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
John 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
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
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The unpublished story was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
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
The 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
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:
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 . . .
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
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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