E.R. Burroughs page
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||Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)|
American novelist, creator of Tarzan, one of the indispensable icons of popular culture. Burroughs also published science fiction and crime novels, some 26 books dealt with the Apeman. Critics have considered Burroughs's fiction crudely written and chauvinist. His books, however, are still widely read and usually more interesting than the films. It is true that Burroughs often portrayed Africans, Arabs or Asians as evil or comic, but the stories contain elements that have kept them 'politically correct': Waziri warriors are brave, and such female characters as the cave girl Nadara and Dejah Thoris, the princess of Mars are – besided good looking – smart, courageous, and resourceful.
"As the body rolled to the ground Tarzan of the Apes placed his foot upon the neck of his lifelong enemy, and raising his eyes to the full moon threw back his fierce young head and voiced the wild and terrible cry of his people." (from Tarzan of the Apes, 1914 )
Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago, Illinois, into a prosperous family. His father, George Tyler Burroughs, was a Civil War veteran. To glamourize his own origins, Burroughs later claimed that he was born in Peking at the time his father served as a military adviser to the Empress of China, growing up there, in the Forbidden City. But it is true, that Burroughs attended several private schools, including the Michigan Military Academy, Orchar Lake (1892-95), where he was instructor and assistant commandant (1895-96). He served in the 7th Cavalry in the Arizona Territory (1896-97) and Illinois Reserve Militia (1918-19). During this period he met and heard stories of men who had fought the Sioux and Apache. However, though he admired Zane Grey and Owen Wister, and shared their love of the out-of-doors, the Great Plains and the life in the West never played an important part in his literary imagination.
After his military career Burroughs became the owner of a stationery store in Pocatello, Idaho (1898), and had then dealings with the American Battery Company, Chicago (1899-03). In 1900 he married his childhood sweetheart Emma Centennia Hulbert (divorced in 1934); they had two sons and one daughter. Possibly in Idaho he became familiar with the work of H. Rider Haggard, Kipling, Swift, Verne, and Wells, all of whom may have influenced his own writing. Burroughs also admired Jack London and once thought to write his biography.
For the next ten years the family lived in near poverty. Burroughs was associated with Sweetser-Burroughs Mining Company in Idaho (1903-04), he was a railroad policeman in Salt Lake, Utah (1904), a manager of a stenographic department at Sears, Roebuck and Company in Chicago (1906-08), a partner of an advertising agency (1908-09), an office manager (1909), a partner of a sales firm (1910-11). In 1910-11 Burroughs worked for Champlain Yardley Company, and from 1912 to 1913 he was manager of System Service Bureau.
Before Tarzan, Burroughs led a life full of failures. The turning point came at the age of 35 when he began to contribute to pulp magazines – firmly convinced that he could write as rotten stuff as was published in them. His first professional sale was 'Under the Moons of Mars', serialized in 1912. It introduced the popular invincible hero John Carter, who is transported to Mars apparently by astral projection, following a battle with Apaches in Arizona. Carter's adventures were compiled in book form under the title A Princess of Mars (1917). The 'Martian' series eventually reached eleven books. The Carson of Venus books blended romance and comedy, the Pellucidar tales were located inside the Earth.
Burroughs's first successful story was 'Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars' which appeared in 1912 in All-Story Magazine. His breakthrough novel Tarzan of the Apes (1912) was followed by 24 other Tarzan adventures, which he never took too seriously. ''If I had striven for long years of privation and effort to fit myself to become a writer,'' Burroughs said, ''I might be warranted in patting myself on the back, but God knows I did not work and still do not understand how I happened to succeed.'' In 1913 Burroughs founded his own publishing house Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises and Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures were founded in 1934.
From The Oakdale Affair (1937), a western, John Coleman Burroughs began to illustrate his father's books. The novelette 'John Carter and the Giant of Mars,' which he wrote and illustrated, was published under Edgar Rice Burroughs's name in Amazing Stories (1941). John Coleman was more of a visual artist than a writer. When readers of the magazine questioned the authenticity of the text, the editor Raymond A. Palmer insisted that the manuscript had been published exactly as received from Burroughs, Inc.
"If it's any of my business, how the devil did you ever get into that bally jungle?"
