Reading Edgar Rice Burroughs: Pellucidar (Books 1-3)

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Reading Edgar Rice Burroughs

So… this post was originally part of a different post, rounding up fiction books I’ve read in 2018, but for a couple of reasons—length, viability as a post series—I figured I’d instead do one post rounding up general reading, and another specifically tracking my readings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

Because the thing is, I’ve been on an Edgar Rice Burroughs kick. It’s not nostalgia at work, note: though I know of Tarzan and Barsoom because I grew up in Western culture in the 1970s and 1980s, and yes, I saw the Disney film John Carter of Mars (and didn’t hate it), I’d never actually read a single book by Burroughs until a month ago. 

I might not have done so, either, except I started researching a creative project—let’s simplify and call it a planetary romance thing. I figured, hey, Burroughs was a big deal in this area, maybe I should check out his stuff, just to get a grounding. That morphed into sort of a diversion, and then a thing-in-itself, and now I’m on a Burroughs kick. Planetary Romance (and the “Hollow Earth” variant of the genre) is bigger than just that one author, of course, and I’ll likely branch out beyond that, but it’s been interesting going back to Burroughs’ work and digging in.

After plowing through a couple of public-domain audiobooks, I took the plunge and bought myself a stack of old Ballantine and Ace paperbacks, including a few of the Pellucidar books (notably the first three), most of the Venus series (except the last volume), both of the two volumes that collect Burroughs’ three-part novel (or series?) The Moon Maid, and the full Mars/Barsoom series, along with a few scattered stand-alone novels. 

Will I get through them all? Time will tell, but I can say that I started with the first three books of the hollow-earth Pellucidar series, and that’s what I’m discussing today. 

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The Intelligent Sword

Everyone knows Stormbringer, the sword wielded by Elric—even people like me, who’ve barely read any of the Elric stories. Stormbringer is notorious in part because it’s the prototypical “intelligent sword” that old-timer RPG fans remember being a big deal in 1st edition AD&D. 

Now, there are rules for intelligent magic items in 5E, of course, and there’s certainly precedent in fantasy literature for intelligent or sentient magical objects that aren’t swords—the Lord of the Rings features one prominently—but I feel like the “intelligent sword” trope has kind of fallen by the wayside… at least, it felt like that when the trope came up in a discussion in a Facebook group I’m in. 

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The Apex Book of World SF, Volume 5

Since the Apex Book of World SF series launched a decade ago, I’ve always wished that I could help get a Korean story into the series. Well… that’s finally happened. 

In the forthcoming fifth volume of the series, edited by Cristina Jurado (and with Lavie Tidhar as the series editor), that’s finally happened. My co-translation with Jihyun Park of Boyoung Kim’s tale of Lamarckian evolution, mythic Korean beasts, and metamorphosis, “An Evolutionary Myth,” will be reprinted, alongside what looks to be another fascinating and amazing collection of work from around the world. 

Preorders are now open, and you can get 25% off if you order the book now. At that link, there’s also a playlist of songs to accompany you in that task. 

You can also read more about the volume in a piece by Cristina Jurado, published in Apex recently

Oh, and if you missed out on the earlier volumes in the series, there’s a bundle available for all four trade paperbacks for a good price, too… a good option if the wait until October 9th—when Volume 5 will be released—feels like a long time away.  

One more time, here’s where you can preorder the book

Ex Libris Miskatonici, by Joan C. Stanley

Update (18 October 2018): If you’re interested in getting a copy of this book, and think the asking prices online are insane, you should try email Necronomicon Press. In the post below, I mention emailing them but not the response, which came soon after I published this post. They had copies in stay… and may still have them. This is where to go if you’d like to inquire. And have a look around: there’s some other cool stuff available on the site, too. (I rather wish I’d gotten Jason C. Eckhardt’s Off the Ancient Track: A Lovecraftian Guide to New England & Adjacent New York (2013) while I was at it. Next time, I guess.)

