The London - Burroughs Connection
David Arthur Adams
This article first appeared in ERBapa #54, Summer 1997
(concurrently published in the Jack London Society Newsletter, Fall-Winter 1997).
One searches in vain for any reference to Edgar Rice Burroughs in the many biographies and scholarly studies on the life and works of Jack London. And yet the connection is there to be discovered by the serious critic of American belles-lettres.
Part 1: London "Bridge"
The status in the academic world of both of these important writers is tainted by the suggestion of a popularity gained at the expense of serious literary intentions. Those who study the works either of London or Burroughs know this peripheral status well, in fact much of their work has to do with an explanation of this neglect.
It is interesting to note that London scholars for the most part have only vague notions about the life and works of Burroughs other than the fact that he created Tarzan of the Apes. Whereas, many Burroughs scholars are well aware of London’s life and works and are in fact surprised to see that London’s reputation is not as high in the critical literary world as they have imagined.
In a future study I plan to investigate this scholarly neglect of London and Burroughs in more detail. Today my intention is to point up a few connections that can be made most easily through their mutual penchant in the area of atavistic tales.
Before I enter the arena of atavism, however, I should mention that Jack London is often mentioned in the various studies of Edgar Rice Burroughs. One might imply correctly that the reason for this is the fact that their work partly overlapped in time, and every serious critic of Burroughs must take into account the obvious influence that London had on Burroughs. London was already a successful writer at the time Burroughs began to publish in 1911, and it is certain that Burroughs not only knew the work of London well, but he also looked to this writer as a model of popular success.
Irwin Porges notes in his definitive biography that London was a favorite of Burroughs."His early readings in fiction had made certain authors his favorites. These included Jack London, George Barr McCutcheon with his Graustark novels, Anthony Hope with his Prisoner of Zenda, and Zane Grey with his stories of the West" (Porges, 194).Also, it should be noted that Burroughs suggested a serious interest in writing a biography of London, which reveals that he had followed his career closely and had gathered enough information, at least in his own mind, to accomplish such a demanding work. The following account of this intent is revealed by Porges."A second topic of an even more unusual nature, in a serious nonfiction area that Ed had never before contemplated, occurred to him late in 1916. In December he queried Bruce Barton of Every Week and the Associated of New York, expressing an interest in writing a biography of Jack London. With his entire success lying in his freely improvised fiction, that he should consider a severely structured form, such as a biography, is surprising. However, he had always admired London and his works. London had died that year. On December 19 Barton replied:
I happen to know that Mr. Sterling has already begun work on the life a Jack London, which is being offered in New York at this time. I don’t see how we could use the life of Mr. London. Whether one of the other magazines would have a place for it I cannot tell, but I should think there was a sufficiently good chance to justify you in writing to some of the editors.[The Mr. Sterling mentioned in the quotation above is of course George Sterling, London’s poet-friend, whose relationship to “Wolf” London was close and complicated. Clarice Stasz notes in her, American Dreamers: Charmian and Jack London that Sterling was hired by Charmian (London’s second wife) to help her edit The Book of Jack London (Stasz 349) a 2 vol. biography that Labor and Reesman in their Twayne study call, "sentimental, poorly organized, and badly written; mostly a pastiche of her husbands’s own letters, notes, and quotes" (Labor, 164). ]
ERB also wrote to Davis, the indication being that in this case Ed was thinking of an article about London rather than a full biography. Davis answered, ‘Just between you and me, I don't give a whoop about Jack London’s’ rough neck days on San Francisco Bay.’ But he offered advice and encouragement: 'The people who will be interested are those who have been printing his stuff, notably Hearst's, Cosmopolitan and the Saturday Evening Post. I don’t think you will have any trouble selling your dope.' Whether Ed made any further inquiries is not known. The plan to write about Jack London became another of his discarded projects" (Porges, 278).