As for the origins of Tarzan, Burroughs himself once wrote in a letter: "I have tried to search my memory for some clue to the suggestions that gave me the idea, and as close as I can come to it I believe that it may have originated in my intrest in Mythology and the story of Romulus and Remus. I also recall having read many years ago the story of a sailor who was shipwrecked on the Coast of Africa and who was adopted by and consorted with great apes to such an extent that when he was rescued a she-ape followed him into the surf and threw a baby after him." The world famous protagonist in Tarzan books is John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, whose aristocratic parents, John Clayton and his wife, Lady Alice, are abandoned on the west coast of Africa by mutinous sailors. Lady Alice dies insane and John Clayton is killed by a great ape named Kerchak. The surviving baby is raised by an ape, Kala, and like Kipling's Mowgli in the Jungle Books, he befriends animals, large and small. After finding a book in the remnants of his parents' hut he learns to read. "As he had grown older, he found that he had grown away from his people. Their interests and his were far removed. They had not kept pace with him, nor could they understand aught of the many strange and wonderful dreams that passed through the active brain of their human king." Another party of whites is marooned on the same west coast – the Porters from Baltimore and William Clayton, the present Lord Greystoke. During the tale, Tarzan finds love, and discovers his aristocratic roots. He falls in love with Jane Porter, but in Tarzan of the Apes, Jane rejects his offer of marriage and accepts the proposal of William Greystoke.
Eventually Jane Porter becomes Tarzan's wife, and they also have a son. With the help of animals – mostly elephants and apes – and due to his intelligence and fighting skills, Tarzan gains the unofficial status of the king of the jungle, and immortality through an African shaman's secret formula. In several books the invincible hero is involved with lost races, hidden cultures, or even with an entire lost continent. Moreover, during his long career in the jungle, Tarzan battles against Germans, Japanese, and communists. In the first four books the hero is known variously as "Tar-Zan" ("white-skin" in the ape tongue), "John Clayton," and "Lord Bloomstoke" (later changed to "Lord Greystoke").
In addition to his four major adventure series, Burroughs wrote between the years 1912 and 1933 several other adventure novels, including The Cave Girl (1925), in which a weak aristocrat develops i nto a warrior, two Western novels about a white Apache, The War Chief (1927) and Apache Devil (1933), which showed sympathy for Native Americans, and Beyond the Farthest Star (1964), a science-fiction novel about the brutality of war.
Burroughs's science fiction novels are full of a sense of adventure.
They take the reader on a fantastic voyage to
chart strange and unfamiliar lands as Homer did in his Odyssey; his Mars and Venus are
no more real than African, where Asian tigers roam in th jungle. The Land That Time Forgot (1924) is a
Darwinist story set on a mysterious island near the South Pole, where dinosaurs and other primitive
species have survived.
It consists of three novelettes, 'The Land That Time Forgot,' 'The People That Time Forgot,' and 'Out of
Time's Abyss'. Together they form the Caspak-trilogy, first published in serialized form in 1918 in The Blue Book Magazine.
Possibly the idea of a lost city in Tarzand and the Jewels of Opar (1916) was inspired by H. Rider Haggard's later installments of the Quatermain series. This book has often been considered as the last novel in the original Tarzan chronology. In Haggard, the goddess-queen of Ophir is called "She," in Burroughs the priestess-queen of Opar is "La." References to the land of Ophir are found in the Bible.
"Before me lay the Lost Sea of Korus, while farther on I caught the shimmering ribbon of Iss, the River of Mystery, where it wound out from beneath the Golden Cliffs to empty into Korus, to which for countless ages had been borne the deluded and unhappy Martians of the outer world upon the voluntary pilgrimage to this false heaven." (from The Warlord of Mars, 1919)
The Barsoom books were set on Mars, where the civilization and nature is dying. John Carter, the major hero,
is transported to Barsoom by magical means. In the distant workd he wins the hand of Princess Thoris, a beautiful red woman. John Carter of Mars
(1964), the final book in the Barsoom series, collected the stories
'John Carter and the Giant of Mars' and 'Skeleton Men of Jupiter.'
