The Top 11 Goofiest Edgar Rice Burroughs Lost Races
I am a pretty big Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. At this point in I’ve read fifty-seven of the sixty-something books the guy wrote, and I’ve got a pretty good handle one some of the major themes in his work. So as part of my effort to make humorous lists, I’m making a couple themed after his work.
Now, one thing you notice with ERB is that he loved the Lost Race story. These were stories that got started in the Victorian Era, when explorers were big news. They were pushing their way into Africa, South America, and Asia and finding all these amazing peoples and places that no white person had ever seen before, like Angkor Wat, Machu Pichu, and Easter Island. As a response, authors started writing stories about explorers encountering strange and fantastic lost cities, often populated by strange and fantastic lost peoples. Typically the explorers would have swashbuckling adventures there and maybe take some pretty native princess back home with them. Oftentimes the lost race would have some sort of lost mystical or technological powers, sometimes with the implication that they were descended from Atlantis or some other lost civilization that was once more advanced than we are.
ERB wrote a lot of these stories. Tarzan discovered no less than SEVENTEEN lost races! He also revisited ones that he’d previously discovered four times! In the John Carter of Mars series, John Carter and his various associates are constantly discovering various races of people that are isolated in some way from the mainstream Martian civilization of the Red Men. ERB’s settings of Amtor (Venus) and Pellucidar (the center of the Earth) have such treacherous geography that everyone is isolated from one another and the heroes discover a Lost Race pretty much every time they step out their front door (or cave as the case may be in prehistoric Pellucidar). Oftentimes, in addition to featuring swashbuckling adventures there, Burroughs would use these lost races for social satire, giving them customs that caricatured some social convention he disapproved of.
These Lost Races of Burroughs’ are pretty strange, generally they have technological levels and social customs that make no scientific or economic sense. You have people who fight with swords even though they have perfectly serviceable ray guns, or people who maintain a Bronze or Iron Age tech level despite having too small a population to support the necessary level of skilled artisan. You have all sorts of weird, evolutionarily unlikely nonhuman civilizations as well, from snake men to amoeba people. You have cities where murder is openly tolerated despite the negative impact that would have both on population, and economic productivity (try running a business in constant fear your best workers will be murdered). Oftentimes these races, despite living in an isolated area, manage to have two large city states, so that Burroughs can stage some awesome war scenes between them. The problems this near constant warfare causes are sometimes addressed, but not really in a realistically satisfactorily way. All that ultimately matters is telling an exciting story
So I’m making my first Top 11 list, the Top 11 Goofiest Edgar Rice Burroughs Lost Races. Next time my list will be the Top 11 Coolest Edgar Rice Burroughs Lost Races. Keep in mind that goofy doesn’t mean bad, a lot of the peoples on this list come from some of my favorite ERB novels. In fact, there were a lot that I was tempted to put on both the cool list and the goofy list. But these are the top eleven lost races or civilizations that, for some reason or other, just seem really, really silly. I’ll use these people’s race names, or the names of the lost city or land where they’re located, depending on what’s most convenient.
Also, you might want to know a little about Burrough’s four main series to understand what I’m talking about. The Tarzan series, most people know, take place mainly in the African jungle and concern a man who was raised by apes as a baby. The Barsoom series takes place on Mars (Barsoom in Martian) a dying world full of deserts, canals, a civilization of red skinned people with cool airships, and giant four-armed green nomads. The Pellucidar series takes place at the center of the Earth, which is of course full of dinosaurs and cavemen. The Amtor series takes place on Venus (Amtor in Venusian), a jungle world full of a wide variety of humanoid cultures separate by geaography. In addition to these series, Burroughs wrote many shorter and stand-alone works.
11: The Valley of the Sepulcher (from Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle).
What an exciting place the jungles of Africa are. There are the exotic animals, the native tribes, the beautiful plants, the crusading knights….WHAT?!
Crusading knights. In the middle of the African jungle. Actual, honest-to-God, Old English speaking, Caucasian, castle-building, crusading knights in honest-to-God shining armor.
This is the main plot of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. Tarzan, a lost member of a safari, and some Arab raiders, discover a hidden valley of ancient medieval Crusaders, whose ancestors somehow got really lost on their way to Jerusalem and ended up in a hidden valley in the middle of Africa. They assimilated the local black population and never leave the valley because they’re too busy fighting each other. Tarzan gets to go jousting, and is so strong and badass that he hurls his jousting lance like a spear. There’s also a beautiful princess, but since Tarzan already has Jane Blake the safari guy gets her.
