In the Mystic Moonlight
In Pirates of Venus, Carson Napier discloses that he was brought up in British India, where Hinduism is widely practiced. Do I detect an allusion to Edwin L. Arnold's India-bred boyhood here? No matter -- Carson;s story is much more interesting. As a youngster Carson was tutored by "something of a mystic," an adept in the paranormal, who instructed him some extraordinary things. The adult Carson recollects his extracurricular boyhood education in these words.
I was born in
India... and brought up under the tutorage of an old Hindu... This Chand
Kabi was something of a mystic, and he taught me many things that are not
in the curriculums of schools for boys under ten. Among them was telepathy,
which he had cultivated to such a degree that he could converse with one
in psychological harmony with himself quite as easily at great distances
as when face to face. Not only that, but he could project mental images
to great distances, so that the recipient of his thought waves could see
what Chand Kabi was seeing, or whatever else Chand Kabi wished him to see.
These things he taught me.
Exactly which of the million and one forms of Hinduism young Carson so successfully studied, he does not say. His native mentor was probably some kind of yogi, but the American adventurer relates so little about the man and his psychic discipline that it is impossible to say for sure. What is especially remarkable in this story, is that Carson Napier accepts his alleged clairvoyance, telekinesis, etc. with so little evident amazement. Now, perhaps in certain parts of India these powers are so commonly pretended that they warrant little wonder, but Carson treats the fantastic extrasensory gifts so matter-of-factly that the reader is tempted to question his intelligence, if not his sanity.
All of this, of course, is but one more instance of Edgar Rice Burroughs transferring supernatural phenomena to the more easily dealt-with domain of the paranormal. The speed with which he performs this literary sleight of hand tells me that he must have learned far more about turbaned Orientals from vaudeville magic shows than from any personal study of yoga or mysticism. The sincere yogi, sadhu or renunciate would only teach the use of psychic ability as one small part of the much more extensive life of spiritual pursuits. In fact, in orthodox Hinduism (if that is a proper pairing of terms), the dedicated seeker after the sacred would bypass and renounce such powers as a distraction and a hindrance to his reaching the ultimate goal. Edgar Rice Burroughs did not know that, however, and he can be forgiven for fitting out his fictional Carson as a magical adept of the ethereal plane.
Like John Carter on Mars, Carson of
Venus spends little time in trying to fathom the source of his astounding
experiences. Evidently Mr. Napier, like Captain Carter, leaves the explanations
to science, where "theories come and theories go." There is much in Burroughs'
story-telling that is wildly improbable or impossibly coincidental -- I
don't let much of that get in the way of my enjoying an occasional romantic
romp on the Red Planet, or some vicarious branch-swinging in the shadows
of Kilimanjaro. I can less accept his leading characters' utter lack of
curiosity about the supernatural. John Carter mentions once that he has
spoken to Barsoomian scientists about his paranormal episodes, but he never
indicates that he would consult a metaphysical specialist to try and gain
some understanding. What would happen if he, or Carson, or the other Burroughsian
adventurers ever consulted a true mystic?
I suppose that is a silly question
-- much like asking how a hologram of an apple pie would taste. Imagining,
for a moment, that fantasy fiction characters actually could consult a
knowledgeable guru, they might be told that all the world around them is
an illusion -- which the reader of their stories already knows. In another
of my on-line pieces of Burroughsian literary criticism, I've postulated
a near future in which fictional exploits are played out in virtual reality
games -- "The Matrix meets Dejah Thoris." The day is not so far off when
these canned adventures will be the current rage, and I can hardly wait
until I get to act out the role of Ulysses Paxton, transplanting brains
at the side of the Master Mind of Mars. I only hope the electronic programming
allows me to ask the great scientist how Carter teleports across space,
what the eighth Barsoomian ray really is, and how to hear the sound of
one hand clapping. If I ever get to that existential crossroads, I half
expect Ras Thavas to answer that we are just personas in a digital
adventure -- and that the "real world" I re-enter, when I set aside the
virtual reality helmet (or remove the contact lenses, wirelessly linked
to all the movies ever filmed), is no more "real" than the brain transplants
we perform in the VR digital adventures. I'll need a suitable title for
that episode -- maybe "Zen and the Art of Life-Cycle Maintenance"?