The Pellucidar series started from At the Earth's Core (1922), in which a group of scientist use their drilling machine to tunnel down into the hollow space at the centre of the planet. As in Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) they find new life forms which have survived for millions of years. Compared to Tarzan, Burroughs's hero has again a rather normal name, David Innes. '"David," said the old man, "I believe that God sent us here for just that purpose--it shall be my life work to teach them His word--to lead them into the light of His mercy while we are training their hearts and hands in the ways of culture and civilization."' (from At the Earth's Core) Pellucidar is lit by a miniature sun which burns in the centre of the hollow. Tarzan also visits this subterranean timeless world in Tarzan at the Earth's Core (1930). Andrew Stanton's film John Carter of Mars (2012) is based on the novel series, starring Taylor Kitsch as John Carter, a Civil War veteran mystically transplanted to Mars, and Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Helium.
Burroughs created the Venus sequence,
concerning the exploits of spaceman Carson
Napier, relatively late in his career, in the 1930s. A posthumous story, 'Wizard of Venus', was published in 1964
and then as the title story of The Wizard of Venus (1970). Carson of Venus has telepathic powers, Carter is immortal and he can
project himself astrally. According to Fritz Leiber, Burroughs found in Theosophy a rich source of background materials for Mars
books. However, Tarzan stories did not have supernatural elements,
except that Burroughs kept Tarzan forever young and referred to him in Tarzan and the Forbidden City (1938) as "this super-man." (The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption by Tyler R. Tichelaar, 2012, pp. 252-252)
Richard Lupoff has argued that the source of Burroughs's Barsoom series was Edwin Lester Arnold's novel Lieut. Gullivar Jones (1905; US title: Gulliver of Mars, 1965), in which Jones tells of his trip by flying carpet to Mars and his adventures there with a princess. Burroughs's A Princess of Mars was first published in a serialized form in All-Story magazine (1912). Arnold wrote also the novel Phra the Phoenician (1890), which features a character much like Carter. Burroughs had a copy of the book in his personal library. The author himself was reluctant to speak of the influences he had absorbed.
Especially in the early Tarzan stories, the theme of exploitation of Africa's resources comes
to the fore. Tarzan is fully
aware of the power of money after learning the ways of the civilized world. In The Return of Tarzan, he steals gold from the lost city of Opar, and in order to reestablish
his fortune, he
returns to the city in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar.
However, material wealth meant less to the
Lord of the Jungle than to the author himself. Burroughs purchased in
a large ranch in the San Fernando Valley, which he later developed into
the suburb of Tarzana. Following the example of Jack London, whom he
aimed to pursue a career as a rancher-writer. Eventually his personal
retreat contained a mansion-like ranch house with huge fireplaces, a
library and schoolroom, a swimming pool and a gym, a ballroom, a
thearer for private screenings, and a nine-hole golf course. The
stables held finely bred horses.
To pay for his
expensive lifestyle and to cover his misadventures in financial
investments Burroughs wrote an average of three novels a year. He married
in 1935 Florence Dearholt; they divorced in 1942 due to Burroughs's
She said that "He preferred to live alone. Ed regretted the marriage
and felt that we would be much happier if we went our own ways." (Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan: A Biography of the Author and His Creation by Robert W. Fenton, 2003, p. 172)
As a businessman Burroughs was creative and never satisfied. After selling the film rights to multiple Tarzan stories to too many produces he lost his authorial control over the Tarzan story world. In a letter to his brother he compained: "As far as I know, no one connected with the making of a single Tarzan picture has had the remotest conception of either the story or the character, as I conceived it." (Historicising Transmedia Storytelling: Early Twentieth-Century Transmedia Story Worlds by Matthew Freeman, 2016, pp. 118-120) The first Tarzan films from 1918, starring Elmo Lincoln, were shot in the swamps around Morgan City, Louisina. Lincoln was five feet, eleven inches tall, and weighted 210 pounds. Before becoming the pioneering Tarzan of the apes, he had played in D.W. Griffth's Birth of a Nation at least five roles, including that of a Ku Klux Klan raider. ('Swinging into Oblivion: Elmo Lincoln,' in Forgotten Hoosiers: Profiles from Indiana's Hidden History by Fred D. Cavinder, 2009) When the Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller took the role in the 1930s, the films became really popular. According to some stories, in later life he was kicked out of a mental hospital because he had adopted the habit of yelling out his famous jungle cry at nights.
