The People that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The People that Time Forgot (1918) is the second novel in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ CASPAK trilogy. In the first installment, The Land that Time Forgot, Bowen Tyler gets stranded on Caspak, a lost world where prehistoric animals and subhuman people exist. The story picks up in The People that Time Forgot as Bowen’s friend Tom Billings decides to go looking for him. When Tom lands on Caspak, he doesn’t have much time to search for his friend because it takes all his effort just to survive.
The People that Time Forgot offers all of the pulpy masculine adventure found in The Land that Time Forgot. There’s a constant stream of bears, dinosaurs, sabertooth tigers, barbarian warriors, and other creatures to fight, so Tom gets to prove his manliness as he moves from one exploit to the next.
And there’s romance, too, of course. Soon after arriving on Caspak, Tom saves a slender and “adorable” scantily-clad girl who he can’t think of romantically because she’s dirty and “so far beneath me in the scale of evolution.” He spends a lot of time thinking about how he can’t fall in love with a savage, but she turns out to have dimples and nice teeth and Tom discovers that he can’t bear to leave her in the end. Burroughs doesn’t give her much personality, but he does tell us that she’s keen-minded, shrewd, and she makes a great companion. (It’s nice to see that she has some desirable qualities other than her exposed slender figure and her dimples.)
Caspak is a strange land and there are some mysteries to solve. The island has a few subhuman primate species, but no children have been seen by the Americans who’ve visited. How can an adult-only society exist? Some of the intriguing (but not at all believable) answers will be found in this book, but others must wait for the next book, Out of Time’s Abyss.
I’m listening to the audio version of the CASPAK trilogy. This installment is read by Brian Emerson who did a better job than the narrator of the previous book did. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this version if you want to read The People that Time Forgot. You can also find the book in the public domain.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first book in his now-classic CASPAK trilogy, entitled The Land That Time Forgot, was a truly excellent introduction to the series, giving the reader a tantalizing glimpse at the wonder-filled island of Caprona, in the extreme South Pacific, while yet holding up its sleeve the answers to many of our questions. Fortunately, in Book 2, The People That Time Forgot, we get a much more in-depth look at the island – in a geographical area that Book 1 had not touched on – and from a fresh POV. And while not all of the island’s mysteries are resolved by the end of Book 2, we yet come away with a much greater knowledge of this 20th century hellhole, where Jurassic monstrosities reign and seven distinct varieties of man, each in a discrete but progressing evolutionary stage, contend with one another.
The People That Time Forgot, like its predecessor, first saw the light of day in the pages of The Blue Book Magazine. Book 1 had appeared in the August 1918 issue (cover price: 15 cents), and Book 2 would appear two months later, in October. (The September issue, by the way, had seen the magazine’s cover price jump to 20 cents, but customers still got a solid 192 pages of fine literary product for their two dimes; surely, not a bad investment!) Book 3, Out of Time’s Abyss, would be released in the December issue, and in 1924, Burroughs saw his vision of the three installments comprising a single novel realized when A. C. McClurg, a Chicago-based publisher, released the trilogy in one hardcover volume. Today, the three novellas (which really should be read sequentially and in tandem) can be purchased separately or in one volume, but the edition that I was fortunate enough to acquire, the 1999 release from Bison Books, is, I feel, the way to go. Featuring a scholarly intro by Mike Resnick, several useful glossaries, artwork by the famed Burroughs illustrator J. Allen St. John, and a map of Caspak (the natives’ word for the interior of Caprona) drawn by ERB himself in 1917, this might very well be the definitive volume of this truly wonderful trilogy; I mean, series; I mean, novel.
In Book 1, you may recall, the American would-be WW1 airman Bowen Tyler, Jr. and his faithful Airedale terrier Nobs, as well as the beautiful American fiancée Lys La Rue, had been stranded on the high seas after the sinking of their transport ship by the German submarine designated U-33. They’d been picked up by a British tug that would soon also be sunk by the U-33, but not before the English sailors and Tyler had stormed the sub and captured it. A saboteur on board had wrecked the sub’s navigational equipment, however, with the result that the U-boat had somehow blundered into the Pacific, found itself at Caprona, and made its way into the heart of the Mesozoic world. By the end of Book 1, those rascally Germans had managed to refuel the sub and had secretly departed; Bradley, Tyler’s second-in-command, had led an exploratory expedition that had never been seen again; and Bowen himself, following a self-conducted wedding to Lys, had placed his written account of the crew’s adventures into a bottle, thrown it into the sea, and hoped for the best.