This was a plot device Burroughs used a lot, whenever he wanted to write a historical novel, but his publisher wanted him to write a Tarzan adventure or a science fiction novel. He simply transplanted a historical society into Africa or Pellucidar or wherever, and then claimed they were “lost remnants” of that civilization that had survived unchanged until the present day. We’ll encounter it again later on this list, and on the Coolest Lost Races list. Again, I want to emphasize that goofy doesn’t mean bad, I enjoyed reading Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle and consider Tarzan throwing that giant jousting lance like a spear to be one of his Crowning Moments of Awesome.
Imagine Tarzan versus these guys
10: Thuria (from The Swords of Mars)
The Thurian are a previously undiscovered civilization living on Phobos, one of Mar’s moons. That’s right, on Phobos. For those of you who slept through science class, let me explain this to you. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. They are much tinier than Earth’s moon. Phobos is only about thirty kilometers wide at its widest point and has such low gravity that you could jump off it if you weren’t careful. Of course, that means it also had no air. And Burroughs knew this, it wasn’t like his having life be on Mars and Venus, that was a legitimate possibility at the time.
So how could you really find a lost civilization here, unless it was in a tiny, air-domed space city or something? Simple, the inhabitants are only an inch high! You read that correctly. Phobos, or Thuria, as the Martians call it, is inhabited by inch high people.
So I suppose you’re wondering why the novel is called Swords of Mars rather than Stomping Shoes of Mars. How could John Carter, Mar’s most famous immigrant citizen possibly have any swashbuckling adventures on Thuria?
Well, apparently, when something on Mars travels to Phobos, there exists something called the “compensatory adjustment of masses.” What this means, when translated from the technobabble a Martian scientist uses to explain it to John Carter, is that Phobos emits an energy field that shrinks you down to a tiny size. Then when you leave apparently the field wears off and you regrow. And by sheer ludicrous coincidence, this field reduces your size so that it’s exactly proportional to that of the humanoid inhabitants of Phobos. Oh, and needless to say, the Square-Cube Law does not apply.
Once John Carter actually gets to Phobos his adventures are pretty cool. There are some blue haired people with psychic invisibility powers, and Cyclops cat people. But the sheer ludicrousness of the idea of life on Phobos, and the shrinking field that just screams “handwave” earns Thuria a spot on this list.
Luscious Thuria. See the tiny Jungles?
9: Brokol (from Escape on Venus)
Escape on Venus, the fourth and penultimate book in the Amtor series, is actually a series of interlinked novellas. In each of them the protagonist, Carson Napier, has various adventures on the jungle world, encountering increasingly bizarre civilizations. He encounters Fish Men, communists stand-ins, asexual humanoids, zombies, Nazi stand-ins, and other really bizarre situations. I have to say the goofiest, though, are probably the Brokol.
The Brokol are warlike plant people (like broccoli, gets it?). They grow from trees like fruit, each Brokol has a stem on their head. To get the trees in the first place the male and female Brokols have sex and then the females give birth to nuts, which are planted in the ground to make Brokol trees. So they have both a sexual and an asexual stage. There are actually some plants that do something like this (it’s called alternation of generations) which is kind of cool, although I don’t know if Burroughs knew that.
The Brokol sound pretty weird so far no doubt, but what makes them really goofy is when you juxtapose the next part. In my view, what makes a lot of ERB’s lost civilizations goofy is when he interposes two completely different ideas that are not related at all in one civilization. This is the case with the Brokol religion.
The Brokol worship the Most High More Than Woman of the Flame. This is a human woman named Betty Caldwell from Earth who just showed up in the Brokol land. They decided to worship her which is strange since there are humanoid races on Venus, and the Brokol mostly just kill those and drink their blood.
How did Betty get to Venus? Carson took a rocket, remember. Betty got their through astral projection. Somehow her astral body was projected to Venus and solidified there. This, incidentally, is the same way John Carter and Ulysses Paxton get to Mars in the Barsoom series.
So the Brokol are warlike plant people who grow from trees on Venus. They worship a human from Earth who arrived there via astral projection. That is just plain goofy.
Yeah, a little like that
8: Xuja (from Tarzan the Untamed)
Xuja is a lost Hellenistic city in the middle of a desert oasis in Africa. It is inhabited by violently insane people who worship parrots and tame black lions. You know, ERB was supposedly a pretty straightlaced guy, but I have to occasionally wonder if he was smoking something.
Tarzan arrives here trying to help some friends who crashed a plane in the desert. The people of the city really are crazy, they’re constantly assaulting each other in the streets. Fortunately the lions are more rational and Tarzan makes friends with one of them.
