the Little Red Reviewer

The Lost Continent, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Posted on: January 21, 2013

SAM_2431The Lost Continent, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (also published as Beyond Thirty)

published in 1916

where I got it: either bought used, or borrowed. it has my friend’s name stamped in the front, so I am not sure!

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Originally titled Beyond Thirty, and printed only once in an obscure magazine in 1916,  The Lost Continent wasn’t available to the masses until the late 1950s. In the introduction to the novel, the Ace editor mentions the only copy he saw until this printing was a fan’s typed version that had been laboriously cribbed from another fan’s typed version or the original magazine printing. For decades, this was the lost manuscript of a master.  To add to the mystery, the copyright page in this Ace printing contains only 4 lines, none of which specify the actual year this version was printed. If anyone can tell by the Frank Frazetta cover art or the suggested retail price of 60 cents, I’d appreciate knowing.

Since the outbreak of The Great War (that would be WWI, for those of us aware of its second incarnation), America has cut off contact with the other continents. For two hundred years Pan-America has kept it’s activities between 30 and 175 degrees longitude.  War ships watch the waves, prepared to slaughter anything that comes across. But nothing, and no one, ever does.

Lieutenant Jefferson Turck grew up reading hearing his grandfather’s stories of England and Europe and studying his grandfather’s forbidden maps.  Not everyone onboard the aero-sub agrees with Turck’s curious thoughts about the outside world or appreciates his ability to move up the military ranks. During a storm while patrolling The 30, his sub is sabotaged, and Turck soon finds himself stranded in a small motorboat with a few other seamen.  And they are, most certainly, beyond the 30.  With no possible way to survive the trip west over the Atlantic, the men row east towards England and the unknown.

Of course Turck has his maps with him, and manages to recognize some smaller islands and landmarks.  All evidence of civilization is gone. No buildings, or bridges, or famous churches remain. His guess is that England was pulverized by bombs during the war. A few families may have survived, but that is all. Turck observes a woman being kidnapped, and in the grand tradition of Burroughs adventure stories, he rescues her, and they fall in love after having some highly entertaining issues with communication issues.  The  surviving tribes of England call themselves the Grubitten (a mangled Great Britain), and the woman Turck saved, Victory, is in fact the hereditary Queen of England.  The tribes don’t know what a Queen is, but they know it is something respectful and worthy of remembering.

The first two thirds of the novel takes place in England, with Turck and his men trying to figure out if any civilization still exists anywhere outside Pan-America.  Once they head over to Europe, the story moves almost too quickly to follow, with Turck and his surviving men, and Victory falling from custody of one nation-state to another. China and The Kingdoms of Africa are still fighting over Europe and hope to claim England eventually too.  On many parts of Earth, the Great War has not ceased for two hundred years.

I really liked the first half of the book. It’s paced nicely, Turck has a few snarky things to say here and there, and Burroughs’ thoughts of the next 200 years of technology (but also what we can forget in 200 years) was entertaining. Victory isn’t your average helpless savage princess either. Turck is always trying to save her and protect her and help her, but she is perfectly capable of climbing trees, starting fires, and killing when need be. Other that a nice piece of meat on her arm, Victory hasn’t much need for this overdressed foreigner! The second half feels incredibly rushed, with the final episode and discovery happening in about 20 pages and a wrap-up conclusion is just a few paragraphs.

What struck me most about this little book from nearly a hundred years ago is the prose style. The sentences are long and highly descriptive, the narrator (Turck) goes on tangents and then apologizes for the tangent a few paragraphs later. The pace is much slowers than today’s fantasy adventure, with a focus on Turck describing the lands and animals that he sees, and hardly any focus on the action and fighting scenes.  Much of what I’ve read that’s been written in the last 5 years I would describe as “sharp”, and by that I mean generally shorter sentences, few if any obscure adjectives, characters are not loquacious (except as an affectation), the writing style is clipped and quick, and well, sharp, almost as if designed to stab at the reader. Burroughs’s writing style struck me as the opposite; not designed to stab or rock my world or change my life, but designed simply to offer me escape into an adventure with little fear of death of violence, and a promise of a generally happy ending for all involved.

It’s fascinating for me to observe changes like these, in what readers look for and describe as “fun”, or “cool”.  My descriptions of contemporary writing styles vs the style from a hundred years ago is simply that: a description.  One is not better than the other,  I simply find the stark differences (and thus, a very different reading experience) marvelously fascinating.

I’ve been listening to Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars on audio, and while I’m loving the story, the quality of the audio is pretty awful so it’s hard to get through more than a half hour or so at a time. I was able to zip through The Lost Continent in a few hours.

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15 Responses to "The Lost Continent, by Edgar Rice Burroughs"

This one has been on my TBR list for some time. I might have to download it from Gutenberg Project or check it out from the library. I find it interesting to read the literature between WWI and WWII because it reflects the fears of the time – of another possible war, of loosing another generation, of ruining the Earth. Great review.

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I’ve got some goodies to ship you, I’ll include this in the box for you. it’s worth it to get the cheesy original cover art. I too enjoyed the “war is really dumb, we should never, ever do this again” aspects of the book.