My Empire is of the Imagination
Mysticism is far more than Chand Kabi making mysterious waving motions over a top hat full of rabbits, it seems. Carson of Venus, in his last published escapade, may have been on the verge of realizing just that. Mayhap that is why Edgar Rice Burroughs only wrote two more pages of Amtorian adventures after Carson flew off into the sunset, at the end of Wizard of Venus. I fancifully picture his clairvoyance subsequently increasing to such a level that he informed his author, back on Earth on the Isle of Oahu, that Dec. 7, 1941 might be an auspicious morning on which to practice some tennis, over on the leeward side of the island. As for Carson, I imagine he was then just about ready to open a retreat atop a Venusian mountain, where he and his friends could engage in transcendental meditation and practice opening up thousand-petaled lotus flowers.
What I'm trying to say, is that his readers are lucky that Edgar Rice Burroughs never went off on a metaphysical tangent, because he might well have stopped writing romantic fiction right there and then.
In her seminal Theosophical opus Helena Petrovna Blavatsky reproduces an interesting quote from H. Rider Haggard's fictional Ayesha:
has ever developed the physical and the intellectual at the cost of the
psychic and spiritual. The command and the guidance over his own psychic
nature, which foolish men now associate with the supernatural, were with
early Humanity innate and congenital, and came to man as naturally as walking
and thinking. "There is no such thing as magic" philosophizes "She," the
author forgetting that "magic" in her early day still meant the great Science
of Wisdom... (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, p. 152).
If Ms. Blavatsky is to be credited, then Chand Kabi's psychic abilities arise from the fact that he has perverted his inborn spiritual wisdom by overdeveloping "the physical and the intellectual" aspects of his outward life. In other words, his clairvoyant parlor tricks are but a fragment of his actual (but sadly forgotten) supernatural powers. And, I suppose, the same might be said for his student, Carson Napier.
"There is no such thing as magic," says She Who Must be Obeyed -- and Edgar Rice Burroughs cheerfully follows the shortest philosophical path away from that fact. In his fictional cosmos, magic and religion are merely the "might be" paranormal, cloaked in superstition and delusion. If Ed Burroughs followed after the Theosophists, it was only for a brief stroll in the garden of the absurd. They sought to discover the supernatural reality behind apparent magic, but he sought to explain it away by recourse to science and pseudo-science. Following that path, he could write the most outlandish fantasy and still not have to worry about being airily metaphorical or artfully metaphysical.
In one of his more improbable chapters,
H. Rider Haggard makes Ayesha exclaim: "My empire is of the imagination."
is the part Old Burroughs likely approved of -- and literally applied in
his own writing. As for myself, I want to believe that what Ayesha was
really saying was "my kingdom is of the imagination and of that which lies
beyond the imagination" -- a faded paraphrase, perhaps, of "my kingdom
is not of this world." And with that sentiment in mind, I can now move
on to the conclusion of this over-extended exposition.
Out of Need They Seek Direction from the Light
I suppose that somebody ought to mention something about the Reverend Theodore Pursen. It's just that I'm not exactly sure what to say about this minor, easily forgotten Edgar Rice Burroughs character. Rev. Pursen ("Pure son?" "Pure sin?") makes his unwelcome appearance in only one ERB tale, his 1916 "serious story," The Girl From Farris's. He is here introduced as a young, well-publicized Chicago moral crusader of an undisclosed denomination -- perhaps a Presbyterian. Burroughs speaks of Rev. Pursen as a trim "little man," and term quite obviously applies to his existential worthlessness, as well as to his slightness in physical stature.
This callow guardian of public morality represents a certain class of church-going, bible-reading, outwardly puritanical citizens, whom ERB refers to as the sort of people whose beliefs and actions would make his independent-minded young heroine "unhappy." The young lady here alluded to, being Miss June Lathrop, a. k. a. "Maggie Lynch," lady of easy virtue, whose residence at the beginning of the story is the evil Abe Farris's hotel, saloon, and bawdy-house, located in Chicago's red light district.
The author introduces Rev. Theodore (the name means "gift of God") Pursen to the readers thusly:
Rev. Theodore Pursen sat at breakfast. With his right hand he dallied with iced cantaloup. The season was young for cucumis melo; but who would desire a lean shepherd for a fat flock? Certainly not the Rev. Theodore Pursen. A slender, well-manicured left supported an early edition of the "Monarch of the Mornings,"... Across from the divine sat his young assistant, who shared the far more than comfortable bachelor apartments of his superior.
