A Lost Freedom Classic
. . . Found!
When I was 13, my parents gave me a copy
of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The
Moon Maid for Christmas.
They did it for two reasons. First, they
knew I loved Burroughs’ Tarzan and
Carter of Mars books. Second, they knew I loved science fiction.
I thanked them for the gift. Then I tossed
it into the back of my closet, unread.
I did it for two reasons. First, neither
Tarzan nor John Carter was in the novel. Second, it was called The Moon
Maid, which stirred up images of that awful Moon Maid character from
the Dick Tracy comic strip.
That old copy of The Moon Maid is
probably sitting in some Salvation Army thrift store today. But I’ve been
feeding a Burroughs binge lately, rereading the Tarzan stories and Carter’s
adventures on Barsoom. And last week, looking for something I hadn’t read
yet, I finally picked up a new copy of The Moon Maid.
What I missed at age 13 — and only now
discovered at 50 — is not just a sci-fi classic but a pioneering novel
of freedom and resistance that stands splendidly alongside Ayn Rand’s Atlas
Shrugged, Ira Levin’s This
Perfect Day, and, most recently, Vin
Suprynowicz’s The Black Arrow.
The Moon Maid has a remarkable history.
It consists of three consecutive novellas. The second was actually written
first, in the spring of 1919, shortly after the Bolshevik revolution.
Burroughs titled this story “Under the
Red Flag.” Set a century or two in America ’s future, it told the tale
of Julian James, born in a Bolshevik dystopia and living in the 31st Commune
of the Chicago Soviet. Lantski Petrov is president of the United States
, and Otto Bergst is the new commander of the Red Guard at Chicago .
As a piece of anti-Communist fiction, “Under
the Red Flag” predated Rand ’s We
the Living by 17 years and Orwell’s Animal
Farm by almost three decades. But in 1919, no one would publish
it. The story was rejected 11 times by periodicals as varied as the Saturday
Evening Post and the Argosy
All-Story line of pulp magazines, which had already published Burroughs’
enormously popular A
Princess of Mars (1912), Tarzan
of the Apes (1912), and At
the Earth’s Core (1913), among others.
The unpublished story was filed away, but
not for long. Burroughs was a businessman, and he decided he had to salvage
something from his time spent writing “Under the Red Flag.” During a single
day in 1922, he rewrote the yarn. It was still set in the 22nd Century,
but the Bolsheviks were turned into Kalkars, a brutish, mongrel breed of
lunar invaders. President Petrov became Jarth, Jemadar of the United Teivos
of America. Commander Bergst of Chicago ’s Red Guard was transformed into
Brother-General Or-tis, the new Commandant of Chicago. And James Julian,
the story’s tragic lead character, morphed into Julian the Ninth, one in
a long line of Julian family heroes. Burroughs re-titled the story “The
Moon Men” and cleverly made it a sequel to an as-yet-unwritten story.
Within months, Burroughs penned “The Moon
Maid,” the first third of what was becoming a multi-generational narrative.
This segment takes place 100 years before “The Moon Men.” It’s the story
of Julian the Fifth, whose unfortunate spaceship crashes on the Moon. His
subsequent adventures in a world beneath the lunar surface launch a chain
of events leading to the Kalkar invasion of Earth.
“The Moon Maid” quickly sold to Argosy
All-Story Weekly, which serialized it in spring of 1923. All-Story
had no choice now but to publish its “sequel,” the rewritten “Under the
Red Flag,” in February and March 1925.
Finally, there remained for Burroughs the
task of satisfactorily concluding the Julian family saga. Six months after
publishing “The Moon Men,” All-Story Weekly serialized his “The
Red Hawk,” the final piece of the chronicle. Jumping 300 years beyond “The
Moon Men,” it describes Julian the Twentieth’s role in the revolt that
ends Kalkar tyranny on Earth. All three stories were collected in book
form as the novel The Moon Maid in 1926.
The Moon Maid (the title refers
to a princess in the first novella and has nothing to do with most of the
book) is strikingly different from most of the Burroughs canon. Sure, it
features plenty of the author’s traditional scenes of romance, capture,
and daring escape, particularly in the first section. But this novel is
consistently dark; victory is never certain and violent death lurks everywhere.