Burroughs scholars will be well aware of the guarded and tight control the heirs of a literary gold-mine activate once the author has passed away. Stasz notes further that Charmian spent the rest of her life traveling widely to publicize Jack London and "fought off less than scrupulous biographers" (Stasz 323-4). Davis knew the score when he told Burroughs that his projected biography would be turned down by London’s heirs, but he does seem rather petulant by summarizing London's work as, "rough neck days on San Francisco Bay."
The title of this section, London "Bridge," will echo a familiar association to the Burroughsian scholar. This Bridge-link is so strong in the Burroughs-London connection that it must be mentioned again even though the documentation may seem redundant. For most Burroughs scholars this link is the beginning and the ending of their Jack London studies, although in fairness it should be said that London is often listed as an important influence in many other fine books and articles.
Jack London scholars will be interested in Phillip R. Burger's article in the Burroughs Bulletin (New Series #10) April 1992 on Burroughs' The Return of the Mucker. This article is accompanied by a photograph of Jack London and tells the origin of
"Bridge," the enigmatic hobo who becomes the mucker's guide to intellectual enlightenment.
"With Bridge, Burroughs was paying a compliment to one of his favorite writers. The name "Bridge" is, itself, a pseudonym. In explaining his moniker, Bridge relates that it was "just a name a fellow gave me once up on the Yukon. I used to use a few words he'd never heard before, so he called me "The Unabridged," which was too long. The fellows shortened it to 'Bridge' and it stuck." One of ERB's contemporaries spent time as a Yukon gold miner and tramp, and achieved fame writing of those grueling times. He also tended to be somewhat loquacious in his fiction. Bridge gives his full name as "L. Bridge." With a name like "London Bridge" Burroughs' poetry-quoting hobo can be none other than Jack London" (Burger, 5).
A close reading of Burroughs' The Mucker and its sequel, The Return of the Mucker in relation to the works of Jack London, especially his semi-autobiographical, Martin Eden, remains to be done. However, this study must wait for another day because my main intention in this brief article is to begin an investigation of the topic of atavism in their mutual works.
Perhaps in a sense The Return of the Mucker (the working title was, "Out There Somewhere," the title of a poem by Henry Herbert Knibbs) was the fruit of Burroughs’ labors on the projected London biography. It was published from June 17 to July 15, 1916 in All-Story Weekly at the very time he would have been thinking about his London project -- the year of London's death (November 22).
The character of Bridge appeared in another Burroughs work the following year called, "Bridge and the Oskaloosa Kid," which after being rejected by his All-Story publisher was finally published in Blue Book magazine in the March 1918 issue retitled "The Oakdale Affair." Bridge demonstrates the great deal of hobo lore Burroughs had picked up during his research on Jack London, but the novella is slight in style compared to his very well written The Mucker. In fact, The Mucker is so well written that it is often mentioned near the top in a listing of the best of his total canon of over 80 works.
Just a final note on the name "Bridge" before passing on to other matters. The punning of Bridge for London is typical of Burroughs' sense of humor, and so it is likely that the character, Oskaloosa Kid, is a play on London's Malemute Kid of the Klondike stories. Also, it is curious to note, but probably not holding any deeper meaning, that the editor of the Overland Monthly where London published his early stories was James Howard Bridge.
Part 2: Atavism in the Works of Burroughs and London
"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation."from ”Burnt Norton “ by T.S. EliotAtavism! Why does the very sound of the word strike terror into my heart? Is it the thought that I do not know who I am -- that all my cherished thoughts and imaginings of reality so carefully gathered together over a lifetime do not make-up this being, this body and mind I so casually inhabit from day to day?
This is a feeling that comes over us all at times, especially at night when we are tired, especially when fatigue drives us closer and closer to that time of dreams when we no longer hold the keys to our commonplace doors of opening and closing. Aye, ‘tis in dreams that the multitudinous creatures that inhabit our souls walk forth and claim our very being as its own.