As Book 2 commences, we learn that not only had Bowen’s missive been found (by a man in southern Greenland, as revealed in Book 1), but that a rescue mission is about to be instituted. Leading this expedition is Thomas Billings, who had been a fellow student with Tyler and who had, until recently, been the personal secretary of Tyler’s father, who dies suddenly as Book 2 begins. Billings, thus, takes his former employer’s yacht, the Toreador, with a crew of 40 men, and endeavors to find the legendary island, which he actually manages to do fairly easily. Although the island’s surrounding rampart cliffs pose an almost insurmountable problem (the U-33 had entered the island by means of a subterranean tunnel), Billings has come prepared with a one-man hydroplane, with which he flies over the barrier and begins to explore. But trouble arises fairly quickly, when run-ins with several pterodactyl types cause his plane to crash into the upper branches of a tree, wrecking it completely. Now marooned by himself in a land of ubiquitous prehistoric monsters and protomen, Billings must work his way a good 300 miles north and then west, to get close to the position of the Toreador on the island’s other side.
During his great adventure on Caprona, Billings is fortunate enough to encounter a young woman named Ajor, of the island’s most highly evolved Galu people. Ajor is also endeavoring to make the long trek to her homeland in the north, and so the two travel together, with each of them saving the life of the other on more than one occasion. They are captured by the peoples of both the Band-lu (spear-men) and the more highly evolved Kro-lu (bow-and-arrow-men), managing to barely escape and picking up some allies en route. While traveling, Ajor tells the story of how her people live in constant fear of a winged race of men, the Wieroo, who live on the northern island of Caprona’s Great Inland Lake. She tells Billings that one of the Galu men, the renegade Du-seen, has, against all precedent, entered into an agreement with both the Kro-lu and the Wieroo themselves to topple Ajor’s father, the chieftain Jor, from power. And Billings, as might be expected, naturally and inevitably becomes embroiled in this intrigue, all the while holding himself back from falling in love with the lovely barbarian girl by his side…
As had been the case with Book 1, which seemed to be more concerned with Caprona as an entity itself, The People That Time Forgot is a well-titled affair, focusing as it does on the seven various evolutionary groups that populate the island. Besides the three groups just mentioned, Billings also encounters (in ascending evolutionary status, as he travels north) the Alus (speechless-men who are just a little higher than the ape), the Bo-lus (club-men), and the Sto-lus (hatchet-men); everything but the lowest order, the Ho-lus (apes). We learn a lot about the various peoples in this book, especially those three highest orders, and even a little more of the manner in which each individual evolves, before leaving his/her current group and migrating north to his/her new, more highly evolved tribe.
Indeed, the fact that we do learn a lot more about Caspak in this book is probably its single greatest selling point, and exploring another huge section of the island (the eastern side, as opposed to Book 1’s western side), and from a different set of eyes, keeps things fresh and interesting. Billings, unsurprisingly, makes for a very ingratiating narrator, and although he at one point confesses that he is not a “writer-fellow,” he yet does a wonderful job at telling us his remarkable story. And just as Tyler’s former experience as a worker in his father’s submarine factory had served him in good stead during the high-seas action of Book 1, Billings’ earlier career as a “cowpuncher” and outdoorsman serves him well here, when it comes to survival skills, lassoing, skinning animals, shooting and so on. Interestingly, whereas in Book 1 Tyler had fallen in love almost instantly with a woman (Lys) who did her utmost to resist him, in Book 2, Burroughs switches things up a bit. Thus, here, we have a woman (Ajor) who is drawn to Billings almost from the start, while the American does everything in his power to resist the “half-baked little barbarian” … uselessly, of course.
