Any good story requires conflict. Romeo and Juliet, this classic love story relied on the conflict between the two families of the main characters which presented obstacles to the love of the main characters. The 47 Ronin relied on the conflict between duty and respect. Robinson Crusoe relied on the conflict between man and nature. And any war or adventure story relies on the conflict between two opposing peoples.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, the master of Adventure, understood that well.
But he also chose to combine many of these into one story. We read Princess of Mars because of the Nature-conflict between John Carter and Mars, because of the Love-Conflict between John Carter and Dejah Thoris, because of the War-Conflict between Helium and Zodanga or between Red and Green-Man. So many levels to his tales. One can read the novel as a love story or as a shipwreck story or as a war story or as.. you get the idea. It is these levels that make the Master such a good story-teller.
But we want our heroes to be . . . well HEROIC! We want them to be larger than life. Filled with honor and courage and strength. But not too much strength.
President Roosevelt: “Come in Superman. There is an Austrian upstart in Germany causing trouble. His name is Adolf Hitler and I want you to stop him.
Superman: Sure thing Mister President.
(15 minutes later)
Superman: Mister President. I’ve destroyed the Nazi war machine, sunk their ships, crushed their tanks, smashed their aircraft and have the ringleaders; Hitler, Goering, Goebbles and a few others in a cage on the White House Lawn.”
President Roosevelt: Good work Superman.
Kinda dull story. History books will have a footnote: "WWII lasted 10 minutes. There were no casualties" and much of our literature and music and cinema would never exist.
No, we want our heroes to be greater than normal… but not so great that they always win easily. John Carter can be stronger than the Red men but he cannot be a Superman. The Therns, Green Men and others must be such supurb swordsmen that they can give him a run for his money… but still loose in the end.
More-than-human but not super-human. Thus the conflict between man-v-man where we know our hero will eventually suceed.
Then there is the conflict between man-v-nature. Robinson Crusoe where the hero describes his attempts to survive on an alien world. Burroughs adds this to his novels by transposing the hero onto Amtor, Barsoom, Pellucidar, Africa and a dozen other worlds where the hero must battle nature to merely survive. His descriptions of wild animals, the forces of weather and environment, strange and exotic peoples add to the story.
Love can be tragic as in Romeo and Juliet where we know the love is doomed or it can be the opposite where the lovers are united forever. But still there must be conflict. Gilbert and Ruth in Ivanhoe are doomed by religion to never be together. Robin Hood and Marion must overcome Law and Outlaw. John Carter and Dejah Thoris are hindered by her Customs and his total inability to understand women.
Any these alone will make a good story. Together, they make an Adventure!
So when we write pastiches, fan-fic, pseudo-scientific articles, whatever you wish to call them, we should keep these in mind. Romance, conflict, heroic efforts, tragedy. By the standards of the time of Burroughs, the formulae was established.
Man meets woman. One is of Noble Birth, both are pure of heart and soul and body. They fight, are separated and eventually are united in love.
Man is ‘shipwrecked’ on a strange place and must fight and learn to survive.
Nations go to war, battles are fought and peace wins out eventually.
Today, with our modern cynicism, we can accept a broader range to this formulae. It is now acceptable for the love interest to be Commoners. And even tragedy may ensue for love does not always win. Or love can be between two women ,two men, man and woman or the main characters can find that friendship is better than romance or that his true love may die to allow the adventure to continue a la Captain Kirk. You can even have casual sex tossed in (properly done of course). All are acceptable in today’s literature.
It is ok for the hero to occasionally loose so long as he really tries to win and looses by an act not-of-his-own-fault. Battles no longer need to be massive world-wide conflicts but can be smaller (our fear of global nuclear conflagration perhaps) and more understandable for the individual to handle. It is the struggle to win that guides today’s reader.
The shipwreck theme is excellent and well-loved so long as the hero somehow either escapes or learns to live with or conquer the island. We actually enjoy learning a new animal or plant and seeing how the hero handles a salt-water-crocodile in a raft in the pacific or a Banth on Barsoom. We do not touch idea that too much save to make it more realistic.
The older B-movie of 6’ amazon women living on the surface of the moon which has breathable air and normal gravity is out-dated so we must find another way to make it believable to today’s more educated reader. If the Morgors come from Jupiter, you have better figure out how they could live in an ammonia-methane atmosphere under 5000 psi and –200 degrees on a world with no planetary surface. (note: Den Valdron’s island theory is an attempt to explain this in a way we can accept)
So the modern writer of pulp fiction has more rules but greater freedom. The modern tale can have any variety of heroes including a woman or alien so long as the hero is balanced and not so powerful as to be superhuman. We have to wonder if they will win or even survive. And the love interest can be tragic or non-traditional and still work.