Victoria Custer of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Eternal Lover knows that fear; she has those dreams."'He is a noble figure, but of another world or of another age; and somewhere he wanders so lonely and alone that my heart weeps at the thought of him. O Barney, either he is true and I shall find him, or I am gone mad. Tell me Barney, for the love of heaven! you believe that I am sane'" (Burroughs, 38).Darrell Standing, the protagonist of Jack London's The Star Rover knew those dreams as well."All my life I have had an awareness of other times and places. I have been aware of other persons in me. Oh, and trust me, so have you, my reader that is to be. Read back into your childhood, and this sense of awareness I speak of will be remembered as an experience of your childhood. You were then not fixed, not crystallized. You were plastic, a soul in flux, a consciousness and an identity in the process of forming -- ay, of forming and forgetting.For those who are not familiar with London's novel, here is a brief outline of the story with friendly insights for those familiar with the novels of ERB.
You have forgotten much, my reader, and yet, as you read these lines, you remember dimly the hazy vistas of other times and places into which your child eyes peered. They seem dreams to you today. Yet, it they were dreams, dreamed then, whence the substance of them? Our dreams are grotesquely compounded of the things we know. The stuff of our sheerest dreams is the stuff of our experiences. As a child, a wee child, you dreamed you fell great heights; you dreamed you flew through the air as things of the air fly; you were vexed by crawling spiders and many-legged creatures of the slime; you heard other voices, saw other faces nightmarishly familiar, and gazed upon sunrises and sunsets other than you know now, looking back, you ever looked upon" (London, 1).
The Star Rover by Jack London
This, so called, Jack London resurrection novel is an odd work, almost as much reporting as fiction.
The best parts of the novel are the prison descriptions of the horrendous straight-jacketing of the protagonist, Darrell Standing. "I am Darrell Standing. They are going to take me out and hang me pretty soon" (London 7). This takes up the first 80 pages of the 309 page novel.
Standing astral travels in the straight-jacket torture to various places in the guise of his former lives. Some of the stories are very well told, but they are strung together on the hook of the reincarnation idea, so it is a novel made up of short stories - - maybe every novel is to a certain extent -- but these are very different stories in different places.
1. He was Count Guillaume de Sainte-Maure, who sword fights a duel in Paris. This would appeal to the John Carter fans, as the duel is well-described. Sort of a little Dumas story.
2. Next he is the nine-year-old boy, Jesse, who with the Fancher Company at the famous Mountain Meadows Massacre (145) where the Mormons and Indians killed a wagon train party that passed through Utah. This part of the story is very well told. It makes the book worth reading because it is a gripping tale, and the events are seen through the eyes of a small child. And its not as gruesome as the straight-jacketing scenes.
3. Next he is a fourth-century Christian ascetic who inhabits a tiny cave in the Egyptian desert.
4. Next he is Adam Strang, an Englishman who lives a kind of Marco Polo life in Korea (Cho-Sen) between 1550 and 1650. Very Burroughsian - he marries the princess, becomes a kind of war-lord, but suffers the overthrow of his ruling class, and we see the decline of a warrior as well as the rise. Character names will sound familiar to Burroughs fans - - Yi Yong-ik, the Mighty One, who is Adam Strang (159) He punches out a guy (172). Yes, probably a retelling of A Princess of Mars.
5. Next he is thrown back in time, a Danish barbarian (Ragnar Lodbrog) (201) captive of the Romans, who rises to the state of an officer in the Roman army. (See ERB's I Am A Barbarian). He chums with Pilate and his family at the time of the crucifixion of Christ.
6. Next he is Daniel Foss, (240) who is a shipwrecked sailor who lives on a barren island for 8 years alone (in the early 1800's) -- living off the seals he kills in great numbers. Kind of a Robinson Crusoe story, reminiscent of the episodes in The Sea-Wolf, but this time he is alone.
7. Finally, he is a cave-man, Ushu, the archer (286) in a very short, poetic, philosophical, musing chapter.
I am not the first to read these two books side-by-side. These two and many others as well are brightly illuminated by Brian W. Aldiss in his Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction..