As mentioned, this second installment seems more focused on the different peoples, political intrigue, and evolutionary matters than Book 1. This second volume also features fewer prehistoric monstrosities, which is only natural as Billings heads into the cooler north. (One would imagine that the climate would tend to get colder the farther south one traveled in Caspak – in other words, the closer one got to nearby Antarctica – but somehow, that is not the case.) But even with fewer action sequences, this second volume still manages to dish out some doozies, including Billings’ aerial battle with a pterodactyl when he first flies over Caspak; Billings and Ajor wandering hopelessly through an endless cave system, almost unto death, in the territory of the Band-lu; Ajor’s story of how she was forced to flee from her people, and her subsequent abduction by one of the winged Wieroo; the capture of a wild stallion by Billings, aided by the ever-reliable Nobs; and Billings and Ajor trapped in a swamp, with a horde of Kro-lus, and Du-seen, about to enfilade them with arrows. (Regarding Nobs, pretty much the only returning character from Book 1 – until Book 2’s tail end, at least – I must add that he is simply wonderful here; as loyal, brave, intelligent and heroic a canine companion as one could ever hope to have by one’s side.) And if Book 2 features fewer dinosaurs than Book 1, Billings yet has to deal with those pterodactyls, a (mild-mannered) diplodocus, a panther, a giant cave-bear, saber-toothed tigers, a cave-lion, killer rhinos and so on. Burroughs even gets to throw some pleasing social commentary into this second installment, when Al-tan, the duplicitous Kro-lu chieftain, after hearing of WW1 Europe, tells Billings:
…I am glad … that I do not dwell in your country among such savage peoples. Here, in Caspak, men fight with men when they meet – men of different races – but their weapons are first for the slaying of beasts in the chase and in defense. We do not fashion weapons solely for the killing of man as do your peoples. Your country must indeed be a savage country, from which you are fortunate to have escaped to the peace and security of Caspak…
Some food for thought there, indeed!
Now, good as it is, inevitably, some small problems do crop up in The People That Time Forgot. For one thing, the person who narrates the first chapter of the book – the man who had conceivably found Bowen’s MS in a bottle off the southern tip of Greenland – is never really made known to us, either by name or in any other manner. He seems to be familiar with Tyler from earlier in his life, but if he is, would not this constitute yet another far-fetched coincidence in the world of Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose works were filled with so many? And whoever this nameless narrator of Chapter 1 may be, he gives us some misinformation when he states that Bowen Tyler, Jr. had left for WW1 Europe to join “the American Ambulance,” when we already know that Tyler had departed from California to join the Lafayette Escadrille!
It also bugged me that Billings was able to learn and fluently speak the Caspakian language just three days after his advent there, but I suppose that this kind of unrealistic speed learning is par for books such as this. While reading Burroughs’ work here, I could not help wondering why Billings, who was at the extreme southern tip of Caprona, would travel hundreds of miles northeast to get to where he wanted to go. Imagine yourself at the 6:00 position of a clock, and instead of going clockwise to your intended 9:00 destination, going counterclockwise to get to the same place! This, I couldn’t help thinking, was making zero sense … until, that is, Burroughs explained matters by reminding us that the southwest section of Caprona was the most heavily populated by giant reptiles and dinosaurs. So at least that conundrum is nicely resolved for us.
Burroughs’ book ends a little too abruptly for my taste, but at least it is a very happy ending, unlike the more downbeat one to be found in Book 1. Still, several outstanding questions yet remain. What ever did happen to the U-33? Does Billings actually remain in Caspak with Ajor, as seems to be his intent? What of those mysterious Wieroo, and their island domain off the coast of the Galus’ territory? And what ever became of Bradley and his lost expedition? I guess I’ll just have to move on to Book 3 now, Out of Time’s Abyss, to find out. And really, I cannot imagine any reader of Books 1 and 2 not breathlessly wanting to proceed on and find out more…
Kat, thanks for bringing back the “good old days!”
Think I was 11 when I read this one, back in the mists of the dawn time. And Ajor was the first fictional heroine that I had a crush on. Some day I will re-read this and see if the flame re-kindles. ;-)
Paul, that is adorable.
I had no idea you went for the “half-baked little barbarian” types! :)
She was a woman of action (as well as a scantily clad barbarian), which I found admirable. I thought Tom was being a dolt for trying to argue himself out of his attraction on what were basically social class reasons.
Even earlier (pre-crush days) I was annoyed when my father got to reading us the chapter in The Return of the King where Eowyn gets paired up with Faramir. Faramir was a brave and kindly man, but Eowyn was a champion! Slayer of the second baddest villain in the whole trilogy! She deserved something better, like being made captain of the army or something (in my mind). Of course, Tolkien was using this to make one of his moral points about a hardened heart turning away from ill-conceived worldly goals in favor of something nobler (love, in this case). Much as in the cases where Denethor fails the test and tries to take his son down with him, and where Galadriel passes the test by refusing the Ring Frodo offers, there’s a conventional plot development reading and also a reading of what the author’s moral values are.
Burroughs is simpler. ;-)
Well, it took Tom a while, but at least he finally saw the light….
Well, it took Tom a while, but at least he finally saw the light….