Tales Of Space And Time #4
The Things We Do For Love:
The Synthetic Men Of Mars - A Love Story
Sometimes I don't know who I am,
Don't they know what they're doin'
I'm afraid in years to come,
That girls'll be my ruin'.
-Tommy CollinsMen have been known to do some strange things for the love of a woman. Edgar Rice Burroughs in The Synthetic Men Of Mars was able to imagine one of the strangest.
This novel was written in 1938. As Burroughs' novels 'highly fictionalize' what is going on in his life at the time it isn't difficult to associate this with his new marriage to Florence Gilbert Dearholt.
ERB wasn't particularly experienced with women. There seems to be little evidence of his dating any other girls than his childhood sweetheart Emma Hulbert to whom he was then married for thirty-four years. The divorce and remarriage were completed nearly simultaneously in 1934-35. As far as Florence was concerned he should have realized that there was a difference between Edgar Rice Burroughs the author and Ed Burroughs the man about town. Synthetic Men examines that difference.
ERB had long had a fixation on Hawaii but because of marital conflict with Emma he had always refused to take her. Now he took his new wife, Florence, to Hawaii for a honeymoon. 'Hello Hawaii, How Are Ya?'
I'm sure the first several months of the marriage were idyllic. Then the differences in expectations, not so much age, began to become more apparent. One should never disparage the attraction of a younger woman to an older man. Who wouldn't want a younger woman? Perhaps ERB thought he was marrying his anima ideal, La of Opar. That old X chromosome Anima ideal just doesn't exist in real life. Did you ever wonder about the guy who dropped the first Atom bomb naming the plane after his mother? You have to be able to make do with real life women. As Rudyard Kipling philosophized: A woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke. I can only imagine that Rudyard knew what he was talking about as I don't smoke cigars.
ERB soon learned what should have been obvious to him from the beginning: He was a trophy husband. His purpose was to enhance the social position of Florence Gilbert Dearholt Burroughs.
Although ERB apparently never realized who he had become, Florence did. He was no longer the insignificant failure of the first years of his marriage to Emma but the internationally acclaimed author of Tarzan Of The Apes and the twenty or so other Tarzan novels. If he had wanted or known how to be the celebrity he could have taken a triumphal tour of Europe, Africa or any other continent. There was almost nothing he couldn't have done. But he chose to live an inconspicuous life in Hollywood. I'm sure he must have been a puzzle to the egomaniacs of Tinseltown most of whom would have given anything to get into his shoes. Florence didn't get into his shoes.
ERB soon realized his position in his new marriage. There is the famous photo of he and Florence at a costume party where he, dressed in an ape suit with a golden collar around his neck is being led by Florence at the end of a golden chain. He must have realized that to her he was merely something to display, just as in the novel Vor Daj is put on display in a cage.
ERB fictionalizes his situation in The Synthetic Men Of Mars. His opening paragraph rather graphically exposes his intent:From Phundahl at their western extremity, east to Toonol, the Great Toonolian Marshes stretch across the dying planet for eighteen hundred earth miles like some unclean, venomous, Gargantuan reptile, an oozy marshland through which wind narrow watercourses connecting occasional bodies of open water, little lakes, the largest of which covers but a few acres. This monotony of marsh and jungle and water is occasionally broken by rocky islands, themselves usually clothed in jungle verdure, the skeletal remains of an ancient mountain range.Swamps and water are the symbols of the female. The extent of this particular swamp is probably a fairly accurate description of ERB's marriage to Florence. It wasn't quite what he thought it would be.
As the novel opens the hero Vor Daj is captured by some Morbids, I suppose that is what the men of Morbus would be called. While being transported to Morbus Vor Daj sees a beautiful woman named Janai. He falls head over heels in love at first sight. Perhaps the same as what happened when Burroughs first saw Florence.
The Seven Jeds of Morbus quarrel over which is to have Janai for his Own. Vor Daj is perplexed over how he can save this woman he loves from 'a fate worse than death.'
It so happens that the Mastermind of Mars, Ras Thavas is a captive of the Morbids. There he is being compelled to manufacture Synthetic men for the capture of Barsoom for the seven Jeds. Like Dr. Frankenstein, who is mentioned specifically, Ras has mastered the principle of life creation but the details have a few wrinkles. He can create life but like Frankenstein's his creations are all monsters. Ras Thavas' creations are all hideous. ERB gets more mileage out of that word hideous than any other writer I've ever read.