In a very few words, Burroughs conveys the impression that this character is an effete snob of a parson -- an Epicurean whose dainty hands are unacquainted with honest manual labor. Not only that, but the term "fat flock" hints that the minister's congregation is a wealthy one, which can support both him and a deacon helper (boyfriend?), in an opulent rectory. Had the author bothered to call him a "priest," Rev. Pursen might even come across as the spoiled son of an affluent Episcopalian bishop, or some other, similar ecclesiastical elitist.
I said already that the Rev. Pursen represents a certain class of Christians, in Edgar Rice Burroughs' fictional world, if not in his private estimation. As such, the "reforming" Reverend is not really a three dimensional character, but he is all there is to look at -- none of his congregation or fellow ministers make an appearance in the story. ERB's only real reference to any of his parishoners comes in a couple of sentences in which Pursen's matronly followers are described as preaching at the "fallen women" he wishes to reform. As things work out, no prostitutes leave their trade to become Presbyterians, or whatever it is that Rev. Pursen wishes to make of them.
The only "fallen sister" that makes it out of the brothels in this story is June Lathrop, who literally sneaks out of Abe Farris's joint and never returns. She later gives her reason for believing that her life has been ruined:
[in] my early training... I was taught to believe that God expected but two things of a woman -- to be virtuous, and to become a wife and mother. If she were not virtuous, the second thing became a crime in her -- for a woman such as I to marry and bear children were a crime a thousand times more hideous than loss of virtue. There was no place on earth for such as I, and no hell of sufficient horror in the hereafter. As far as this life or the next is concerned, I am absolutely and irrevocably lost.
Although it was not Rev. Pursen who
provided the girl with this "early training," Burroughs implies that it
was a mentor with the same moral views as the self-righteous Chicago minister,
who first taught June such doctrines. As things turn out, Rev. Pursen is
unable to convince June to join his "Society for the Uplift of Erring Women,"
and he judges the only former prostitute spoken of in the story, as being
unworthy of his proffered absolution and reform -- "Can you not realize
the awful depths of degradation to which you have come, and the still blacker
abyss that yawns before you if you continue along the downward path?" he
lectures her. Of course the Reverend knows absolutely nothing about the
woman, other than the fact that she escaped from Farris's establishment
and presumably had been employed there, among his other hookers. In a predictable
resolution to the affair, ERB has the girl tell her story -- that she was
brought to live at the hotel by her new husband, who turned out to be a
lying bigamist. Following his untimely death, she remained at the brothel
for only a few days, during which time she could have but barely learned
and practiced the "world's oldest profession." In June's eyes, her sin
was to have unwittingly married a seductive bigamist whom she really did
not love. It was primarily that foolish act which made her an unredeemable
sinner. Rev. Pursen's judgmental lack of compassion (along with his ability
and inclination to point out her shady past, no matter her efforts at self-reform)
only served to reinforce June's feelings of hopelessness.
The One Lost Sheep
Although Burroughs never explicitly makes the connection, June Lathrop is obviously the proverbial "lost sheep" in need of rescue. Not finding any salvation to be gained from the "help" of the one Christian minister she encounters, June sets about redeeming herself. ERB describes Rev. Pursen's reaction to her rejection of his condescending Christian counsel, in these words:
So the Rev. Mr. Pursen... with a sorrowful shake of his head turned sadly from his thankless task; and, indeed, why should a shepherd waste his valuable time upon a worthless sheep that preferred to stay astray? It was evident that he had lost sight entirely of the greater good that would follow the conviction of Farris, for he had not even mentioned the case to the girl or attempted to encourage her to make the most of this opportunity to bring the man to justice.
"Why should a shepherd waste his valuable time upon a worthless sheep that preferred to stay astray?" Why indeed? -- other than the fact that Jesus taught that the rescue of even one who went "astray" was worth the full attention of just such a "shepherd's" loving efforts and "valuable time." The June Lathrop story also resonates with the biblical scene in which a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus, but he refused to condemn her. Miss Lathrop, the unknowing victim of a sham, illegal marriage, was hardly an intentional adulterer and she never had the time nor the experience to become much of a whore either -- yet ERB has Pursen writing her off as lost, when the originator of his religion had set a strikingly different example for the man of the cloth to follow.