Because of financial reasons Burroughs decided to rent out his home
moved in 1940 to Hawaii, where he could according to his own
his expenses to a third of what they were in California. Despite being
sixty-seven years old, Burroughs was allowed to serve as a war
in the South Pacific during World War II. He also published columns
('Laugh It Off) in Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin.
At the end of the war, Burroughs moved back to California. Suffering for health problems, he wrote little in his final years. Burroughs died of a heart ailment on March 19, in 1950, while reading a comic book in bed.
Arthur C. Clarke has said that "I want to go along with Ray Bradbury's views on the importance of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was Burroughs who turned me on, and I think he is a much underrated writer. The man who can create Tarzan, the best-known character in the whole fiction, should not be taken too lightly! Of course, there's not much left of his Mars, and his science was always rather dubious. I can still remember even as a boy feeling there was something a little peculiar about cliffs of solid gold, studded with gems. I think it might be an interesting exercise for a geology student to see how that phenomenon could be brought about." (Mars and the Mind of Man, 1973, p. 27)
After Burroughs's death, enthusiasm for his books gradually waned.
He once admitted to The Los Angeles Times interviewer: "I don't think my work is
'literature,' I'm not fooling myself about that." In 1960s Edgar Rice
Burroughs Corporation managed to stir a new interest in the author's
work and his books have since been profitably in print. While
criticized as repetitious and clumsy, Burroughs's stories share the
same colourful imagination familiar from the classic works of H.G. Wells and H. Rider Haggard and have become a target for academic research. Feminist theorists have taken Tarzan very seriously. (See below Laura Havaste's work Tarzan and the Mystery of the White Man.)
However, although Tarzan is definitely a virile primitive and archetypical character, such psychoanalysts as Jung or Freud have not written much about him. John F. Kasson's interpretation in The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America (2001) takes under scrutiny "the urge to recover a primitive freedom and wildness." Kasson sees Tarzan as the ultimate self-made, self-taught man, who challenges the restrictions of modern civilization, and shows his own answer to the "new 'crisis' of masculinity."
For further reading: Golden Anniversary Bibliography of Edgar Rice Burroughs by H.H. Heins (1964); Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure by Richard A. Lupoff (1965); Tarzan Alive by Philip José Farmer (1972); Burrough's Science Fiction by Robert R. Kudlay and Joan Leiby (1973); Tarzan and Tradition by Erling B. Holtsmark (1981); Edgar Rice Burroughs by Irwin Porges (1975); Edgar Rice Burroughs by Erling B. Holtsmark (1986); Burroughs Dictionary by George T. McWhorter (1987); King of the Jungle by David Fury (1994); The Burroughs Cyclopaedia, ed. by Clark A. Brady (1996); Edgar Rice Burroughs by Robert B. Zeuschner (1996); Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Creator of Tarzan by John Taliaferro (1999); Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan: A Biography of the Author and His Creation by Robert W. Fenton (2003); Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure by Richard A. Lupoff (2005); Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Exhaustive Scholar's and Collector's Descriptive Bibliography of American Periodical, Hardcover, Paperback, and Reprint Editions by Robert B. Zeuschner (2007); 'Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950),' in American World War II Correspondents, edited by Jeffery B. Cook; Global Perspectives on Tarzan: from King of the Jungle to International Icon, edited by Annette Wannamaker and Michelle Ann Abate (2012); Tarzan, Jungle King of Popular Culture by David Lemmo (2017); Jetan: The Martian Chess of Edgar Rice Burroughs by Fredrik Ekman (2022)
Tarzan and Finland: In the 1920s Tarzan movies became highly popular in Finland. Following the enthusiasm of the public, twelve Tarzan books were translated into Finnish. In The Critical Book Catalogue, published by the State Library Office, The Son of Tarzan was considered among the best juvenile adventure novels ever written, but the same reviewer later thought that it is not necessary for the public libraries to acquire the whole Tarzan series. New Tarzan translations were not published until 1942. Harold Foster's newspaper-strips of the jungle lord appeared in the 1930s in the magazine Kerron sinulle... and Rex Maxon's Tarzan strip was bought by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. In 1942-43 Eeli Jaatinen (1905-1970) combined Tarzan with Robinson Crusoe in his comic strip Keskellä viidakkoa. Burroughs inspired Lahja Johannes Valakivi (1892-1956), an officer and a teacher, to publish under the pseudonym L. Valakivi four Tarsa novels, Karhumies Tarsa (1940), Tarsa Hyrsylän mutkassa (1940), Tarsan kuudes kolonna (1941), and Tarsa ja pakoluolan salaisuus (1941). In the first book the young and orphaned Tarsa is raised by a bear and gains enormous strength from its milk. Similarities with Burroughs's stories were not coincidental. Tarsa's archenemies were the Russians – a natural choice after the Winter War (1939-40), in which the nation fought against the Soviet aggression.