For some reason ERB really liked the idea of a city of crazy people, even though Xuja is probably one of his dullest lost cities. He reuses the idea with the Jukans from Land of Terror, the sixth Pellucidar novel, and they’re pretty dull too.
Tarzan versus the Xujans
7: Minuni (from Tarzan and the Ant Men)
This is a perfect example of why goofy isn’t necessarily bad. Tarzan and the Ant Men is one of the best novels of the series, full of adventure and imagination.
The Minuni are a civilization of humans that are only two feet tall. They are isolated from the rest of Africa by a giant thorn forest. Despite being from Africa they are (of course) white. The Minuni are divided into numerous warring city states, each of which have really long names like Veltopismakus and Trohanadalmakus. The people have really long names too. They ride tiny antelope and generally appear to have a medieval level of technology. Except for a machine that shrinks Tarzan down to their size. Let me repeat that, the Minuni: generally appear to have a medieval level of technology. Except for a machine that shrinks Tarzan down to their size! Edgar Rice Burroughs. Master of Schizo Technology.
Still, as I said, MicroTarzan’s adventures with the Minuni are very exciting and some of the best of ERB’s work.
Tarzan and the Minuni
6: Lothar (from Thuvia, Maid of Mars)
While most of Mars is inhabited by Red Men and Green Men, a few pockets of White, Black, and Yellow Men occur in isolated areas. Lother is one such pocket, inhabited by auburn-haired white men. The Lotharians are completely separate from the Therns, an evil race of White Men encountered in The Gods of Mars who are bald or blond.
Lothar is isolated from mainstream Martian society because it is hemmed in by mountains, except for one small pass owned by a menacing tribe of savage twelve-foot tall Green Men. Unfortunately for the Lotharians, airships had not been invented at the time the Green Men sealed them off.
The Lotharians are all powerful psionics. They can make illusions with their mind so realistic that if the illusion kills someone that person’s mind wills them to die. This is why the Green Men didn’t conquer them long ago. They have to be careful though, because if the illusion isn’t realistic enough, the people seeing it won’t believe and the illusion will be rendered harmless. They create armies of phantom soldiers to defend themselves.
So far the Lotharians sound pretty badass. What’s goofy about them? Well first of all, all the women are dead and its illegal to make illusion women to keep you company. Why? So that the Lotharian chief has an excuse to menace our fair Thuvia (who fortunately is more assertive than the kidnap-prone Dejah Thoris from the previous books), of course!
Also the Lotharian’s powers are so great they can blatantly violate the Laws of Thermodynamics. That’s how the city survives despite being walled off from all supplies by the Green Men, they imagine food into being. There are two philosophical factions in the city, one who thinks it is necessary to eat an illusion of food to gain sustenance, and another that thinks you can just will yourself into feeling full without the unnecessary step of eating.
Eventually the Lotharians are even able to make one illusion real! This is Kar Komak, one of the phantom soldiers created to fight the Green Men. He not only becomes real, he has all the physic powers of the Lotharians. This is never really justified, except by some really, really weird technobabble.
Oh, and the Lotharians worship a giant Banth. That’s a kind of giant, lion-like predator on Barsoom. I don’t know why they worship it, since they also have tame banths. Just to be even weirder, I guess.
Fair Thuvia, Princess of the city state of Ptarth
5: Korsar (from Tanar of Pellucidar and Tarzan at the Earth’s Core)
CAVEMEN FIGHTING PIRATES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now that that’s out of the way, allow me to emphasize again that goofy isn’t bad. Tanar of Pellucidar is probably the best of the Pellucidar novels, and Tarzan at the Earth’s Core is a pretty damn awesome crossover. That’s why having CAVEMEN FIGHTING PIRATES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! is actually a great strength.
The Korsar are another example of what I was talking about earlier when I discussed the Valley of the Sepulchar. Whenever ERB felt like writing a historical novel, but his editor wanted sci-fi, he went ahead and had a lost city composed of some remnants of a historical era show up.
Korsar, as you can easily infer from the name, is a city of pirates. Specifically they are a lost city descended from Barbary Corsairs. For those of you who don’t know, the Barbary Corsairs were a bunch of ruthless badass pirates from North Africa who terrorized the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboards between the 9th and 19th centuries. The U.S. actually fought two wars with them. Apparently ERB was so impressed by their utter badassitude that he decided they’d be good villains for a book.
But how did these pirates get to Pellucidar, which is a land of cavemen and dinosaurs at the Center of the Earth. Simple enough. They sailed through a hole in the Earth at the North Pole and got stranded. What they were doing at the North Pole in the first place is anyone’s guess. Probably just showing what badasses they were for being able to withstand the cold.