Aldiss tells us:“Other writers before London had ventured into the neolithic world. H.G. Wells’ forays have been mentioned. And there was Stanley Waterloo’s The Story of Ab (1897), a romance of the uniting of paleolithic and neolithic cultures. London was accused of plagiarism by Waterloo [for his novella, Before Adam ] but, from this time onwards, the sheer bulk of publication and the contemporaneousness of writers makes the question of plagiarism almost irrelevant (though in a field naturally dependant (sic) upon surprise and sensationalism, it remains an interesting question). At any time, there are common moods, currents of thought, even catchwords -- "atavism" being one catchword that runs through the science fiction of this period and later -- which give society a mysterious unity. The prospect of nuclear doom which transfixes the nineteen-fifties, the fascination with drugs in the late sixties and seventies: such general preoccupations are naturally reflected in the fiction of the period" (Aldiss, 152).This chart will demonstrate the Aldiss premise and provide food for thought for future articles on the topic of atavism or on the Burroughs-London Connection.
Summary Outline for the Study of Atavistim (1818-1918)
1818 SHELLEY, MARY FRANKENSTEIN
1851 MELVILLE MOBY DICK
1855 WHITMAN, WALT LEAVES OF GRASS (1st ed.)
1859 DARWIN, CHARLES THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
1864 VERNE, JULES JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE
OF THE EARTH
1886 STEVENSON DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
1886 HAGGARD KING SOLOMON'S MINES
1887 HAGGARD SHE
1890 FRAZER THE GOLDEN BOUGH
1890 ARNOLD, EDWIN L. PHRA THE PHOENICIAN
1891 WILDE, OSCAR THE PICTURE OF DORIANGRAY
1895 ALLEN, GRANT THE BRITISH BARBARIANS
1895 WELLS, H.G. THE TIME MACHINE
1896 WELLS, H.G. THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU
1896 WELLS, H.G. THE GRISLY FOLK (story)
1897 WELLS, H.G. A STORY OF THE STONE AGE
1897 WATERLOO, STANLEY THE STORY OF AB
1900 FREUD INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS
1900 LONDON, JACK THE SON OF THE WOLF
1901 LONDON, JACK THE GOD OF HIS FATHERS
1901 ARNOLD, EDWIN L. LEPIDUS THE CENTURION
1902 CONRAD HEART OF DARKNESS
1902 LONDON, JACK CHILDREN OF THE FROST
1902 LONDON, JACK A DAUGHTER OF THE SNOWS
1902 JAMES, WILLIAM VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS
1903 LONDON, JACK THE CALL OF THE WILD
1903 LONDON, JACK THE PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS
(study of poverty in London)