Whether or not Edgar Rice Burroughs was aware of how far from the Jesus path Rev. Pursen was himself "straying," I have no way of knowing. I presume that the author knew enough of the biblical narrative to be somewhat aware of this. He once proposed to write a history of Cain -- much like Mark Twain had written and published a secular account of Cain's parents. Probably Burroughs was well enough acquainted with the gospel of Jesus to know the "lost sheep" and the "adulteress" accounts. At least he knew the Bible well enough to quote "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" in an Oct. 1942 opinion editorial for the Honolulu Advertiser.
Near the end of The Girl From Farris's, Burroughs has Rev. Pursen make one final appearance, in the unlikely setting of southern Idaho. There he sees June and the hero of the story (Ogden Secor) together as a couple, and is outraged at the prospect. He expresses his "holy horror" and disappears from the remainder of the scene. Burroughs uses this event as a turning point in his story, after which the happy ending can begin to unfold. It is as though ERB has used the figure of Pursen throughout the story as a hindering force -- an obstacle to the proper development of things. When Rev. Pursen says his train "is about to start" and leaves June and Ogden together, the reader senses that the propitious denouement of the tale "is about to start," and it does.
I am left uncertain about what to say
regarding Burroughs' use of the figure of Rev Pursen in this novelette.
It was the first of his "serious" stories that he saw published and it
marked a distinct (if only temporary) break from his writing of fantastic
fiction. I do not think it is a very good story or an especially significant
story. However, the content of ERB's text, in describing the various appearances
of the Rev. Theodore Pursen in this romance, makes The
Girl From Farris's relevant to any study of the author's use of
religion in his writings.
The Crux of the Matter
I've so far said practically nothing about three of Edgar Rice Burroughs' most intriguing stories, "The Moon Maid," "The Moon Men," and "The Red Hawk." Of this trilogy, it is the second episode that I wish to discuss now.
Burroughs wrote this tale in 1919, in the aftermath of the recent Bolshevik grab for power in Czarist Russia. In that uncertain period it was by no means certain that the atheist Communists would succeed in establishing their iron rule over millions of European Christians, but that was the possibility -- and the impending threat did not end at the Russian borders. I do not know exactly what the content of ERB's 1919 story was, because he re-wrote it six years later and sandwiched the account between the other two tales of the mostly futuristic Lunar epic. I suppose that the original text, entitled Under the Red Flag, told the fictional story of Americans subjected to the same atheist, Marxist tyranny that had overrun Holy Mother Russia.
The revised novelette tells the story of Julian IX, an American born in ERB's own Chicago in the year 2100 -- in a savage future where the long-defeated people suffer under the yoke of vicious Lunar invaders, called the Kalkars. One of Julian's friends is Moses Samuels, a Jewish tanner in an era in which being Jewish is ostensibly only a racial designation. All religion, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise, has long been forbidden, under the pain of death, by the Kalkar commissars. To make a long story very short, Burroughs reveals that some Americans perserve the rudiments of religious worship and national patriotism in an underground congregation comprised of Catholics, Protestants and Jews. In the course of the story, Samuels gives Julian an antique crucifix and explains to him the story of the unusual Jew who had been nailed to that instrument of death, ages before. The presentation of this crucifix telegraphs to the reader the coming torture and death of Samuels, one of several events that helps propel Julian to take a leading part in a mass revolt against Kalkar rule. The Americans triumph and Samuels' murder is avenged -- or, perhaps it is the re-murder of Jesus and his banned religion that is avenged. ERB worked some symbolism in this story that is open to various interpretations, I believe.
Without the original text to consult, it is somewhat difficult to determine whether ERB meant to show sympathy with the banned religions themselves, or only with their persecuted practitioners. Certainly he wanted to emphasize the dangers of godless tyranny in this story, no matter his own disdain of the various sects he portrayed. Though he was not a religionist himself, Edgar Rice Burroughs clearly felt there was great value in a governing system that insured the religious freedom of the people. In his story, adverse circumstances have brought together numerous people of faith, despite the great theological differences of their ancestors. ERB shows a Masonic respect of the religions as a group -- perhaps he held them all to be more or less equal in their promoting false beliefs. But he linked patriotism with suppressed religion, in much the same way as his childhood school-books' stories of the Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth Rock, their first Thanksgiving, etc. promoted that same link.