The Korsars build a large city and use it to raid the defenseless cavemen populations of Pellucidar (although they try to avoid the somewhat less helpless Horib lizard men). Eventually they run into the cavemen empire that David Innes, hero of the first two books, has established after burrowing to Pellucidar in a haywire mining machine. Yes, I know these books are weird, and I haven’t even mentioned the Pterodactyl People refugees.
Anyway, the fight between Korsar and Pellucidarean is awesomeness incarnate, especially after Tarzan joins the fray. But read the books if you want to find out about that.
Your typical Barbary corsair
4: Caspak, a.k.a. Caprona (from The Land that Time Forgot, The People that Time Forgot, and Out of Time’s Abyss)
ERB loved dinosaurs, apparently. His characters were always discovering lost worlds full of dinosaurs or other prehistoric animals. There was Pellucidar, of course, a couple places Tarzan found, and an odd little trilogy about a really goofy place called Caprona by explorers and Caspak by the natives.
Caspak is a large island full of cavemen, dinosaurs, prehistoric mammals, and a malevolent race of winged humanoids. I know that last one is a bit goofy, but that isn’t what put Caspak on the list. On Caspak ontogeny really recapitulates phylogeny.
Everyone who isn’t a bio major is probably thinking “What in the seven flaming hells did he just say?” Let me explain. There was an old theory, since discredited, that as a fetus develops it takes on the fetal forms of every animal it ever evolved from. So a human fetus starts out as a fish fetus, and proceeds to amphibian, reptile, monkey, and ape fetuses before becoming human. This has been shown to be bullshit, there are some resemblances to the fetus’ of our ancestors early on in gestation, but it isn’t nearly a one-to-one duplication.
ERB decides to take this idea (which was not discredited in his time) one step further though. One Caspak every animal hatches into a tadpole stage at a big lake on the south end of the island. Then they slowly travel northward, metamorphosing into various animals as they do, until finally turning into modern fauna at the northern point. Oh, and some of the humans evolve into winged humanoids rather than Cro-Magnon. It’s kind of weird.
So where do the eggs come from. Well, when animals on Caspak have sex, instead of giving birth the females lay hundreds of little fish eggs in the nearest river. The eggs are then washed down to the southern lake and hatch where the process starts. Even humans do this. Weird. [Oh, and to you nitpickers, there are a few rare mutant animals that can give natural birth].
So Caspak is included on the goofy list because of its bizarre biology that raises all kinds of interesting questions. The most pressing of which being, “Why don’t the T-Rex march north to the area with puny modern animals and eat everything?” No one knows.
Every animal in this picture used to be a fucking tadpole
3: The Midians (from Tarzan Triumphant)
The Midians are descended from a Roman Christian and his blond slave girl who fled to Africa to escape persecution. They have been isolated in the crater and not interbred with anyone since they found it. Also, the Roman guy had a huge man crush on St. Paul. And he was epileptic. I don’t think anyone likes where this is going.
ERB really hated organized religion. He mocked it constantly whenever he could, although he seemed to be a fairly spiritual person himself. This is one of his weirdest critiques (he also mocks communists in this book).
The Midians are really the wussiest, most pathetic lost civilization Tarzan ever encountered. They’ve degenerated into a Stone Age level of technology, and are separated into two warring tribes. One of them kills all babies that don’t resemble the Roman guy, so they are all deformed, inbred epileptics. The other one kills all babies that don’t resemble the slave girl, who was somewhat genetically healthier than the Roman. So they’re somewhat normal.
Both of the Midian tribes believe Paul of Tarsus is the true Son of God, who died for our sins. They constantly war over whether Paul had black hair (like the Roman) or blond hair (like the slave girl). They are such pathetic losers that Tarzan spends most of the time fighting Arab bandits, the Midians just menace the wimpy supporting cast. That’s because if Tarzan devoted his full time to them, he’d grind them into paste.
Tarzan Triumphant is probably my least favorite Tarzan novel because of the goofy, wimpy lost civilization of religious fanatics he fights. They just do not seem threatening in the slightest. The Commies are pretty wimpy too.
Couldn't find any Midian pictures. That's cuz they suck.
2: The Forest of Death (from Back to the Stone Age)
The Forest of Death is a dense forest on Pellucidar at the Center of the Earth, which is explored by Wilhelm Von Horst after he is separated from the rest of Tarzan’s Pellucidar expedition during the previous book. There is nothing really remarkable about the forest itself, it’s just a dense forest with a bunch of caves. What’s utterly bizarre and goofy is its inhabitants, the Gorbuses.
The Gorbuses are saber-toothed albino cannibals. They live in the forest to protect their skin from the sun, and make their homes in caves. When they see a human they typically try to eat them.