In any case, my copy of Ex Libris Miskatonici just arrived, in pristine condition, to my amazement. It cost me $37, including postage to an address in the States, which is a little more than the original price of the book, but a damned sight better than $200! 

Original Post: A few weeks ago, I ran across a mention of Joan C. Stanley’s Ex Libris Miskatonici: A Catalogue of Selected Items from the Special Collections in the Miskatonic University Library (1993); the person who mentioned it linked a post on the book, over on the blog Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein.

The (worthwhile!) discussion there is a thoughtful and astute response to Stanley’s book, which is a sort of bibliography of imaginary Lovecraftian tomes in the imaginary holdings of the equally-imaginary Miskatonic University:

Taken as a whole, Joan C. Stanley’s book is an exceptional example of a small and somewhat obscure form of fiction, one that seeks to mimic creative non-fiction with all the care and attention to detail of a good hoax. This kind of effort to create an “in-universe” document (more or less) is more typically associated with the occult (such as the Simon Necronomicon (1977)) or roleplaying games (such as Le Culte des Goules (2012) by Antoine Téchenet), but it represents the fundamental desire that readers have to interact with the Mythos at a deeper level. Ex Libris Miskatonici is a high-level example of the interaction between fan-fiction and fan-scholarship, showcasing not just the mental gymnastics that some Mythos writers have to go through, but that something positive and worthwhile can result. 

That was enough to make me want to read the book, though of course the challenges are formidable: it’s been out of print since 1995, and while I’ve seen it claimed on one web forum that Necronomicon Press had print copies for sale at NecronomiCon (the Rhode Island Lovecraft con) as recently as 2014, that publisher hasn’t responded to the email I sent them… and while affordable second-hand copies occasionally do appear on Ebay, the ones there right now are priced at $200 at the lowest, and all the way up to $1900 on one site I saw.   

This got me digging around a bit, and I discovered some unfortunate news. It seems pretty likely that this obituary from 2016 is probably for the same Joan C. Stanley. That said, it sounds like she had an interesting life, too:

Attorney Joan Carol Stanley passed from life on October 16, 2016 after a 50 year battle with rheumatoid arthritis. She attended Boston Public Schools, Howard University, and Northwestern University Law School. She also studied in Japan and France and traveled to many countries. She was a member of the National Honor Society, the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the Star Trek Club, the Boston Philatelic Society and a lover of classical music. After law school she joined Roxbury Defenders and then became the second Black woman in the US to be an Assistant US Attorney. She was also lately criminal defense attorney.

Two pertinent details can be taken from the above:

The first is the bit about her having studied in Japan sort of seems to connect with Stanley’s handling of The Seven Cryptical Books, a point discussed at length in the post at Deep Cuts, concluding with this point:

Stanley’s approach to the Seven Cryptical Books is synthesis, striving to bring together all the disparate references to the tome which had seen print to that time and grounding the text in actual Chinese language and history.

I have no way of knowing whether it influence how she chose to handle the Seven Cryptical Texts, which comprise, after all, the primary East Asian contribution among the fictional books appearing in Lovecraft’s work. That said, it seems at least possible. 

A young Joan C. Stanley.

The second point of note is Stanley wasn’t just a pioneer as a Black female attorney in the American judicial system: she may perhaps also be considered a pioneer as a PoC author publishing a work of Lovecraftian fiction in the 1990s. I have no idea who was the first, but she does seem to be an early figure, at least. It seems odd to me that this detail’s not mentioned in the discussions I’ve seen of Stanley’s book, though it is inunderstandable since it’s not mentioned in her writeup at on the back jacket text, pictured above. Still, it seems like a pertinent detail worth noting and remembering. 

Ex Libris Miskatonici seems to have been the only book she published. However, web searches reveal that she was also involved in the committee for NecronomiCon as well.

And as for my hunt for a copy in print: that continues—maybe I’ll get a response from Necronomicon Press eventually?—though one happy owner of the book was at least kind enough to pass on a set of photos of the contents so I could print it off and read the book. I’m about halfway through, and enjoying it immensely.