I think that, in Burroughs' eyes, to be a patriotic American was to be a champion of religious toleration. Those two threads of the American experience could not easily be untangled. At the same time, ERB wanted to see the tolerated church kept as far away from the defended state as possible. In support of this conclusion, I'd like to reproduce a lengthy quote from Mr. Porges:
In... "The Gods of Mars," while exposing the Martian "Heaven," the priesthood, and the entire concept of the established church as a cruel and sadistic hoax, he [ERB] was giving more than a hint about his own religious convictions... he made plain his distrust and rejection of organized religion... Burroughs... [stated] his opinions bluntly ... [in a] letter to Hulbert...
I have no quarrel with religion, but I do not like the historic attitude of any of the established churches. Their enthusiasms and sincerity never ring true to me and I think that there has been no great change in them all down the ages, insofar as the fundamentals are concerned. There is just as much intolerance and hypocrisy as there ever was, and if any church were able to obtain political power today I believe that you would see all the tyranny and injustice and oppression which has marked the poiitical ascendancy of the church in all times... [this] does not mean that I am not religious. I am a very religious man, but I do not subscribe to any of the narrow, childish superstitions of any creed."In his letter... Burroughs, as a man of science and a staunch believer in Darwin's theories, reserved his greatest contempt for the church in its attitude toward scientific progress and "toward the promulgation of the truth in art and literature...." Between the established religions and their narrow beliefs, and the rationality of science, there was an irreconcilable conflict:
A man can be highly religious, he can believe in a God and in an omnipotent creator and still square his belief with advanced scientific discoveries, but he cannot have absolute faith in the teachings and belief of any church, of which I have knowledge, and also believe in the accepted scientific theories of the origin of the earth, of animal and vegetable life upon it, or the age of the human race; all of which matters are considered as basic truth according to the teachings of the several churches as interpreted from their inspired scriptures. (Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan, pp. 281-282)
with his sons Hulbert and Jack, Burroughs stated his religious attitude
clearly: he did not believe in the Bible, Christ, the Immaculate Conception,
or God. He called himself an atheist. To his sons, Burroughs, who did not
attend church, had often expressed his dislike for any form of organized
or sectarian religion. At times, especially because of his efforts to be
tolerant about other people's religious views, he gave the impression of
being an agnostic. On occasion when he termed himself a "religious" man,
he was referring to his objectives of following the moral or ethical precepts
taught by Christ or found in the philosophies of the Greeks and the Romans.
Concerning the typical religious attitudes displayed by characters in his
stories, both of his sons have maintained that these should not be interpreted
as representing Burroughs' beliefs -- they are merely inserted as necessary
elements in the story, or to create the particular effect he was seeking.
(Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan, pp. 283)
Be Careful of the Cross-Currents
So, is that true? I mean, did Edgar Rice Burroughs succeed in his objective, of living a life guided by "the moral or ethical precepts taught by Christ"? I said when I began this series of examinations that I would not try probing too deeply into the heart and soul of Mr. Burroughs, so I'll make no serious attempt to answer that question. I will bring together a few interesting statements that I've culled from ERB's writings, however.
In the central episode of the Moon Men trilogy, the author tells how Americans of the future secretly congregate to find strength and unity, while suffering under the heel of non-Christian oppressors. The scenes of their hidden worship are more than a little reminiscent of the original Christians furtively practicing their religion under the rule of the imperial Romans. What is different in these two scenarios is that the first Christians were not nationalists, while Burroughs' underground religionists form the nucleus of a popular, nationalistic revolt. Recall the narrator's words: "From behind the altar he took a shepherd's crook to which was attached a flag like that in my father's possession, and held it aloft, whereat we all knelt in silence for a few seconds... Then we sang... 'Onward, Christian soldiers'; It was my favorite song."
