The Master of Adventure II
by John Harwood
Booklet Copyright 1967 ERB, Inc.
An Overview of ERB's Work
Some critics say that ERB wrote about life on distant planets or in undiscovered parts of the Earth so that people couldn't check on the facts. They say that a good author should write about the things with which he is familiar. It's true that Mr. Burroughs did write about life on Mars and Venus and at the Earth's Core where the experts weren't able to point out his mistakes, but then in other books he did write of t hings he knew. For instance, in his younger days he worked on his brother's ranch in Idaho as a cowboy and then again after his release from the Cavalry he took a job herding cattle. He has used this knowledge to good effect in his tow Westerns, THE BANDIT OF HELL'S BEND and THE DEPUTY SHERIFF OF COMMANCHE COUNTY. These experiences also came in handy for parts of the following: THE WAR CHIEF; APACHE DEVIL; THE MUCKER; THE GIRL FROM HOLLYWOOD; and THE GIRL FROM FARRIS'S.
Young Burroughs enlisted in the 7th Cavalry in Arizona in 1896 in the expectancy of fighting Indians. However, most of his time was spent in digging ditches which was a bit more monotonous than the excitement of chasing the Apaches. Yet all that time wasn't wasted. He got to know the country and he probably listened to the stories of the old timers who must have chased Geronimo a decade earlier. He would have used this knowledge of the surrounding country and the stories he heard when he wrote the two War Chief books. These facts could also be of use in writing the story of John Carter's escape from the Apaches before his first journey through space to Mars.
As an instructor at the Michigan Military Academy the author had to teach, with other subjects, the science of Geology. His knowledge of the men and monsters of the prehistoric past enabled him to do a good job of describing some of the inhabitants of the Pellucidar series. He also wrote of primitive men and ancient reptiles in the following books: TARZAN THE TERRIBLE; THE CAVE GIRL; TARZAN AND THE FORBIDDEN CITY; THE ETERNAL LOVER; and THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT.
His business experience, however unsuccessful, may have provided the background matter for THE EFFICIENCY EXPERT.
One other book that may have been based on his knowledge may have been THE GIRL FROM HOLLYWOOD. In his dealings with the movie industry, he may have heard many stories of the downfall of the girls who come to the Movie City to try their luck at becoming glamorous stars.
One of the biggest sources of income from Tarzan was the series of ape-man pictures. This started in 1918 with the first Tarzan film, TARZAN OF THE APES with Elmo Lincoln in the title role. Since then, there have been thirteen film Tarzans in the thirty-seven movies as follows:
[This list and expanded updates are featured in ERB Motes & Quotes #13: Silver Screen.]
At the time of his death, ERB had made over $5,000,000 from the film rights to his fabulous hero. The secret of his success in this field is the fact that he never sold the rights to the ape-man to the motion picture studios. He always leased the rights to a company for a specific number of pictures for for a certain length of time You may remember that when MGM brought out the first Johnny Weissmuller picture there were several different Tarzans within five years of one another. The reason for this is the fact that MGM made the first picture to use up some movie shots left over from TRADER HORN. When the movie was released and turned out to be such a success they wanted to lease the rights to another one but RKO-Radio had beat them to it and made a picture with Buster Crabbe. Then MGM got the right to make another. Before Johnny Weissmuller finally signed a contract with the author for sole rights to portray the ape-man on the screen, two more actors had gotten into the act. Glenn Morris and Herman Brix (now Bruce Bennett) were the two other Tarzans. Herman Brix appeared in the two pictures produced by ERB's own producing company, Burroughs Tarzan Enterprises. (This company also produced a few more pictures, including TUNDRA, which, with added material was later released under the title ARCTIC FURY.) After signing his contract with Mr. Burroughs, Johnny had no competition in his work. When RKO-Radio next got the rights to Tarzan they had to take Johnny along too.
The "comic" strip, TARZAN OF THE APES, ahd about as much trouble getting published as the book. The first person to think of the idea of putting Tarzan into the strip form was Joseph H. Neebe. He had the story condensed in text and illustrated by Hal Foster, the originator of the popular rival to Tarzan, PRINCE VALIANT. Mr. Neebe started a big campaign to sell the feature to the newspapers all over the country. The campaign failed with not a single newspaper buying the strip. He then turned it over to Metropolitan Newspaper Service who offered it to a small group of important newspapers. This first strip ran for ten weeks and at the end of that period the readers were asked if they wanted the strip to go on. With the results of the enthusiastic replies, the syndicate was able to sell the feature to papers from coast to coast. This was in January 7, 1929. When the demand for a Sunday Tarzan page in color became great enough, United Feature Syndicate, which had bought Metropolitan in 1930, published the first Sunday page on March 15, 1931. Since that day, the Tarzan daily and Sunday feature has spread across the world.
