ERB's Second Novel: The
Outlaw of Torn
"I think it is the best thing
I ever wrote. . ." ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs
Reprinted from ERBzine
Irwin Porges, through his concentrated research on ERB documents at
ERB, Inc., pieced together the interesting evolution of Ed Burroughs' second
novel - The Outlaw of Torn. Highlights of these findings follow:
Following ERB's success with his first
story, Under the Moons of Mars, Thomas Metcalf of "All-Story Magazine"
suggested that Ed should consider creating his next story in a different
setting. "I was thinking last night, considering with how much vividness
you described the various fights, whether you might not be able to do a
serial of the regular romantic type, something like, say Ivanhoe,
or at least of the period when everybody wore armor and dashed about rescuing
fair ladies. If you have in mind any serials, or anything of that sort,
and if you think it worth your while, I should be very glad indeed to hear
from you in regard to them.
So, somewhat reluctantly, Ed found himself returning to the thirteenth
century to write a pseudo-historical romance about a gallant outlaw. Amazingly,
he completed the story within three weeks. In his letter of November 29,
1911, Ed reported the dispatch, by United States Express, of The Outlaw
He explained that the story was set in medieval England. About his
hero, the fictitious second son of Henry III, he wrote, "The story of his
adventurous life, and his love for a daughter of the historic Simon de
Montfort, Earl of Leicester, gives ample opportunity for thrilling situations,
and hair raising encounters. . . while the story hinges, in a way,
upon certain historic facts in connection with The Barons' War of that
period, I have not infused enough history, scenery or weather in it to
in any way detract from the interest of the narrative."
The plot, quite ingenious, and with no actual basis in fact, concerns
the incredible revenge of Sir Jules de Vac, French fencing master in the
household of Henry III, for the insult he has suffered from the English
King. To a critical reader, however, The Outlaw of Torn was
nothing more than a ragged patchwork of assorted characters and incidents,
hastily conceived and ineffectively bundled together. Even as a picaresque
romance with the customary string of loosely related adventures it was
a failure. The semblance of a medieval atmosphere, which Ed attempted to
create through brief descriptions and bits of historical reference, was
completely unconvincing. Metcalf, on December 19, 1911, offered a summary
of the novel's defects:
"I am very doubtful about the story. The plot is excellent, but I think
you worked it out all together too hurriedly. You really didn't get the
effect of the picturesqueness of Torne. Opportunities for color and pageantry
you have entirely missed. The worth of some of the figures of which you
might make a great deal, you do not seem to realize. As, for instance,
the old fencer whom you use for about three chapters and then ignore entirely
until the very end of the story. In him you have a kind of malevolent spirit
who might pervade the whole book."
Ed promptly sent a letter in defence of the rejected Torn.
His belief had been that All-Story would want something with a good plot
and "as rapid action as possible, so as to not entail too much matter."
He conceded that since this story was completed so soon after his first
one, a reader might receive an impression that it was hurriedly written;
this was clearly not the case, he insisted. "I work all day and late into
the night studying my references and writing alternately. An experienced
writer would doubtless cover much more ground in the same time." He stressed
that the flaws that Metcalfe had pointed out in The Outlaw of
Torn, were "errors" subject to speedy correction. "I can see
no reason why I cannot make the story satisfactory to you, for the errors
you cite are purely of omission, and they can easily be remedied."
Ed's confidence was shaken somewhat when Metcalf responded with a devastating
analysis of the novel. "I think you have neglected great opportunities."
He believed that Ed's first chapter should have been "full of color and
excitement." After a brief summary of the plot, Metcalf referred to the
ending: "I am not sure that there is any particular value in the happy
ending. It seems to be more legitimate to have both De Vac and the outlaw
die in the end, leaving the lady dissolved in tears, possibly on her way
to become a nun." He followed this up with a series of specific suggestions.
With the rejection of The Outlaw of Torn Ed had become dubious
about his writing ability. As a result, he now had little faith that "Tarzan,"
the story that he had started writing after his first draft of Torn,
would be accepted. ". . . When I finished it I knew that it was not
as good a story as The Outlaw of Torn," he commented, "and that,
therefore, it would not sell...."
