(The following article from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs,
written for the literary page of the Times, is intended to give his thousands
of readers in Southern California an intimate glimpse of the man whose
Tarzan stories are probably as widely read as the works of any American
writer. Mr. Burroughs is under fifty, but in spite of his comparative youth,
he has had a picturesque and varied career as miner, cowboy, storekeeper,
policeman, soldier and traveler. It is safe to say that while he is the
author of a score or more of books he has lived more stories than he has
written. He is now living at Tarzan Ranch, Reseda, in the San Fernando
Valley, California -- Editor)
Mr. Ford suggests that I talk to you about my books -- "At the Earth's
Core," "The Chessmen of Mars" and the "Tarzan" stories. He wants me to
talk about them for a thousand words... What I can say of them without
outraging modesty can be put in fewer words by far. I think they are bully
stories and that they fulfill the purposes for which they were written
-- to entertain and to sell. They were not written for any other purpose.
Sometimes reviewers waste whole columns on them explaining that they are
not what I never intended them to be -- contributions to classical literature.
That is misspent energy. Did a sport writer ever discuss the table manner
of Battling Siki as seriously affecting his success in the prize ring?
The only standard by which I judge the fiction that I enjoy is whether
it has the punch to hold my interest and is able to deliver the k.o. to
dull care and worry.
It seems to me that no one who functions properly above the ears can
possibly read fiction for purposes of instruction or enlightenment. It
is written by men no better, and oftentimes not so well, equipped to think
as the reader. Each book contains the personal viewpoint of one man or
woman, and even that opinion is usually seriously affected by what he thinks
the public will pay $1.50 or $2 for. Occasionally there is a great piece
of fiction, once in a hundred years, perhaps, or maybe I had better say
a thousand years, that actually molds public opinion; but in the meantime
fiction either entertains or it does not entertain, and that is all there
is to it. What entertains you may not entertain the other fellow, but God
knows there is enough of it written each year so that it is our own fault
if we are not all entertained.
FICTION IS STEPPING STONE
The really great purpose of fiction, however, is, as I see it, that it
is a stepping stone to other and vastly more entertaining reading. The
reading of clean fiction should be encouraged since the reading of anything
will form the habit of reading and one day the novitiate, having no fiction
on hand, will, perforce, have to read something else, and, lo, a new world
will be opened to him -- and there are so many wonderful books outside
the fiction lists; but gosh! how they do charge for them. My favorites
are travel exploration, biography and natural history, but there are others
-- countless others in which you can find more wonderful things than I
or any other writer can invent.
Did you ever read an annual report of the Smithsonian Institute? I recently
sat up nearly all night reading one that is ten years old, almost, and
when, at dinner the following evening I recounted my adventures of the
previous night to my three children they held them spellbound and elicited
a thousand questions, 999 of which I could not answer.
And then there are magazines such as the Geographic, Asia and Popular
Mechanics. These three constitute an encyclopedia of liberal education
for adult or child that arouses a desire for more knowledge and fosters
the habit of reading.
LIKES "THE VIRGINIAN"
I am fond of fiction, too, although I do not read a great deal of it. And
I have my favorites -- Mary Roberts Reinhart and Booth Tarkington are two
of them. When I read one of Mrs. Reinhart's stories I always wish that
I might have been sufficiently gifted to have written it, and then when
I read something of Tarkington's I feel the same way about that. I have
read "The Virginian" five or six times, and "The Prince and the Pauper"
and "Little Lord Fauntleroy" as many. I believe "The Virginian" to be one
of the greatest American novels ever written, and though I have heard that
Mr. Wister deplores having written it, I venture that 100 years from now
it will constitute his sole link to fame -- and I am sure that "The Virginian"
will live 100 years, if the Bolshevists and the I.W.W. permit civilizations
to endure so long as that.
Let's talk about something else -- I haven't used my 1000 words yet.
Literary people, for instance. Do you know any? No! You're lucky.
I've met a few, but I never stayed awake long enough to get acquainted.
I used to belong to a club in Chicago composed entirely of authors, artists
and editors. I lunched with them once a week for years and I do not recall
that I ever hard a book or a picture discussed during all that time. They
were not literary, but they were quite human and extremely good company.
Literary people do not write. They read what other people write, discuss
it, criticize it, quarrel about it and altogether take it much more seriously
than the people who write it. Literary people just love to meet their favorite
authors, but sometimes they are happier when they don't. If one should
meet God and find that He wore a dirty collar, ate with a knife and picked
his teeth in public one would feel shocked and disillusioned, would one
not? Well of course, you can not expect all authors to be better than God.
There are some to be sure; but we are in the minority.
SEX STORIES A BORE
And then there are autograph collectors. Most certainly they tickle a body's
vanity, or at least they did mine until I fell upon a dealer's catalogue
of autographs and found much nicer ones than mine quoted at 25 cents each.
Collecting is a peculiar form of insanity. I had it in boyhood -- stamps,
coins and postmarks. My two sons have it mildly. Four years ago they started
a collection of bones and now the back porch looks like an ancient battlefield,
or shambles, or something. Cows, horses, goats, wildcats, squirrels contributed
various portions of their anatomies to this weird collection. There was
more sense to it, though, than the collection of autographs. My youngest
boy collects empty match boxes. The fact that they are all of the same
kind makes no difference to him; but in that he shows the true spirit of
the collector, for they are utterly useless, valueless, discarded things,
and it is such that the collector loves best to gather. To my mind, the
most hideous form that collecting can take is that of uncut books -- the
pinnacle of utter and ridiculous selfishness. I do not believe that anyone
who truly loves books would have an uncut volume on his shelves.
There are, however, some books whose leaves might remain uncut for all
of me -- those of the modern writers of so-called sex stories, and the
complete works of Charles Dickens, each of which bore me to extinction.
A thousand words are not so many after all. Glad they are exhausted?
So am I.