Anyone familiar with the indestructible Tarzan and John Carter, who always
survive insurmountable odds with seldom a scratch, will be startled by
Moon Maid. Julian the Fifth, for instance, returns to Earth successfully
at the end of the first novella, but he sacrifices his life in a horrible
explosion during the prologue to Part II. Julian the Ninth is beheaded
by a Kalkar executioner at the close of “The Moon Men.” And Moses Samuels,
another heroic and likeable figure in that same section, is gruesomely
tortured and murdered by his oppressors in an especially heartbreaking
The Moon Maid also differs from
more typical Burroughs fare in the razor-sharp social and political commentary
that literally saturates it.
Burroughs begins to skewer state socialism
early on in the book. In one scene, a fellow prisoner describes to Julian
the Fifth the collapse of a once great lunar civilization:
“Ages ago we were
one race, a prosperous people living at peace with all the world . . .
. There were ten great divisions, each ruled by its Jemadar, and each division
vied with all the others in the service which it rendered to its people.
There were those who held high positions and those who held low; there
were those who were rich and those who were poor, but the favors of the
state were distributed equally among them, and the children of the poor
had the same opportunities for education as the children of the rich, and
there it was that our troubles first started.”
A secret society called The Thinkers, the
prisoner explains, filled the people of Va-nah, the Moon’s interior world,
with envy and dissatisfaction. They eventually overthrew the Jemadars and
drove the ruling class from power. But . . .
“The Thinkers would
not work, and the result was that both government and commerce fell into
rapid decay. They not only had neither the training nor the intelligence
to develop new things, but they could not carry out the old that had been
developed for them. The arts and sciences languished and died with the
commerce and government, and Va-nah fell back into barbarism.”
The Kalkars, who invade Earth with the
help of a traitorous Earthling in Part II, are descendants of The Thinkers.
And naturally, they transplant their failed political and social systems
to Occupied Earth.
In the second novella, we’re told that
“the accursed income tax” in agrarian, collectivized America is one percent
of all a family buys or sells during a month, paid at the end of each month
with produce or manufactured goods. But since nothing has any fixed value,
the tax collectors’ appraisals are based on the highest market values for
the month. Says a Kalkar tax collector to Julian the Eighth:
“You paid five goats
for half your weight in beans, and as everyone knows that beans are worth
twenty times as much as coal, the coal you bought must be worth one hundred
goats by now, and as beans are worth twenty times as much as coal and you
have twice as much beans as coal your beans are now worth two hundred goats,
which makes your trades for this month amount to three hundred goats. Bring
me, therefore, three of your best goats.”
I’d love to hear the late Murray Rothbard
dissect that nonsense.
Edgar Rice Burroughs was no libertarian.
His “Americans,” as the subjugated Earth people are called in the book,
worship a tattered American flag (called simply The Flag) and sing “Onward
Christian Soldiers” during forbidden (and oddly secular) religious services.
And despite all their talk of freedom and independence, I suspect these
Americans would ultimately replace their Kalkar masters with equally despotic
rulers. But Burroughs’ contemptuous portrayal of Earth just prior to its
alien invasion — a planet so dedicated to “peace at any price” that possession
of firearms is illegal worldwide and “even edged weapons with blades over
six inches long [are] barred by law” — shows that his heart was largely
in the right place. Burroughs was a lover of freedom. And no libertarian
should find argument with the old American virtues of self-reliance, physical
courage, and survival so explicitly depicted in The Moon Maid.
I think The Moon Maid is a surprisingly
overlooked Edgar Rice Burroughs masterpiece. Its epic, generations-long
“future history” was unique for its time. It’s a brilliant early example
of social extrapolation in science fiction. And it delivers an exciting
and inspiring story that should delight most liberty-seekers.
(I highly recommend the 2002 “complete
and restored” University of Nebraska Press edition of The
Moon Maid. It restores all the passages deleted from both the magazine
and book versions over the last eight decades.).
May 23, 2005
Conger is a marketing consultant and writer living on California ’s
central coast. He has been a non-political, anti-party activist in the
libertarian movement since 1970. His blog of unfinished essays and spontaneous
eruptions can be found at wconger.blogspot.com.
Conger Archive at www.Strike-the-Root.com
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