Inland Deep by Richard Tooker (1936)

InlandDeepCover blurb

Philanthropist Roger Anson loved financing trips for scientific advancement, and Bob Langtree, a museum curator and field investigator, loved scientific expeditions. As luck would have it, information came to Roger regarding the mysterious Comanche Caves. Strange sounds — vaguely human — had been heard there; and most interesting of all, a footprint had been found — a footprint only part human! So off Roger and Bob went, on an exploration into the deepest recesses of the Comanche caves. And sure enough, deep inside they found prints — like the tracks of a giant frog! These strange prints soon led to an underground world — a fantastic new realm filled with monstrous beasts, weird phenomena, and home to a previously undiscovered race of semi-intelligent beings. But in the end, their expedition to break new scientific barriers became a desperate race for survival.

*Cover blub and image from 2018 edition by Armchair Fiction.

My thoughts

Lost worlds used to turn up everywhere in the pages of fiction. You could find them on uncharted islands, the jungles of Africa and South America, or on overlooked continents. But the weirdest place where they were found was inside the Earth. This trend started with Jules Verne, who in 1864 published Journey to the Center of the Earth, in which an enormous cavern housed an assortment of prehistoric wildlife (and giant humans, although no film adaptation has included that element, as far I know). One of Verne’s early imitators was pulp fiction writer Richard Tooker, who in 1936 published Inland Deep. The book is clearly inspired by Journey to the Center of the Earth and shares so many plot elements that it is almost a rewrite, although Inland Deep is not nearly as memorable as its literary predecessor.

Bob Langtree is a scientist at a museum in Colorado and friend of wealthy philanthropist Roger Anson. Bob also is in love with Roger’s daughter Willa, and even though Roger encourages Bob to pursue the relationship, the scientist is reluctant because he doesn’t want to come across as a gold digger. One day Roger visits Bob’s office and recounts how two of his buddies were exploring the fictional Camanche Caves in Colorado when they heard a sinister but unintelligible voice issuing from deep inside the cave system. Roger proposes that he, Bob and Willa explore the caves to find out who or what was making the sounds. Bob is somewhat reluctant at first but the thought of spending time with Willa ultimately wins him over. The three descend into the caves and discover a fossilized footprint from what appears to be a giant frog. They soon afterward hear a voice coming from the other side of a nearby cave wall. The explorers use dynamite to break through the wall but in the process trigger a cave-in that forces them deeper into the cave system. After wandering in the dark for several days, the three stumble upon a massive, lighted cavern with its own sea and inhabited by flora and fauna from the Mesozoic era. They are not alone, as the creatures that made the fossilized footprint have also survived in this lost world.

Inland Deep is a short novel first published as a novella in the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. As far as I can tell, the book has only been republished once since its initial run, and the probable reason is that it isn’t very good. That said, there are things I like in Inland Deep. The initial exploration of the cave is written in fantastical detail, giving the explorers’ journey a somewhat dreamlike quality. Or maybe I should say “nightmarish” as elements like voices emanating from the deep and creatures lurking in the dark, just out of range of the lantern light, are genuinely creepy. Sadly, the lost world itself isn’t written with the same imaginative skill. It is just a knockoff of Verne, with the same central sea and a few prehistoric creatures scattered here and there for a bit of flavor. Even the characters’ eventual escape from the cavern mirrors the escape in the climax Journey to the Center of the Earth. The one original element in Inland Deep is a race of intelligent, non-human creatures that populate the lost world, but their society is never explored in any detail.

Perhaps Inland Deep’s biggest fault is its characters. They are the bland, one-dimensional caricatures found in most pulp fiction, although Willa is surprisingly resourceful compared to how women were usually portrayed in popular media of the time. (Unfortunately, she is still reduced to a damsel in distress by the end.) Still, the shallow characters don’t bother me as much as the fact they are written as incredibly stupid. I’m not a spelunker, but I imagine near the top of “things to avoid” is dynamite the cave you’re in. And when that causes the inevitable cave-in, don’t dynamite again. Or again. Yet Inland Deep’s trio of Einsteins keeps blasting away even when all it does is force them deeper underground. Worse still is the characters’ encounters with the intelligent inhabitants of the lost world. The creatures are scary-looking but their behavior is not particularly menacing, and when they finally attempt some form of communication with our heroes, the humans shoot and kill them. Bob initially shows remorse at this so I thought maybe the author was aiming for a deeper point, but no, soon the characters are killing creatures left and right. Lost world stories have been criticized for glorifying colonialism and dehumanizing non-European peoples. Inland Deep carries on that tradition. When Roger proclaims, after needlessly shooting the inhabitants, “I just wanted to let ‘em know that it wouldn’t pay to get too familiar,” you hear the echoes of the justifications for a thousand real-life massacres.

I would advise skipping Inland Deep. It is not worth hunting down unless you are obsessive about collecting paleofiction. If you want to read it, I would suggest the shorter version that appeared in Amazing Stories instead. At least that way you will save some time.

Trivia

  • Richard Tooker published a handful of science fiction novels and stories during the first half of the 20th century. His best-known work is the dinosaur-and-caveman melodrama The Day of the Brown Horde, according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. He also wrote the caveman story The Dawn Boy.
  • Inland Deep features a 40-foot-tall, bipedal dinosaur that hops like a kangaroo. This is very similar to the hopping Megalosaurus in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. The idea of hopping dinosaurs comes from the very early days of paleontology when some people noted the superficial similarities of bipedal dinosaurs to kangaroos and surmised they moved in similar fashion. As far as I know, no “hopping” dinosaurs have been discovered.
  • My edition of Inland Deep is a 2018 reprint by Armchair Fiction, with art from the original edition of the novel and the 1933 short story, titled “The Tomb of Time.” It also includes a short story from Tooker about a mad scientist and his death ray. Armchair Fiction has republished several pulp-era lost world novels, most dealing with lost civilizations rather than prehistoric creatures. You can read the original novella here.

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