What makes the Gorbuses goofy? It’s not that they have saber teeth, or that they are an example of the denigrating “evil albino” stereotype. What makes them goofy is that they are reincarnations of murderers from the surface world.
You read that right. The Gorbuses remember facts about the surface world and are able to converse with Von Horst in surface languages. They also remember living up there and killing someone. Except that it isn’t always a person they killed. One female Gorbus remembers “killing love,” that is, destroying a relationship. What the hell? Von Horst remarks that her crime is even worse because there are a lot of people in the world, but not a lot of love. Honestly. What? The? Hell?!
The Gorbuses are the only real supernatural things encountered in this particular universe of Burroughs (the Tarzan, Pellucidar, Venus, and Mars series are all in the same universe) unless you count the psychic powers manifested by a few individuals such as John Carter and Carson Napier. Fortunately, Von Horst escapes them quickly so they don’t distort the story too badly. They can be thought of as a Big Lipped Alligator Moment in the ERBverse, occurring once out of nowhere and never mentioned again.
Incidently, the Gorbuses are not the only albino subterranean cannibal race on Pellucidar. There are also the Coripies from Tanar of Pellucidar, but they are entirely too cool to be on this list.
Sorry, couldn't find a Gorbus picture. This venomous kangaroo-lizard-bat will have to do.
1: The Valley of Diamonds (from Tarzan and the Lion Man)
So what could be goofier than plant men, reincarnated murderers, epileptic Paul worshippers, and prehistoric pirates. It’s the lost civilization that Tarzan discovers in the Valley of Diamonds in the 17th Tarzan book, Tarzan and the Lion Man. And before you ask, no, he does not fight a were-lion in this book (I was disappointed too). The titular Lion Man is a movie being filmed in Africa whose film crew is constantly being menaced by hostile natives and a certain lost civilization.
Before I explain this lost civilization I must make a short digression. Remember the classic Tarzan parody “George of the Jungle.” Remember Ape, George’s Gorilla sidekick who was highly intelligent and spoke with a British accent? Wasn’t having gorillas speak English with British accents funny? Isn’t that such a great parody because it’s so unlike the Tarzan stories where gorillas are dumb and mute?
Well, in Tarzan and the Lion Man, Tarzan and the hapless film crew encounter a lost city of gorillas who speak English with British accents. I am DEAD SERIOUS. There is a canonical Tarzan novel where Tarzan encounters Anglophonic gorillas with British accents. Not only that, the Gorillas are all named after British nobles from the era of Henry the Eighth! Really, I am not making this up!
How did all this happen? Well, there was this British mad scientist who discovered genetic engineering a century early. He went to Africa, to this isolated valley full of diamonds, and created gorillas that were spliced with human DNA. The gorillas killed any babies that looked deformed to them, inadvertently selecting for only having internal human characteristics. Hence gorillas that look normal on the outside, but with human minds and vocal cords.
The mad scientist taught the gorillas English and ruled them as their god. He also gave himself an unnatural long life with his science and had ruled the gorillas for over a century when Tarzan arrived. Oh, and he named them after British nobles because he got some of that DNA from robbing the graves of British nobles. Freaky.
So there you have it. A perfectly rational explanation for why Tarzan encounters a lost city of talking gorillas named after British nobles who speak English with a British accent.
What’s even funnier is that this wasn’t the first tribe of talking, city-building gorillas Tarzan met. He meets some near the lost city of Opar in the 9th book, Tarzan and the Golden Lion. What’s funny is, those talking gorillas apparently have nothing whatsoever to do with the talking gorillas of Tarzan and the Lion Man. The gorillas from Tarzan and the Golden Lion speak a normal ape language and appear to have evolved naturally, or perhaps been bred by the people of the nearby Lost City of Opar.
No, really, I'm serious. Those gorillas are cussing him out in the King's English
This is also another example of the fact that goofy doesn’t mean bad. I really enjoyed reading Tarzan and the Lion Man. ERB himself thought it was his weakest Tarzan novel, but I disagree, it wasn’t his best, but it wasn’t his worst either.
Sometimes goofy can be bad though. I would have to give the honor of worst Tarzan novel to Tarzan Triumphant with it’s horrible, wussy Midians. I’d rather have Jad-Bal-Ja the Golden Lion take a dump on my face than read that again.
So there you have it, the Top 11 Goofiest Edgar Rice Burroughs Lost Races. Next week I should hopefully have a new list up. What is it gonna be? The Top 11 Most Awesome Edgar Rice Burroughs Lost Races. I'm gonna decide which of Burrough's creations simply exude cool. See you then.