Metcalf's appraisal of the manuscript evidently convinced Ed of the
necessity for careful, studied revision, for he now worked slowly, not
returning The Outlaw of Torn until February 2, 1912. For this
revised manuscript Ed had devised two separate endings for the story, "one
happy and the other tending toward the opposite, but leaving the matter
somewhat in the reader's hands. For business reasons I lean to the 'happy'
one, because as all classes read fiction purely for relaxation and enjoyment,
I imagine they do not care particularly for stories which leave a bad taste.
However, I leave it to your greater experience."
A month later, Metcalfe sent word that although he liked the plot, he
could not use Torn in its present form. . .but he would be willing
to buy the story for $100 and have one of his staff writers who was more
experienced in medieval history do a re-write as a co-author. Ed responded:
"I am very sorry that you do not find `The Outlaw of Torn' available
in its present form; but I thank you for your alternative offer, which,
however, in view of the time I have put on the story, I cannot see my way
to accept.. . . I really think your readers would have liked that story.
I am not prone to be prejudiced in favor of my own stuff, in fact it all
sounds like rot to me, but I tried the Mss on some young people; extremely
superior, hypercritical young people, and some of them sat up all night
reading it. [I am convinced] that nobody knows anything about the manners,
customs or speech of 13th century England. . . . So who may say that one
story fairly represents the times and that another does not? If I had written
into The Outlaw of Torn my real conception of the knights of the
time of Henry III you would have taken the Mss with a pair of tongs and
dropped it in the furnace. I made my hero everything that I thought the
men of the time were not.
After another rejection Ed let the Torn project lie dormant until October
when he renewed his efforts: "Am working on The Outlaw of Torn
and think that I am whipping a good story out of it. Do you really think
it worth while submitting it to you or would you suggest that I fire it
to some other magazine?" After Metcalfe's promise to consider the story
again Ed sent the revised script on November 19: "Please don't
return it to me. When you are through with it let me know and I will send
you a shipping paster and the coin to forward it elsewhere. I know that
you will not like it any better than you did before. It's funny too, for
everyone who has read it except yourself has thought it by far the most
interesting story I have written." Following yet another rejection,
Ed responded: "I am going to do it over again when I have time — I shall
stick to The Outlaw of Torn until it is published — I come of a
very long lived family."
There were now three versions: the original long-hand story of 215 pages;
a typed manuscript, quite similar but with small corrections; and the expanded,
detailed form. The revised manuscript of 1912, a collection of hand-written
and typed pages, exhibited changes that were based upon additional research.
Ed's first two openings were discarded, and in the final published version
of The Outlaw of Torn a more leisurely introductive section appeared.
Ed's persistence eventually paid off eight months later when A. L. Sessions,
Editor of the "New Story" magazine, accepted the story for publication.
(The Outlaw of Torn was purchased for $1000 and serialized in the
January, March, April, and May 1914 issues. WH)
Ed's belief in his beleagured second novel was vindicated thirteen years
later when McClurg published The Outlaw of Torn on February
19, 1927. To the literary editor of the Sacramento Bee, on March
15, Ed recalled that this story drove him to the hardest "labor" he had
ever done. He also noted that Bray never cared for the story, but described
him as "one of the princes of the publishing world," and added, "I dedicated
this one to him, as you will note from the flyleaf, to make him like it."
A few months before publication Bray had been made president of A. C. McClurg
& Company. Ed's faith in The Outlaw of Torn appeared justified
with the report, on March 28, that the 5,000 copy first edition of the
book had been sold out — a gratifying record for so short a period. For
the window display of The Outlaw of Torn for Brentano's Book Store
in Chicago, Ed sent a photo of himself at the Tarzana Ranch with the yearling
filly named Dejah Thoris. Concerning the novel, he wrote to Maurice Simons
"I think it is the best thing I ever wrote, with the possible exception
of Tarzan of the Apes, and next to it, I believe will rank The
War Chief of the Apaches."
Throughout the late thirties Burroughs and ERB, Inc. secretary Rothmund
conducted a persistent campaign to persuade the motion picture companies
to consider various stories as film vehicles. . . . . Those most determinedly
marketed were Jungle Girl, Outlaw of Torn, The Mucker,
Apache Devil, and The War Chief. All of the stories were judged
unsuitable for film production.