The Dream Vaults of Opar

Llana of Gathol

    Some of the oddest and most forceful memories are those triggered by smell. You probably know what I mean. You walk into the kitchen, get a whiff of blueberry muffins and suddenly, for an instant, you’re six years old again and back at your grandmother’s. G&D editions from the 1950s can do that to me, the odor of the paper carrying me back to my childhood for an instant. Such vivid, almost tactile memories seem most often to be triggered by olfactory stimulation, but occasionally other senses can cause the same phenomenon.
    Almost every time I take Llana of Gathol (the Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., first edition) down from the shelf and hold it, I’m momentarily transported back to a cold (for Louisiana) January afternoon in 1962. I’m lying in bed, holding that heavy little volume above my head and thrilling to the adventures of John Carter.
    A day or two before had been my fourteenth birthday, which began unpropitiously at best: I awoke with the flu--stopped up, coughing, upset stomach, too sick to go to school--so genuinely ill that I would gladly have given up the unexpected day off if that would have made my symptoms disappear. It was a miserable way to spend a birthday, and I was feeling quite sorry for myself when my grandmother entered the room and handed me a small package, which had just arrived in the mail.
    I opened it quickly and was delighted to discover inside bright, dust-jacketed copies of Llana of Gathol and Tarzan and the “Foreign Legion,” which I had ordered only a week or so before from Garry de la Ree’s mail order catalog and had not expected to see for another week or more. It was my very first mail-order purchase, and I was both astounded and delighted. I had expected used books; instead, these were brand new, never-before-opened volumes--from the ERB, Inc., warehouse, as I would later learn.
    I spent the rest of the day with Tarzan, lost in the dank jungles of Sumatra. And as soon as I finished that book, I set off for Mars. My introduction to ERB’s Barsoom had taken place three or four months earlier, when I had acquired a worn copy of Chessmen. Now I finally had the opportunity to discover who this John Carter person was.

    I mention all this because I recently finished rereading Llana--for the third time, probably, but the first time in a decade. The book has always been a favorite of mine, and I thought it would be interesting to see how it held up today, from the perspective of “middle age.”
    Despite its episodic nature, it holds up quite well and I still consider it ERB at something near his storytelling best. There are terrible coincidences, of course (Llana’s miraculous appearance in the pits of Horz), but there is also plenty of exciting action, intriguing scenery, and interesting concepts.
    A whole string of characters from earlier books make brief reappearances (to the delight of the devoted reader), and I found myself quite pleased to make the acquaintance (again) of the daughter of Gahan of Gathol and Tara of Helium. The ending seems a bit rushed--the four-novelette format not permitting space for a full homecoming for the adventurers, unfortunately.
    The only real flaw I noticed on this reading--and which escaped me completely on my earlier perusals--is that the narrator really doesn’t sound like John Carter. ERB is writing here in that light, “modern” style that he employed in many of his later works, and often has his fictional narrator saying things that seem out of character for a Virginia gentleman who left our planet just after the Civil War and has spent only a few weeks back here during this century. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable book.

    --November 28, 1989
Edgar Rice Burroughs'
Martian Series
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Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.