are often quite confusing. Yet, when judged alongside similar fare of roughly the same era—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, or Burroughs' own The Land That Time Forgot—it shines by comparison. The stories of Billings and Tyler are far less interesting than the land of Caspak itself, which is loaded with fictional possibilities. It would be a great setting for a TV or comic book series (in fact, the Savage Land of the Marvel Comics universe is likely a Caspak knockoff). While the first book only hinted at the mysteries of this lost continent, the second installment reveals its strange characteristics in far more detail. Nevertheless, Burroughs has left many questions unanswered which will no doubt fuel the plot of the trilogy’s third and final volume. I’m glad I stuck it out through the second book and am looking forward to the finale.
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