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Oh really! That is so kind of you. I’ll look forward to reading Lost Continent. Thank you!

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Your comment about the difference in style is so relevant. I’ve really noticed it whilst reading books for your Vintage Sci Fi event. It doesn’t make me enjoy the books any less but it’s interesting to see how styles have developed.
That cover is excellent!
Lynn :D

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We can’t have been the first people to notice these changes in literary styles. Hasn’t someone written a master’s thesis on this that would explain everything in clear terms?

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Sorry to hear the audio version of Princess of Mars if slowing you down because it is a delight. I approach these older stories in a similar way in that I take them for what they are in regards to the writing at the time. I’m not comparing them to how things are done today to decide which is better, I just like the fascination of what is almost like time travel, being able to go back and read these things the way the were actually written a hundred years ago.

That introduction is fascinating. How different the world is today where so many things are written on a computer and if put out there in any way are truly never lost.

Haven’t read this one but do have it in my Frazetta/Burroughs collection.

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I’m greatly enjoying A Princess of Mars, it’s too bad the audio I have isn’t so hot. I may need to just break down and interlibrary loan the book, as I’m having trouble finding a local copy to buy or borrow. and I know, isn’t that crazy? I so take it for granted that I can get a copy of any book I’d ever want to read. it really wasn’t that long ago that that wasn’t the case. we sure have it good!

you’re the cover art expert, any idea what year this particular printing is from?

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Enjoyed this review :-)
Re the style difference between early and modern sci-fi: I wonder if early sci-fi about other worlds was approached more in the spirit of travel writing? (I am guessing, but) I wouldn’t be surprised if you would find a similar style if you read a contemporary of Burroughs writing about exploring Africa, or something like that? i think early sci-fi was much more about discovery and adventure and novelty.
I’m sure there have been many fluctuations in style between now and then, and to try and draw a straight line between would be futile. Personally I think some of the newer ‘sharp’ sci fi is partly due to the influence of action-packed films, but perhaps also a reaction against some of the long, waffley prose of earlier generations?

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I think you’re exactly right, especially about how newer “sharp” SF is influenced by movies and TV that’s heavy on the action and quippy dialog.

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[...] The Lost Continent, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (littleredreviewer.wordpress.com) [...]

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I remember this as a fun Burroughs adventure. I like your comment on Burroughs writing style–I really enjoy his slower, more fanciful pace. Not for everyone, but I like it as a change of pace from modern writing.

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Thanks for the review, and welcome home from the con!

Re: prose style, have you ever read historical novelists Patrick O’Brian or Rosemary Sutcliffe? They both use prose that, I think, exemplifies the more sinuous style you describe. Here’s an example from Sutcliffe:

[i]“Aquila halted on the edge of the hanging woods, looking down. Below him he could see the farmstead under the great, bare swell of the downs; the russet-roofed huddle of buildings, the orchard behind, making a darker pattern on the paleness of the open turf, the barley just beginning to show its first tinge of harvest gold, the stream that rose under the orchard wall and wandered down the valley to turn the creaking wheel of the water-mill that ground their corn.

Almost a year had gone by since the last time that he had stood here and looked down, for it was only last night that he had come home on leave from Rutupiae, where he commanded a troop of Rhenus Horse—Auxiliary Cavalry; there had been no regular Legions in Britain for forty years now—and every detail of the scene gave him a sharp-edged pleasure. It was good to be home. And really, the place didn’t look so bad. It was not what it had been in the good old days, of course. Kuno, who was the oldest man on the farm, could remember when there had been vine terraces on the south slope; you could see the traces of them still, just below the woods here, like the traces of the old fields and the old sheep-runs that had had to be let go back to the wild. It was the Pict War that had done the mischief, so long ago that even Kuno couldn’t remember, though he swore that he could, and, when he had drunk enough heather beer, used to tell everybody how he had seen the great Theodosius himself, when he came to drive out the Saxons and the Painted People. But though Theodosius had swept Britain clear, the damage had been done and the countryside had never been the same again. The great houses had been burned, the slaves had revolted against their masters, and the big estates had been ruined. It hadn’t been so bad for the small estates and farms, especially those that were not worked with slave labour. Kuno was very fond of telling—and the hearing of it always made Aquila feel humble, though he was sure that it should make him proud—how in the bad time, the Killing Time, when the slaves revolted, the free men of his own farm had kept faith with his great-grandfather.” [/i]

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[...] The Lost Continent, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (littleredreviewer.wordpress.com) [...]

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Edgar Rice Burroughs falls in that in between style , one foot in the Edwardian age & one in early American pulp. As you pointed out, narrative pacing and scene description is very different. My father remembered reading Zane Grey novels – a chapter spent on sunsets and landscape with little advancement of plot ( Grey like other writers, got paid by the word).
A slower time when people visual imagination were more accustomed to paintings and B&W photographs than our present age of wide screen high definition rapid action. We have news bites instead of reports & measured analysis.
Different styles for different mass media generations. :)
Great blog! Will pass the blog link to my son.

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[...] The Lost Continent, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (littleredreviewer.wordpress.com) [...]

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