Can you imagine ERB writing a story about a lesbian warrior-woman who has casual affairs with an occasional Red-Princess before she settles down with an Orovar from Lothar? Probably not. ERB required normal (non-sexual) relations between his heroes according to the times in which he wrote. He was very good at that. Today we follow his general formulae but our more open society allows for variation and our more educated reader requires more of an explanation as to ‘how’.
Still, if we remember these few ‘rules’, we can not only enjoy the Master’s works even more but also add to them in ways that will expand the audience.
Thus, when I write my own fan-fic, I am not constrained by the Noble meets Commoner theme but enjoy using it in ways the Master could not. I can have commoner-commoner or Noble-Noble and any possible variation for I recognize the nobility in many people.
I can expand the gender roles and allow for female warriors or the more traditional women in my stories. At least until more women begin to fill that written gap.
I can actually allow my characters to be physical in battle and bedroom and explore alternative sexuality as well as alternate lifestyles. And I can show love as tragic and noble.
I can seek a scientific (as best I can) explanation for Barsoom, Amtor and the ability to travel between the worlds.
And I can look at a map of Barsoom, dream of those empty spaces and fill them myself. I can read other people’s fan-fic and build upon the places they show (while avoiding their characters), creating new societies and cities and expanding upon the work of the master. Thus in my Atlas of Barsoom, you will find locations named in the various works of Burroughs and by his successors.
We all do this.
Some better than others.
Some I seek out to read, taking notes to fill in the blanks of Martian geography and history. Others I simply read for the fun.
These then are my efforts to answer various questions like:
Q: Why did the US reach the Moon in 1969, return a couple times then stop? Why are we totally unable to return to the Moon today?
A: Because Barsoom gave the US the necessary information via Gridley Wave then when that communication was ended, the Earth was unable to do the task alone.
Q: How did Barsoom win or even survive against the Morgor Armadas?
A: Because the Savators took that opportunity to revolt when the fleet left Garobus. (interesting story possibility here)
Q: Are there other visitors to Barsoom?
A: Yes! And not all are from Earth. After all, we all explore Human meets alien but what of alien meets Earth or Alien meets Alien?
Q: Why do the Martian Probes from the US and Russia show a dead planet?
A: you fill in this one.
But when I write a hero, I try to balance that hero. For every strength, I must add a weakness to prevent the superman-syndrome. A hero with twice the physical strength of the norm should be twice as weak in another area. And for every location I add to the Red Planet, I try to ask myself “Why?” and “How?” And for this, I read the works and articles of others, and modify them to my own needs and desires as they do to my works.
Live changes, evolves and grows. For those of us with an undying thirst for Barsoom, Pellucidar, Pal-ul-Don and the other worlds described by the Master of Adventure, these are our attempts to slake that thirst.
|ERBzine 1645: Johnson:
ERB Fan Profile
ERBzine 1522: Sociology of the Wieroo
ERBzine 1527: Maltheusian Decimation in Pal-Ul-Don
ERBzine 1547: Opar
ERBzine 1710: Conflict!
ERBzine 1965: Rescue In Pellucidar
ERBzine 1974: Anatomy of an Alien
ERBzine 2304: Prelude to Weir-Lu of Caspak
ERBzine 2388: Bright-Eyed Flower of Pal-ul-don
ERBzine 2394: Dinosaur Survival On Earth
|ERBzine 1578: Barsoom
ERBzine 1370: Mapping Barsoom I: Can It Be Done?
ERBzine 1562: Mapping Barsoom II: Compromises
ERBzine 1565: Mapping Barsoom III: The Past
ERBzine 1633: Valley Dor
ERBzine 1634: Swords On Mars
ERBzine 1711: A Panthan of Mars
ERBzine 1712: Spy: Arrival On Mars
ERBzine 2165: Battle at U-Gor
ERBzine 2166: Lost On Barsoom
ERBzine 2167: Meeting of the Panthans: Pt. I
ERBzine 2168: Meeting of the Panthans: Pt. II
ERBzine 2169: North to Barsoom
ERBzine 2196: Jahar
ERBzine 2303: Return to Barsoom I: Letters
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