Edgar Rice Burroughs

This post is an homage to my muse, Edgar Rice Burroughs. I can never say enough about this legendary author.

In the 1980s I published a sword & sorcery novel titled, The Twentieth Son of Ornon (reissued a few years ago as The Sons of Ornon). It might have been my tenth or eleventh published book at the time; I’m not sure. More important was the dedication/author’s note that I wrote, which I present here verbatim:

THE TWENTIETH SON OF ORNON is not the first book I ever penned, nor is it the first to find print. But it is my personal favorite among the many stories that I’ve so far consigned to paper during my career, and accordingly I wish to dedicate it to my personal favorite among authors, the true Master of adventure fantasy, Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was ERB’s incomparable works that unfettered my own imagination, as well as those of so many others. I offer this in gratitude for the worlds that he created, and in deep respect for his memory.

My childhood in a South Bronx tenement was BOOKS. Anything and everything I could borrow from the New York Public Library, West Farms Branch. That’s when I fell in love with Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan of the Apes. And John Carter of Mars. And David Innes of Pellucidar. And Bowen Tyler of Caprona. And so many other memorable characters in the seventy-plus books that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote in a career that spanned four decades. Sure, I had many other favorites, but there wasn’t even a close second to ERB. Without having been immersed in his worlds, I doubt if my own worlds of Maldrinium, or Shadzea, or Boranga, or Veskia, would have been created. I meant every word of that dedication.

I’ve thought a lot about ERB this year for a couple of reasons. The first, sadly, was because of the Disney Studios mega-flop, John Carter, based on ERB’s wonderful Barsoom (Mars) tales of a Virginia soldier of fortune who, while prospecting in Arizona, is miraculously transported to Mars and, subsequently, battles his way through eleven books worth of grand adventures.

The other reason for thinking a lot about ERB has to do with my rewriting and reissuing many of my earlier works, my second chance at making them right. The Sons of Ornon came out early in 2012, and soon after I reissued The Master of Boranga. The significance of this sword & planet story (or adventure fantasy, or lost world) is that, after years of telling myself that I was going to be a writer and not writing a blasted thing, I finally got serious, and Master was the result. Sure, it was imitative in style and structure, but hey, we all had to start somewhere, and who better to imitate than one of the most popular writers of the twentieth century?

And I was hardly the only one. Many writers in ERB’s genres have paid homage to him in dedications and the like, among them the great Ray Bradbury. In Irwin Porges’ prodigious 1975 biography, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man who Created Tarzan (Brigham Young University Press), Bradbury wrote an introduction titled, “Tarzan, John Carter, Mr. Burroughs, and the Long Mad Summer of 1930.” In it, he talks about falling in love with all of Burroughs’ characters and worlds when he was ten years old. (Hmm, sound familiar?) And remember, in 1930 some of them had not yet been created. Bradbury says, “[Burroughs’] greatest gift was teaching me to look at Mars and ask to be taken home.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in 1875 and died in 1950. His interesting—and sometimes rocky—life deserves a post by itself. It will happen next week.

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