Comic books started to appear in Finland regularly in 1949 and the ape-man made his own comic book debut in Tarzan Viidakon valtias (1964). It was followed by Tarzanin poika (Tarzan's Son), which was published between the years 1969 and 1981. Also comic albums attracted readers. The most expensive collector's piece was Tarzan Afrikan Kuningas (1973), illustrated by Burne Hogarth.
After television made its breakthrough in Finland, many small movie theaters died. Some of them managed to survive a few more years in the 1960s by showing porn on weekdays and Tarzan adventures and other family movies on Sundays. When the Finnish Broadcasting Company began to run Tarzan films after Sunday schools, theater owners protested in vain about TV's program policy.
Burroughs's books appeared in new translations in the 1970s. Time was ripe for the politically correct translator to use the word "black" instead of "negro". The Lord of the Jungle also became milder – he was not the "wild apeman" but only the "apeman." In 1970s Burroughs was voted among the ten most popular writers. Tarzan of the Apes was translated into Finnish in 1997 for the third time.
The clichés of Tarzan mythology have for decades attracted humorists, among them Martti Innanen who wrote parodying radio plays about jungle adventures. Ami Aspelund urged the apeman to lift her into the tree in her cover version of the English-language song 'Big Fat Orang Uman' by Jungle Jim. Uolevi Nojonen published a juvenile novel, Tartsan Koivula suomalaisessa leppämetsässä (1977), in which the protagonist founds a Tartsan Association and starts to solve local crimes with his friends Jane, Puskapää, and Mosse. Perhaps the best humoristic work from the 1970s was Veikko Huovinen's short story 'Tarzan ja Suomi' (Tarzan and Finland). Huovinen pondered how the King of the Jungle would survive in the Northern pinewoods. The author was pessimistic: the climate is too arctic, animals are gloomy, and the authorities would not tolerate Tarzan's life style. Another writer, Kari Aronpuro, composed in his collection of poems, Terveydeksi (1966), the degree requirements of Tarzanology. The major achievement in the feminist Tarzan research in Finland is Paula Havaste's dissertation Tarzan ja valkoisen miehen arvoitus (Tarzan and the Mystery of the White Man) from 1998. Havaste takes her subject with disarming seriousness. She sees homosexual undercurrents in Tarzan's relationship with D'Arnot, a French officer who tries to save Jane in Tarzan of the Apes. According to Havaste, Tarzan's polished shoes in The Beasts of Tarzan symbolize his impeccability, but his superior physical ability is actually a kind of hysteria. And of course, Tarzan's knife is a phallic symbol. Tarzan and Finland, see: Tarzan ja valkoisen miehen arvoitus by Paula Havaste (1998); Portti, ed. by Raimo Nikkonen, published by Tampereen Science Fiction Seura, no. 2 (1991, special Edgar Rice Burroughs number); 'Tarzan ja Suomi' by Veikko Huovinen, in Vapaita suhteita (1975). Burroughsilta on suomennettu nelisenkymmentä teosta. Tarzan-kirjoja ja Mars-sarjaa kustansi 1960-70 -luvuilla T.A. Engströmin Taikajousi Oy.
Selected Tarzan novels:
Selected Tarzan films: