Before beginning this review, I have to take issue with the series title, “Campfire Classics.” While this is the kind of story that could definitely show up at a campfire, it’s by no stretch of the imagination a classic. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote pulp fiction – the kind of paperbacks you find on a Wal-Mart rack today. Wildly popular pulp fiction which is really fun to read, but pulp fiction, not classics of literature.
On to the story! In The Land That Time Forgot, Bowen and his dog Nobs are on their way to France to join the ambulance service in World War I, when a German U-boat attacks. He’s shocked to realize it’s a model created in his family’s own shipyards, but this turns out to be fortunate, since after rescuing the lovely Lys La Rue and being saved by a tugboat, they fight back and capture the sub and its German occupants. Bowen, being the only person who knows how to pilot the sub, becomes the captain. After various attempted mutinies by the Germans and sailors with a grudge against wealthy shipyard owners, and some misunderstandings between Bowen and Lys, they finally sight land. It turns out to be a strange, undiscovered continent with sheer, unscalable cliffs. But there’s a tunnel and they enter, hoping to find fresh water and food. They find a jungle teeming with life; unfortunately, the life is dinosaurs and Neanderthals! After various fights, encounters with the strange natives who include primitive apes, Neanderthals, and noble savages, defection by the treacherous Germans, and quite a lot of running, Bowen and Lys are the last remaining people of the submarine’s crew (Nobs got lost) and settle down on Caspak to hold off the various tribes and wait for the help that may never come.
The next story, The People That Time Forgot, introduces a new character, Tom Billings, sporting a cowboy hat and sideburns. He leads a rescue mission to find out what happened to Bowen but gets lost alone in the jungles of Caspak when his plane crashes. He meets the noble and courageous Ajor, who is fleeing a revolt among her own people, and together the two fight off various tribes including the Bo-Lu, the Kro-Lu, and the Galus. Finally, Billings discovers Bowen and Lys and they escape, but Billings decides to stay on Caspak with Ajor.
The art is lively and detailed, organized into slightly overlapping panels that move the action through the landscape. There’s not a lot of emotion expressed in the facial features, but the characters spend most of the time trying to survive and running through jungle, fields, caves, etc. so there’s not a lot of room for complex emotional responses anyways. The art switches back and forth from wide scenes of action to individual people reacting to the wild events. The weird creatures and dinosaurs are nicely drawn and although the women (of whom there are few) are scantily clothed they’re drawn fairly realistically. One odd note – Ajor, pictured with appropriately dark skin inside the book, is drawn as white on the cover. I checked scans of the cover online, as I was thinking this might have been an error in the review copy, but no, the publisher appears to have decided to bleach her for the cover.
The adaptations tone down quite a bit of the racism in Burroughs’ original books. Basically, the evolutionary model he proposed was that you start with apes, work your way up through various primitive tribes, and finally become Galu, i.e. human (those anxious to find out what Galus turn into if they’re not careful can read the third book, all about the demonic Wieroos!). There’s prejudice against the stereotyped Germans, not surprising considering the historical period and a few digs at the working class, who can’t aspire to the innate nobility of the wealthy and educated Bowen. However, compressing an approximately 400 page pulp action science fiction novel into a 68 page graphic novel leaves out a lot of Burroughs’ explanations of his weird world and leave the reader bewildered at the speed with which the characters hop between the various –lu tribes.
These graphic adaptations are well-drawn and exciting, if at times a little confusing, adventure stories and some judicious book-talking could interest kids in this series. It’s not likely to fly off your shelves, but will definitely have some appeal to adventure-loving tweens and teens. But is it worth the effort to promote? As I said at the beginning, this isn’t really a classic and the outdated views of evolution and prehistory, weird science-fiction names, violence (in both books the main characters’ immediate reaction to anything that gets too close is to shoot it), and racism make these titles that might have best been forgotten.
The Land That Time Forgot
Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs; Adapted by Steven Philip Jones
Art by K. L. Jones
The People That Time Forgot
Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs; Adapted by Scott Alexander Young
Art by K. L. Jones