1904 LONDON, JACK THE SEA-WOLF
1905 ARNOLD, EDWIN L. LIEUT. GULLIVAR JONES:
1905 Einstein's theory of relativity
1906 LONDON, JACK WHITE FANG
1907 LONDON, JACK BEFORE ADAM
1907 PAVLOV Theories of conditioned reflexes
1908 LONDON, JACK THE IRON HEEL
1909 LONDON, JACK MARTIN EDEN
1910 GRIFFITH, GEORGE VALDAR THE OFT-BORN:
A SAGA OF SEVEN AGES begun
1911 ERB PRINCESS OF MARS, A (Written)
1911 LONDON, JACK SOUTH SEA TALES
1911 JUNG SYMBOLS OF TRANSFORMATION 1911 Jung starts his break from Freud
1912 ERB TARZAN OF THE APES (Pub-All-Story)
1912 DOYLE, ARTHUR CONAN THE LOST WORLD
1912 ERB PRINCESS OF MARS (Pub-All Story)
1912 Piltdown Man-hoax /exposed in 1953)
1913 ERB GODS OF MARS (Pub All-Story)
1913 LONDON, JACK THE ABYSMAL BRUTE
1913 LONDON, JACK JOHN BARLEYCORN (author's struggle against alcoholism)
1913 LONDON, JACK THE VALLEY OF THE MOON
1913 ERB MONSTER MEN (All-Story - Nov)
1913 FREUD TOTEM AND TABOO
1913 ERB THE CAVE GIRL (All-Story)
1913 ERB WARLORD OF MARS (All-Story) Dec 1913-Mar 1914
1913 ERB RETURN OF TARZAN (New Story) June-Dec 1913
1914 ERB THE MAD KING (All-Story - March 21)
1914 WWI Begins
1914 ERB AT THE EARTH'S CORE (All-Story)
1914 ERB BEASTS OF TARZAN (All-Story)
1914 ERB THE ETERNAL LOVER (All-Story)
1914 LINDSAY, VACHEL THE CONGO & Other POEMS
1914 ERB OUTLAW OF TORN (New Story)
1914 ERB THE MUCKER (All-Story)
1914 ERB TARZAN OF THE APES (Book pub.)
1914 LONDON, JACK THE STAR-ROVER (lst pub.)
1915 KAFKA THE METAMORPHOSIS
1915 ERB PELLUCIDAR (All-Story) May 1915
1916 ERB BEYOND THIRTY (All-Around-Feb)
1916 Jack London dead at 40
1917 ERB JUNGLE TALES of T ARZAN (Blue Book)
1918 ERB THE OAKDALE AFFAIR (Blue Book)
1918 ERB LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (Blue Book)
1918 ERB THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT
1918 ERB OUT OF TIME’S ABYSS (Blue Book)
Even a cursory reading of the Burroughs and London titles is revealing. One might consider a salient linking of the following stories:
1903 LONDON, JACK THE PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS
1918 ERB LAND THAT TIME FORGOT
1918 ERB THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT
1918 ERB OUT OF TIME’S ABYSS
simply because Burroughs left us the obvious clues. Those who are familiar with the Burroughsian trilogy may scoff as such an idea until a deeper realization of the stories is uncovered by a close reading of both authors.
Let me now leave the speculative world of literary influences and return to the matter at hand -- the dream. For perhaps most of all Burroughs was a man of dreams. As Lupoff notes:" . . . from the very beginning of Burroughs’ first work we see a blurring of reality and fantasy, of truth and dream. This odd characteristic, psychologically understandable in the light of Burroughs' known real-world frustration and his daydreaming, pervades much of his work. It may well be the key to the marvelous rapport which he achieved, through his stories, with his readers’ imaginations" (Lupoff, 41).I think we can safely say, due to the subjects of many his novels, that a large portion of Burroughs' daydreaming had to do with atavistic themes. Indeed, Burroughs' myth of the cave man is fundamental to an understanding of his entire canon. This atavistic myth sets the basic character types used by Burroughs again and again.
Burroughs’ most famous character, Tarzan of the Apes, is basically a primitive type, albeit in modern times. He more than any other character in the canon can be seen as an atavar, for he not only represents the best of mankind's genetic traits, but he also was fortunate enough to grasp the best of primitive instincts due to his early life among the mangani, the great apes. A great part of Tarzan's appeal to readers is the view that these admirable traits of instinct lie dormant in every human being, waiting to be awakened by the proper situation of need. (See The Cave Girl and The Cave Man (1913-14) for a entertaining treatment of this idea, which reveals the cave man-cave woman theme in a light-hearted, yet revealing way.)
Tarzan is the archetype of the Burroughsian cave man, even though many of Burroughs' other novels explore this theme in a more direct way, most notably the novels in the so called, Pellucidar Series, which contains 7 novels: At the Earth’s Core 1913), Pellucidar (1914-15), Tanar of Pellucidar (1928), Tarzan at the Earth’s Core (1928-29), Back to the Stone Age (1935), Land of Terror (1938-39), and Savage Pellucidar (1940). (There is also the Caspak Trilogy of: The Land That Time Forgot (1917), The People That Time Forgot (1917), and Out of Time’s Abyss (1918). And the single novels: The Cave Girl (1913), The Monster Men (1913), The Eternal Lover (1913), The Cave Man (1914), The Lost Continent (1915), and The Resurrection of Jimber-Jaw (1936). [The dates of authorship, not publication dates.]