All of Ras' creations are misshapen while being uniformly stupid. And when ERB says hideous he doesn't mean anything makeup is going to ameliorate. Plastic surgery would even fall a little short. These chaps were called hormads. It is impossible to believe that anyone would volunteer to be a hormad. But, is it? You'd have to have a pretty good reason. Ah...the things we do for love.
As we all know, the Mastermind of Mars was the physician of choice of the gods. If I ever need medical help I want Ras Thavas. Long before Christiaan Barnard transplanted the first human heart in 1967 Ras Thavas had routinely transplanted brains. What's a heart compared to a brain? Now, Vor Daj was much concerned for the chastity of Janai. He conceived the idea of having Ras transplant his brain into the body of a hormad in the hope, only the hope, of being selected for the bodyguard of one of the Seven Jeds so he could learn what had become of Janai who he didn't even know was aware of his existence.
No greater love hath man than this.
Of course, this is Burroughs' story, so everything runs according to plan unlike the unintended consequences that happen so often in real life. The brain of Vor Daj in Tur Dur Bar the hormad's body does find Janai and miracle of miracles she has been thinking only of Vor Daj who she has seen only once, in turmoil and from a distance. She speaks highly of Vor Daj whose brain is standing next to her in the body of the repellent hormad, Tur Dur Bar. Is Tur Tur, or is Tur Tur?
ERB gets off a couple nifty one liners about the relationship.
At one point he asks: What could we do to save ourselves? For the moment ourselves included only Janai and my two selves.
Are we talking about split personality?
Again: I saw that I had made a mistake in speaking as I had, but it was sometimes difficult for me to dissociate my dual personalities.
We all know where that's at, I'm sure.
And then: I can tell you that a hideous body such as mine induces a feeling of inferiority that can't be overcome.
I have no idea what he's talking about there but I still think it's funny.
And then we have this exchange:On the way back to the laboratory building I was walking on air. Janai had made her choice and I should have her with me now and under my protection. She seemed rather happy, too.To return to ERB in the ape suit at the other end of the golden chain. ERB believed that he was obtaining his Anima ideal in Florence while she believed she was getting a trophy husband plus the real Edgar Rice Burroughs. Now there was this guy Ed Burroughs who was definitely not the famous author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Just as the Anima cannot be realized in real life so a man's reputation is seldom what one sees up close and personal.
"Shall I see Vor Daj right away?" She asked.
"I'm afraid not," I replied.
"Why?" she demanded, and she seemed suddenly depressed.
"It may take a little time," I explained. "In the meantime you will be with me and perfectly safe."
"But I thought I was going to see Vor Daj. You haven't tricked me into this, have you, hormad?"
"If you think that, you had better go back to Ay-Mad." I snapped, prompted by probably the strangest complexity of emotions that any human being had ever been assailed with. I was jealous of myself!
Nevertheless Florence actually got what she wanted, a trophy husband, while ERB was left holding the bag.
He must have felt like a hormad in body while being Edgar Rice Burroughs in mind. Thus, Florence who had possession of the substance of ERB perhaps treated the person of ERB like a hormad. Someone who was around until she took the real ERB on the party rounds where she could be Mrs. Edgar Rice Burroughs, the wife of the famous author. Thus as ERB couldn't match up to his trophy ideal he was jealous of himself.
He never should have left the Garden Of Allah.
He had taken Florence as his Anima ideal to Hawaii. As his vision of paradise had evaporated he now took Florence back to Hawaii to reverse the process and dump her. He made life as impossible for her as he could until she took the hint returning to Hollywood.
They were quietly divorced. She remarried within a couple years.
ERB was now a disappointed and lonely man. He appeared to be headed to a slow suicide by alcohol, a victim of depression caused by failed dreams when the Big WWII came along. Rescued from his depression by the hope of realizing his old dream of becoming a war correspondent he succeeded.
He was already coming up hard on seventy so when the war ended he returned home to Hollywood to live out the last few years of his life. He reverted to the modest origins of his young manhood. One wonders if he thought it had all been worth it. One wonders if he ever found what he had been searching for. I don't know, but he laid down the baton as inconspicuously as he picked it up. He never became the character, the famous author Edgar Rice Burroughs. I wonder what his last thoughts really were when the lights went out.
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