David Innes and his good friend Perry are testing a drilling device intended to help prospectors find oil, for they know that such a device would fetch millions. However, as they drill, they get more than they bargained for: they go all the way to Pellucidar, a world located inside the Earth itself, where a race of lizards rule and humanity is little more than a bunch of cavemen living in tribal arrangements, running from gigantic carnivorous creatures when they’re not fighting each other. When David and Perry are captured by slavers, they seek a way out of their captivity — and out of that savage world.
This is At the Earth’s Core, the first book in the Pellucidar series.
The book has a strong sense of adventure, giving the reader many scenes of scenic vistas and accounts of mighty deeds. The main character, David, is constantly beset by many a foe, from the dinosaur-like wildlife to the brutish cavemen and even the dominant race of that world, the Mayhars. While some time is spent explaining things, most of the time is taken up by action, with little to no flashbacks about life on the surface or some other thing. David knows what he wants, and he goes straight for it.
However, the book’s flaws are legion. The beginning is much too slow, with too much time spent on the trip to Pellucidar at a point where we know David is in no danger (there’s still the whole rest of the book) and we have little connection to Perry. The author far too often resorts to telling and explaining instead of showing. Despite all the danger, the stakes felt too low; he fell in love with a girl and sought to rescue her…and that’s his whole goal. The really interesting concepts don’t come until the end, but by then it is too little and too late. What could’ve been a great book becomes merely passable — not terrible, but hardly a slam dunk.
That being said, one thing bears mentioning: it is abundantly clear that this book was written well before World War II and the cultural changes it heralded. Eugenics is mentioned in a positive light. David shows great pride in the achievements of his civilization back in the surface, with no hint of cynicism beyond thinking that maybe humanity has gone a bit soft. He makes observations about race that, while not malicious, are politically incorrect to 21st-century ears. Perry matter-of-factly states that the Mayhars are superior and that it is their right to rule Pellucidar due to their much higher intelligence; humans are little more than dogs compared to them.
There is also the fact that this book was written before it was known what killed the dinosaurs. David casually implies that humans and dinosaurs interacted, and he says he wants to know how the dinosaurs disappeared. It proved to be an interesting look into a way of thinking long gone today not only regarding the dinosaurs, but the prewar ideas as well.
While this book isn’t the absolute best, it’s not that bad either. If you want a story told from a perspective that literally cannot exist today, I suggest getting it.