Within a three year period from 1911-1913 ERB set up three major literary themes (Mars/Tarzan/ and Pellucidar). (The Caspak Trilogy 1917-18) was written four years later.) During this formative period, the myth of the cave was foremost in his creative thinking. Indeed the atavistic motif in Burroughs is so prevalent that it can probably be found in one way or another in nearly everything he wrote.
I recount these novels merely to make the point that the theme of the atavar occurred early in Burroughs' career and marked his most notable successes as a writer. The late sequels in the Pellucidar Series are considered by most critics to be inferior works -- written for the easy money-making capabilities of tried and true themes.
Jack London's atavistic novels can be found in the outline above, most notably, The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, and Before Adam, which are familiar to everyone. A few of the atavistic stories which may not be quite as familiar to readers of Burroughs include:"A Relic of the Pliocene," in The Faith of Men (1901). (A Yukon gold prospector discovers a live mastodon.)but denies any romanticism to the tribal culture.
"When the World Was Young," in The Night-Born (1913). (A young man is haunted by a "Teutonic barbarian" atavism that struggles to dominate his personality.)
"The Red One," in The Red One (1918). One of London's most accomplished stories, where he takes the familiar "lost race" formula popular in his day(This list is from Clarice Stasz, Professor of History, Sonoma State University. firstname.lastname@example.org.Atavism is as fundamental to London's literary profile as it is to Burroughs'. It is a constant consideration of the critical reader and it constantly draws the uncritical into mythic regions, which for both writers account to a great degree for their popularity from generation to generation.
Mailing address: Department of History, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park CA 94928.
It is quoted in part from a larger list of London’s science fiction works.)
A Discussion of the Romantic Adventure Story
Part 3: THE ETERNAL LOVER
Before I begin a consideration of the story itself, it will be useful to mention a few other matters about format, function, and style in both Burroughs and London. As noted above, Burroughs freely acknowledged his love of London's writing, and one does not find any anxiety of influence here as shown in his rather antagonistic statements about the works of Kipling. Of course, the Kipling battles had to do with Kipling's suggested origins of Tarzan of the Apes in his previous Jungle Books with the character of Mowgli, which Burroughs soundly refused to recognize. (The recent study by Sarkis Atamian called The Origin of Tarzan : The Mystery of Tarzan’s Creation Solved (1997) seems to have finally put Kipling in the background, or completely out of the picture, depending on how much one accepts his findings.)
The fact of the matter is that Burroughs found a continuous market for most of his work in the pulp fiction magazines of the day, whereas London broke into the more prestigious literary markets almost at the beginning of his career. It's not that Burroughs and London were not rivals in the marketplace from 1911 until 1916, but simply that they were filling two different niches in the struggle for publication. As a note for future study one might compare the prices these two authors were earning for their stories. I would expect that Burroughs was earning as much as London, at least during this time period, by selling to the pulp market in volume and as shrewdly as London capturing the royalties on the book market as well.
Both London and Burroughs are described primarily as being great story-tellers. The fundamental difference in their styles may be described in the following terms. London was a great short story writer in the classic sense of Poe's unity of time and place; quick, telling development of characters; poetic, imagistic language that does not waste a single line, and so on. For the most part, if a typical Burroughs story (or episode of a novel) is placed alongside one by London, Burroughs will come up wanting in almost every area. Then, why is Burroughs continually spoken of as a great story-teller by his loyal critics when the facts shout so loudly the opposite?
The secret of the matter is the emphasis on story-TELLING rather than on story-writing. This may be best demonstrated by comparing similar passages of Burroughs and London. For this purpose I will use the description of a kill of a saber-tooth tiger, which fortunately both authors employed in their writing, Jack London in his The Star Rover and Burroughs in his, The Eternal Lover.