The Stars and Stripes attached to the bishop's crook, eh? Exactly the opposite symbolism that I would expect from Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The plot element of the banned American flag can occasionly be found in futuristic science fiction stories. I do not recall any specific examples from Burroughs' time, but the idea was successfully written into the Star Trek season two episode, in which the primitive Yangs (yanks?) of Omega Four suffer under the Coms (communists?) but retain an ancient, nationalistic religion in which they venerate the American flag and the U. S. Pledge of Allegiance. In a more recent movie, "The Postman," Kevin Costner leads the primitive survivors of a devestating war against a warlord oppressor who has banned any display of the old American flag. There are no doubt other examples, closer to Burroughs' story, which readers of prospective fantasy may recall.
The reason why I said that the flag as an object of religious veneration is exactly the opposite symbolism I'd expect to find in an ERB adventure, is that he was clearly a strong advocate of the separation of church and state. On the other hand, he probably had some experiences in life where that desired separation was not well maintained. I'm speaking of the times when ERB was in the military academy and in the U. S. Cavalry. Even if the majority of his fellows were not particularly religious, Burroughs no doubt found himself enrolled among the ranks of the "Christian Soldiers." His mention of the hymn named in the Moon Men story may reveal an autobiographical fragment. Burroughs loved being a soldier, at least in theory, if not in practice. He could endure having his life regimented by military discipline -- it was religious discipline that he continually dodged.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' various remarks
concerning religion, both inside and outside of his fictional writings,
indicate that he viewed the Christian denominations as being regimented
ranks, wherein individual spirituality was restrained and repressed. More
than that, he saw the churches as hypocritical opponents of science and
human progress. Probably it never occurred to the famous author that there
existed liberal and non-denominational religious bodies in which he could
have retained and promoted his individualistic principles. He might even
have found some undogmatic group of like-minded mavericks, "following the
moral or ethical precepts taught by Christ," had he been inclined to seek
them out in sect-multiplying southern California. But he didn't, and as
I said before, perhaps his success in creating imaginative fiction partly
resulted from his not having found any great religious solace in his life.
Why Stand Ye Gazing up into Heaven?
ERB's sons said that his fans should be careful, not to project "the typical religious attitudes displayed by characters in his stories" as necessarily "representing Burroughs' beliefs." While that may be largely so, I have a difficult time applying that particular maxim to his characters' attitudes concerning Jesus. Why? -- because such attitudes are practically non-existent throughout the entire canon of the author's stories. The plot device he used in "Under the Red Flag" is an exception to this fact and it deserves some special study apart from my current article. But, with that early story set to one side, what else is there in Burroughsian fiction representative of "the moral or ethical precepts taught by Christ"?
In Chapter 26 of Escape on Venus Burroughs tells about the single religion Carson ever encountered on Amtor -- the cult of "Loto-El-Ho-Ganja," the Goddess of Fire. Carson Napier describes his entrance into her presence with these words:
had a throne room of her own in a temple that stands not far from the palace.
As we approached it, I saw hundreds of people bringing offerings. Of course
I could not see everything that they brought; but there were foods and
ornaments and textiles. It evidently paid well to head the church of Brokol,
as it does to head most churches and cults. Even in our own Christian countries
it has not always proved unprofitable to emulate the simple ways of Christ
and spread his humble teachings.
Burroughs was a well enough informed student of history to realize that the temple cults of many nations furnished the primary financial and educational systems of the society, as well as providing such useful services as butcher, baker and candlestick maker -- but a recitation of those dry historical facts was not particularly useful in moving along his account of Carson's adventures in the exotic jungles of Venus. Nor did it suit his purposes to relate that Jesus seems to have revered the temple religion of ancient Israel, and was more concerned with the perversion of its holy functions under the Herodians than he was disturbed by the wealth-preserving system itself. Given his fidelity to the temple-based biblical religion, exactly what are "the simple ways of Christ and spread his humble teachings"? I'll leave the answer to that intriguing question to the scriptural scholars, but it may be significant that ERB places these weighty words into the mouth of Carson Napier, a man schooled in his youth by "something of a mystic."