Tarzan first appeared in comic magazines as reprints from the newspapers back in 1936 in TIP-TOP COMICS. He also appeared in COMICS ON PARADE and SPARKLER COMICS. In 1947 Dell Publishing Company brought out two trial issues of the Tarzan magazine with original stories which were illustrated by Jesse Marsh. This went over so well that starting the next year it was published bi-monthly until July 1951 when it went monthly.
Although ERB is better known to the general public as author of the Tarzan series, he is also a big name in the world of Science Fiction. In this field he has written novels of adventure in such widely separated locales as Mars, Venus, the Moon, the Earth's Core, and remote places on t he surface of the Earth.
These books abound in such things as rocket ships, time travel, future civilizations, lost tribes, fantastic weapons, weird creatures on other planets, amazing medical and surgical discoveries, immortality, death rays, matter transmission, future methods of transportation, etc. Burroughs isn't regarded as much as a prophet of things to come but he has predicted such modern inventions as radar, the automatic pilot, the radio compass, teletype, picture transmission by wire or radio, the transfer of living organs, fused shells, homing devices on bombs and torpedoes, etc. For example, radar which was just starting on the experimental stage in 1922 was used in the plot of THUVIA, MAID OF MARS which appeared in magazine form in 1916 and as a book in 1920. Although not forming part of the plot, radar was reported even earlier in the Burroughs stories: in A PRINCESS OF MARS which was first issued under the title UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS in 1912 and as a book in 1917. In this first book it was referred to as a finding and sighting apparatus. It's in THUVIA, MAID OF MARS, ERB told us that radio active waves are sent out and any object detected by these waves actuates a mechanism at eh point of origin of the waves. These devices work from a few hundred yards to two hundred miles depending on the use for which they are intended.
Mr. Burroughs could have become famous even if he hadn't created Tarzan because of John Carter, the hero of the Mars books. Many of the Burroughs fans who are more inclined to Science Fiction regard the Warlord of Mars as a greater character than the ape-man. While the action of the Mars series is laid against the background of scientific inventions, most of the action is based on swordplay a la Douglas Fairbanks, the elder. Like the star of the silent movies, John Carter thinks nothing of battling a dozen of the foe and defeating them single-handed. It is this ability with the sword that has earned him the title of the Swordsman of Two Worlds.
As one of the early writers of interplanetary adventure, Mr. Burroughs set the pace for scores of authors who have followed in his footsteps. Many have almost come up to him but there is till only one Burroughs. Together with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs made up the Big Three of Science Fiction. These three have had much credit in making the art what it is today. H. G. Wells used Science Fiction as a background for the social study of the future of Mankind as influenced by the new inventions of Science. Jules Verne used Science Fiction as a way of interesting his readers in the geography of the Earth and of the sciences of geology, astronomy, etc. Burroughs, on the other hand, used Science Fiction as a means of enabling his heroes to roam to other planets, to remote parts of the Earth or to past or future times as a background for adventurous fiction. Of the three, Wells and Burroughs have had the most influence on the Science Fiction of today. Most of the books or tales of Science Fiction may be divided into the Social or Adventurous type or a mixture thereof. Now, the Geographical (or Jules Verne) type of tale isn't as much in evidence as it was several decades ago.
In the Venus group of books, Burroughs goes on with the interplanetary type of story and in the Pellucidar series he goes to the other limit and instead of traveling away from the Earth, he has his characters journey to the Earth's Core, where the inhabitants have only advanced to the Stone Age period of evolution.
Many fans who have grown up with the books of ERB believe that because they read the books of ERB believe that because they read the books when they were children, the books are juvenile. This is not the case. If you will look beyond these adventures, you will see many things that were meant for adults rather than children. It is a case of the novels being written for adults but the children were also interested. The kids will read the books for the action; Tarzan kills a lion with his knife or John Carter will defeat a roomful of swordsmen. The adults will enjoy these passages too, but will look underneath the action and agree with some of the comments that ERB has to make about civilization, women, wars, character, dictatorship, and many other evils of the modern world. Also some of the figures of speech he employs are worth while going back and re-reading a second time.
In my opinion, and I think in the opinions of many more fans, Edgar Rice Burroughs is still the master of them all. As the years go by and new generations come along, the books will be read by future Burroughs fans in times when most of the present day authors will be forgotten.
[John Harwood completes his ERB: Master of Adventure with a bibliography of ERB works.
See the Hillman ERB Illustrated Bibliography for expanded ERB bibliographies.]
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