LONDON’S SABRE-TOOTH"I remember, oh, long ago when human kind was very young, that I made me a snare and a pit with a pointed stake upthrust in the middle thereof, for the taking of Sabre-Tooth. Sabre-Tooth, long-fanged and long-haired, was the chiefest peril to us of the squatting place, who crouched through the nights over our fires and by day increased the growing shell bank beneath us by the clams we dug and devoured from the salt mudflats beside us.London’s picture is very fine indeed. It sings to the atavistic core, and yet we cannot see the kill. [I realize this selection is not entirely fair because London's intent here is quite the opposite of describing action, which he does extremely well, as I will show later. However, the point I am trying to make is that Burroughs always approaches such a scene as a teller of action, never as the poetic bard musing upon the action occurring.]
And when the roar and the squall of Sabre-Tooth roused us where we squatted by our dying embers, and I was wild with far vision of the proof of of the pit and the stake, it was the woman, arms about me, leg-twining, who fought with and restrained me not to go out through the dark to my desire" (London, 285).
Somehow London's poetic, bardic, language makes the story seem authentic. The entire cave-man chapter (21) is really a love song to the eternal woman. It is a lovely psalm, a song of songs that is obviously influenced by the King James version of the Bible.
"For woman is beautiful ... to man. She is sweet to his tongue, and fragrance in his nostrils. She is fire in his blood, and a thunder of trumpets; her voice is beyond all music in his ears; and she can shake his soul that else stands steadfast in the drafty presence of the Titans of the Light and of the Dark" (Star Rover 284).
I chose this description precisely because it demonstrates Burroughs' sense of dramatic-active telling. Here Burroughs changes tenses from past to present at the highest moment of tension. Thus, the telling is not a mistake in grammar but acts as a function of increasing the reader's awareness. The entire novel The Eternal Lover is a study of past and present. In the first part of the novel the cave man because of a cataclysmic earthquake moves from the past to the present. In the second half of the novel the female protagonist, Victoria, moves from the present to the past with Nu, her eternal lover."The hunter loosened the stone knife at his gee-string and transferred it to his mouth where he held it firmly, ready for instant use, between his strong, white teeth. In his left hand he carried his stone-tipped spear, and in his right the heavy stone hatchet that was so effective both at a distance and at close range.Melodramatic telling? Perhaps, but it is something that Burroughs does extremely well. The entire telling from the beginning of the stalk to the eventual kill takes up the entire first chapter of 14 pages! It is this very telling of action step by step, moment by moment that is Burroughs' strength.
Oo is creeping upon him now. The grinning jaws drip saliva. The yellow-green eyes gleam bloodthirstily" Burroughs, 9).
Of course it can be successfully maintained that London too possessed this skill in the telling of dramatic action. His ability to present savage action scenes before the eyes of his readers is almost without parallel, and he adds the force of powerful images in a masterly fashion. However, there is a fundamental difference in his way of presenting a scene of action.
What does one most remember about the battle between Buck and Spitz in The Call of the Wild? As London reveals the action of the fighting pair, he gives us the image of "the visible breaths of the dogs rising slowly and lingering in the frosty air." There is a sublime moment of stillness in the midst of this fury. "Over the whiteness and silence brooded a ghostly calm." We see the circle of the other "dogs that were ill-tamed wolves." "They, too, were silent, their eyes only gleaming and their breaths drifting slowly upward."
We are shown the flashing fangs, the course of the entire battle from the first rush until the final closing of the circle. "The circle had tightened till he could feel the breaths of the huskies on his flanks." The action too tightens and closes like the inevitable hand of fate. But all is told like a poetic song. "The dark circle became a dot on the moon-flooded snow as Spitz disappeared from view."
London's is the telling of a grim dance of death, but ultimately it remains a song of the action. It comes from the throat of the Muse herself.
