Tarzan And The River
Part III: Star Begotten:
The Reds vs. Edgar Rice Burroughs
by R.E. Prindle
First published in the Burroughs Bulletin Spring 2003 issue.And suddenly it was borne in on Mr. Barnstaple that he belonged now soul and body to the Revolution, to the Great Revolution that is afoot on Earth, that marches and will never desist nor rest again until old Earth is one city and Utopia set up therein. He saw clearly that Revolution is life and that all other living is a trafficking of life with death.–H.G. Wells, Men Like Gods
The Open Conspirator
Of all the literary influences of Edgar Rice Burroughs, none takes precedence over H.G. Wells. Time after time ERB makes allusions to ideas and novels of H.G. Wells. Although only ten years ERB's senior, Wells had already a literary career of twenty years standing before ERB began to publish.
Wells had written hugely influential works such as When The Sleeper Wakes, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island Of Dr. Moreau and what is perhaps the most famous science fiction story of all time, The War Of The Worlds. Dozens if not hundreds of stories, novels and movies can be shown to be quite similar to if not traced back to his writing. Echoes of the Wells style can even be found in the Rod Serling introductions to television’s The Twilight Zone. To read Wells is to be continually astonished by the literary skill and the immense variety of his subject matter.
Is it any wonder Edgar Rice Burroughs was dazzled by Wells' virtuosity?
They both had many interests in common, not least of which was an interest in evolution. Both men were quite daring in their explorations of the subject.
Wells, quite astonishingly, projected the evolution of the 'new man' or sub-species which he noted as appearing around mid-nineteenth century as the man of science established his presence. His novel The Food Of The Gods deals with the emergence of this new sub-species. The topic then disappears, only to be re-examined a couple decades later in his Star Begotten. He substitutes cosmic rays from Mars to facilitate genetic mutation instead of a food but the effect is the same.
I find it striking that a man of such clear intellect should succumb to the lure of Communism. The crass materialism of Communism is a complete contradiction to Wells astral aspirations. No Red Communist is ever going to reach for the stars, they are mired in the mud of Earth.
Thus I find a conflict between Wells' Communism and his Science, the one cancels the other out. Perhaps in Star Begotten when he hints that having discovered that he too is one of the 'new men' all his previous writing seems irrelevant to him.
Perhaps. But just prior to that discovery he had allowed his talents to be exploited as a hatchet man in the Red attack on our man, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
When ERB began writing in 1912 the Revolution, which had been simmering since the outbreak of revolution in 1789 and which received its potent infusion in 1847 through Marx and Engels, was still a collection of wild eyed fanatics shouting slogans on street corners. All this changed a short five years later when the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. The Revolution now had a power base from which to punish infidels.
For decades the Reds had been quietly infiltrating sensitive areas of society such as religion, education, and publishing. Then, with the success of the Bolsheviks, it was as though a semi-inflated tire suddenly filled to full size with a resounding pop. The mere grumblers and complainers now became vital elements of what H.G. Wells was to call The Open Conspiracy.
This Open or Red conspiracy was as fully bigoted in 1917 as Moslemism in 2001. As Wells observed in Men Like Gods, the Revolution was the true faith -- in his words, 'was life' -- while all non-believers were infidels , or in his words, 'a trafficker of life with death.' The meaning is the same. The faithful against the infidels, no quarter given.
The first article of faith with any religious movement is the collectivization of thought and action. No dissident thought or behavior is to be permitted, no Freedom of Conscience, no independence of speech or action. One must look to the priest, imam or commissar for the current opinion. To fail to do so is to be excommunicated, to be expelled from the faithful.
A refusal to accept the faith is warrant for destruction.
This attitude was a direct rejection of the American ideals of freedom of conscience and individualism.
In America with its freer individualism, its constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience, speech and action, the process of subordinating the individual to the collective would be a long and arduous but not impossible effort.
Already in virtual control of the media of communication in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, there was no difficulty in fostering Communist writers while denying access to publication of Freedom of Conscience writers. One merely said the latter had no commercial value while promoting the former as the ‘best’ talent available. Who among the public was to disagree with this conclusion, as the work of non-Communist writers was kept from their eyes. It rapidly became known that you couldn’t get published unless you espoused certain views while rejecting others.
Preventing the publishing of new writers presented no difficulties, the problem was with established Freedom of Conscience writers. The question was how to discredit them and silence them. The best method is unrelenting negative criticism or slander. A writer’s strong points are ignored while his weak points are hammered with a sledge over and over.
Gradually admirers will be turned away while new readers will be warned off. Hopefully a loss of confidence will be induced in the writer. This is what happened with Edgar Rice Burroughs. Even though he was a best selling author he was never to be styled as American's best loved writer, that accolade was reserved for the Reds. The very notion of a self-sufficient individual like Tarzan is anathema to the Revolution.
While taking on this best selling author was a formidable task, when the author has no means of defense except through his work, the task is actually quite easy. Burying the earlier work may present a problem, in the case of a gigantic figure like Tarzan the task proved to be impossible although the first novel, Tarzan Of The Apes, was unavailable from the twenties on.
