The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1924)
The Land That Time Forgot is the first part of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Caspak” trilogy of science fantasy novels. Commencing as a wartime sea adventure, hence its original working title of The Lost U-Boat, Burroughs’ story ultimately develops into a saga with similarities to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. What makes Burroughs work unique is his plot device of a biological system specific to his island, in which the slow progress of evolution manifests itself as individual metamorphosis. This biological feature is only implied in The Land That Time Forgot and explored in greater depth over the course of the next two novels, The People That Time Forgot and Out of Time’s Abyss.
Set during World War I the book opens with a framing narrative in which a manuscript relating the main story is recovered from a thermos off the coast of Greenland. It relates the history of Bowen J. Tyler, an American passenger on a ship sunk in the English Channel by a German U-boat in 1916. He is rescued by a British tugboat with another survivor, Lys La Rue. The tug is later sunk but its crew manages to capture the submarine when it surfaces. A German crew member sabotages the compass sending the U-Boat off course. By the time this is discovered they are deep in Antarctic waters. Low on fuel they discover a large island ringed by cliffs, which they identify as Caprona; a land mass first reported by the (fictitious) Italian explorer Caproni in. A freshwater current guides the sub to a stream issuing from a subterranean passage, affording them access to the island. The U-boat surfaces into a tropical river teeming with prehistoric creatures. The surrounding land is home to various forms of life long extinct in the outside world. An uneasy allowance is then formed between Germans and allied forces as they seek a source of fuel and a way to escape the strange land of “Caspak”.
Edgar Rice Burroughs has a very traditional and earnest style of writing. Heroes are manly, villains are fiendish and duplicitious. Women are mainly objects of veneration. Like many other authors of this genre at the time, contemporary new technology and science play an important part in the story. The American hero is a mechanical engineer who is well versed in ship and U-Boat design. There is also a very romantic view of the English as a see fairing nation. However the most interesting element of the plot is the notion of individual evolution. “Ahm” a friendly Neanderthal Man, who befriends the crew believes that he will over the passage of time transform from his current status to Sto-lu (hatchet men), then to Band-lu (spearmen), finally Kro-lu (bowmen). It is a very bold idea and Burroughs handles it well by subtle implication. Sadly his stereotyped view of Germans diminishes the books credibility but you have to take into consideration the politics of the times. All things considered The Land That Time Forgot remains enjoyable pulp fiction which still has the capacity to entertain