With Burroughs it is otherwise. For him the course is as stark as a outline, the shadow of a drawing that the reader can fit his own flesh and blood into without a moment's hesitation. When Nu kills a cave bear in The Eternal Lover it is just a bear that he kills. Burroughs lets us stand in the man's skin-wrapped body without the intervention of the Muse."Nu held his ground, standing with feet apart and swinging his heavy stone ax to and fro in both hands. The cave-bear rose upon his hind feet as he neared the man, towering high above his enemy’s head. With gaping jaws and out-stretched paws the terrible beast advanced, now and then tearing at the stout haft of the spear protruding from its breast, and giving tongue to roars of rage and pain that shook the earth" (Burroughs, 147-8).Not great literature, surely. Not a symbol in sight. Yet Burroughs knew how to make the reader feel like he was the one who was killing a cave-bear.
You stand feet apart, swinging your heavy stone ax. Next, you see the great height of the bear. Next the bear comes toward you with gaping jaws and out-stretched paws.
Burroughs advances the action, sentence by sentence, without pausing for philosophical musings. The bear's arm reaches out. You dodge beneath, swinging your ax to the side of the bear's head as he passes.
Burroughs did not write great literature, and yet he is read as much today around the world as is Jack London. The only possible answer for this longevity comes from this very simplicity of telling, this story-TELLING that puts the reader at the core of each story he wrote. No one did it as well as Burroughs in his own time, and no one does it as well today. His readers are willing to plow through deserts of formulated plots and thin characterizations because the deserts are so mercifully short and the characters are so lovingly familiar.
Of course, there is much more to Burroughs than his action scenes. His characters are role models of steadfastness and courage. His many worlds are rich and fascinating. His beasts spring forward, savage and true.
It is for these telling scenes of action that the reader comes back to the novels again and again. Not necessarily to read the stories and admire his craft, but simply to relive the adventure once again. The reader of Burroughs returns because he has this life to live. It is his own.
Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
It may be argued that the very simplicity of Burroughs characters allow them to appear in the mind on the most primitive, archtypal levels. La and the beast-men of Opar first revealed in The Return of Tarzan are powerful archetypes that come back again and again in different masks, different forms.
Thus, for Burroughs these avatars are the noble, universal types that we should seek to emulate since we are mere living mortals. It is they who are the ideal Platonic forms of men and women, while we are but pale shadows until we step forth into the bright light of our own primordial dawn.
The avatars, true people of the cave, live by their closeness to physical nature and by a code of honor, which is always broken by the villains of the story. The strength of the Burroughsian hero is something that comes naturally (according to nature) and is constantly upheld by the good breeding or blood of the hero. And finally, the cave people, the avatars, are always portrayed as being better than the average modern man or women.
Nothing that I have written in the last three paragraphs will seem foreign to the readers of the fiction of Jack London. His work too fits into the Jungian "visionary mode" of literature as Labor and Reesman point out in this evocation of Carl Jung."...the visionary mode ‘is a strange something that derives its existence from the hinterland of man’s mind -- that suggests the abyss of time separating us from pre-human ages, or evokes a super-human world of contrasting light and darkness. It is a primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding . . . . We are reminded of nothing of everyday, human life, but rather of dreams, night-time fears and the dark recesses of the mind that we sometimes sense with misgiving" (Labor, 30).Now the most obvious comparisons between the writings of London and Burroughs remain to be made with a consideration of their singular ways of writing about animals. Part four of this study will take up this problem through close readings of London's The Call of the Wild and Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes.
Aldiss, Brian W. Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction. Doubleday, 1973.
Burger, Phillip. “Some Thoughts on The Return of the Mucker,” Burroughs Bulletin (New Series #10, April, 1992.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice. The Eternal Lover. Grosset & Dunlap, 1925.
Labor, Earle, and Reesman, Jeanne Campbell. Jack London (Revised Ed.) Twayne Publlishers, 1994
London, Jack. The Star Rover.
Lupoff, Richard, A. Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure. Ace, 1965.
Porges, Irwin. Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. Brigham Young University Press, 1975.
Stasz, Clarice. American Dreamers: Charmian and Jack London. St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
--------. "Jack London and Science Fiction" Document maintained at http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/London/ by the
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