In the seventh chapter of his Outlaw of Torn, Old Burroughs tells how the "confessed Christians" of medieval England retained in their hearts "a faint echo of the old superstitions of their ancestors." These simple folk prayed "to the Lord Jesus," but they also "worshipped the Outlaw of Torn" who shielded them "from oppression." This passage does not reveal much about the "humble teachings" of Jesus, but it does open the door to fannish speculation that ERB now and then endowed his heroic characters with Christ-like powers, charisma and agendas. I don't buy into those amateur notions very much, but more inquisitive minds may wish to search the pages of Philip Jose Farmer's Jesus on Mars for something worthy of their metaphysical contemplation. At any rate, The Outlaw of Torn, with its Father Claude, may be as close as ERB ever got to creating a story with a Christian backdrop. And that backdrop includes more than just the ornaments of Middle Ages churchliness -- as when the good friar remarks, "His friends are from the ranks of the lowly, but so too were the friends and followers of our Dear Lord Jesus; so that shall be more greatly to his honor..." In conversational fragments such as this, Old Burroughs discloses what precious little he cares to say about "the simple ways of Christ."
The author's more mature reflections upon Jesus and the religion of his followers may be gleaned from Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, a novel, like The Outlaw of Torn, with a Christian setting. No, allow me to take that back -- the Tarzan story does not have the same churchly background as does the Outlaw story. The Tarzan story, rather, includes a sub-plot set in a fossilized crusader society, in which "Christ" is essentially synonymous with "God," and neither word occurs all that often. There is no Father Claude to enliven the tale, and no Church of the Holy Sepulcher for the misguided crusader descendants to worship and pray within.
The prying out of subtle Christian gems from the unpromising matrix of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, probably requires more patience and discernment than the average reader will be inclined to devote to the task. There are many distractions along the way, not the least of which is a pedestrian story line which pits modern followers of Allah against the "Nasrany" defenders of "the honor of the Lord Jesus." I've never been overly impressed with ERB's stereotypical depictions of Arabs and other Moslems, but I'm even less impressed with the fact that he missed a golden opportunity here to interweave a few comparisons and contrasts between Islam and Christianity into this otherwise predictable pot-boiler.
The one intriguing enigma of this novel, though, is the meaning of the great stone cross which guards the path into the hidden crusader vale. It appears suddenly in the story, as if meant to shock the reader and provoke some instantaneous response. But, if so, exactly what response? Is there any abstruse meaning to be uncovered in the description of Tarzan's encountering that guardian cross "from the concealment of the bushes," while Jim Blake, the incautious American, approaches it head-on, as he journeyies along the path that leads to the great symbol? Tarzan is not blindly following the trail -- he merely seeks to discover what has happened to Blake. Because he is not "on the path," Tarzan escapes Blake's fate, which is immediate capture by the cross's indoctrinated devotees.
Very near the end of the novel, the figures of the jungle "demigod" and the silent cross are once again juxtaposed by the Bard of Tarzana. What, if anything, he intends to say with his "down from the Cross went Tarzan," I do not pretend to know. The wording is striking and I suppose that Burroughs put it here for some kind of dramatic effect. I picture "J. C." (John Clayton) coming down from the symbol of death and life, to give Princess Guinalda one final glimpse of himself and his tawny Leo (like C. S. Lewis, Mr. Burroughs frequently uses yellow suns, tawny lions, and golden baanths to represent divinity) before he fades from view. Guinalda says: "May Our Lord Jesus bless thee, sweet sir knight, and watch o'er thee and fetch thee back once more with my beloved!" If I recall correctly, this is the only instance where a Christian blessing is bestowed upon Lord Greystoke in a story penned by his non-Christian creator.
What happens in the final chapter, following this transfixing (transfiguring?) scene at the foot of the cross? Well, the name of God is invoked in three different exclamations; John Clayton appears to James Blake and informs him that Guinalda is not dead, but now lives; and Blake (this time, of his own free will) enters the vale of the Christians, never again to go out.
What more can I say? I've come to the end of my article, leaving many stones unturned in getting here. Perhaps other Edgar Rice Burroughs zealots can find more to talk about -- or prove me wrong -- or make it all mean something grand and glorious. As for me, I think I'll curl up in my big easy chair and thumb through that chapter in Ayesha, the Return of She, where Holly and Vincey converse with the Buddhist monks, one more time.
The Exploring Fictional Religion
Dale R. Broadhurst
The Religions of ERB Fiction
Spectres of the Supernatural
Beyond the Farthest Stars
John Carter Beginnings?
Lupoff of Mars
The Search for Ultimate Answers
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