The period from 1917 to the early 1920s was a period of consolidation and organization in the Communist world. Their battle was not only against what they called Capitalism but against dissident groups within their own ranks like the Socialists and then the Trotskyites. The Socialists were pushed into a backwater fairly easily, so by the early twenties the international arm of the Bolsheviks was functioning well, having set up stations in all the important western capitols.
The cadres organized into cells of ten were small in themselves but through ‘parlor pinks’, fellow travelers and ‘left leaning’ Liberals, Comunist numbers were vastly and discreetly augmented. While most followers didn’t consider themselves ‘card carrying’ members, their sympathies lay, like Wells, with the Revolution whose nerve center was Moscow.
Thus Wells, who belonged ‘soul and body’ to the Revolution was yet not a Communist member. However, a threat to the Revolution must be met by condign punishment.
While directions did come through Moscow, and Wells had met both Lenin and Stalin, still one recognized a counter revolutionary without help from a Commissar. Thus while it is possible that Wells received instructions to attack Burroughs it is also quite possible that he recognized the enemy and acted on his own although not probable.
Burroughs himself had taken cognizance of the collectivist threat to the American individualistic system and had been following Communist actitivies both closely and with hostility.
When we consider that the extremely well developed ideas and research on Red Activites in Tarzan The Invincible, which began publication in October of 1930, must have been developed in the short interval between 1917 and 1929, without allowing for time for the Revolution to become apparent in America, ERB's awareness shows great concentration. Even moreso when one considers that the controversial events of 1919 led to the positive appearance of the Revolution in the United States.
Thus one assumes that ERB's opinions were formed much earlier, perhaps from the activites of the IWW or Wobblies and Socialists during the teens. It is quite clear that he had studied the Revolution closely.
It should also be clear that both sides knew the nature of the quarrel. Whether Wells was assigned to do the hatchet job on Burroughs or took on the task voluntarily, he nevertheless made the ‘hit.’
As much as I like the writing of Wells and as talented as he was, he was nevertheless a very vain man. In his novel Star Begotten, which seems to be autobiographical, he seems to be be quite aware that he virtually invented the genres of futuristic and science fiction. More particularly, he took Mars as his own province. In Star Begotten he says that he is sorry he begat the subject. He doesn’t seem to be aware that he created a number of genres and sub-genres rather than mere imitators, as a score of novels appeared every year which he had to add to his collection. One assumes that he had a complete collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs with new titles arriving ‘by the score’ annually. It follows that he would have read the tales of this author who was outselling him. Not only outselling him but borrowing from him extensively. Unlike Kipling, it is clear that H.G. thought himself a complete original.
N.B. Both Wells Wells and Burroughs thought Kipling's The Man Who would Be King capital fare. It may indeed be the finest story ever told. The story should be part of every literate man’s mental furiture and practically memorized.
It would seem that the Red attack on ERB was in full swing by 1922 when Men Like Gods appeared, which is a specific attack on Burroughs.
As noted previously, the Reds controlled publishing. Thus the free acess Burroughs had to pulp publishing in 1912 was progressively eroded as the thirties wore on until it was virtually impossible for him to place a story.
The wider market reached by the popular magazines or slicks had always been denied him. Possibly, pre-1920 ERB may have been considered too outre or bizarre for ‘family’ magazines, but by the thirties one finds it hard to believe that the slicks would refuse such a best selling author unless something else was involved.
One has only to look at the roll call of the ‘best young writers’ of the thirties to see the answer. They’re all Red. All of them have disappeared. Even one of the ‘best and brightest,’ Robert Sherwood, is unread except by a small coterie of specialists, if that.
The big publishing firms had always shunned Burroughs. True, those were stuffier times when writing like Burroughs’ would have been sniffed at but, after all, this is America where money is religion.
So Burroughs’ means of reply was limited solely to his books, which by this time were being self-published. The polite theory is for Burroughs to explain that his self-publication was caused by greed, but the self-publication of his own books by Upton Sinclair, who lived across LA in Pasadena, was not. There were political reasons for Sinclair to publish his own works, just as later there was a political reason for Howard Fast to publish his own. I suspect the same reasons caused ERB to publish his own. The next problem after publishing your own is to find distribution, but then that is another story.
What is clear is that Wells was very aware of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The internal evidence of Men Like Gods indicates that Wells first became aware of Burroughs in 1921. It is more than probable that Wells hadn’t heard of ERB until that date. The war in Europe broke out in 1914 before Burroughs’ novels had begun to appear in book form. It would be questionable whether Wells saw or heard of Burroughs’ pulp magazine publications.
Three years after the war ended, his attention had been drawn to Burroughs’ writing. He was not ‘entertained.’
At the present day it is fairly well accepted that Burroughs’ was so enchanted by Kipling’s Just So Stories that he used them for a hundred pages or so of his Tarzan Oeuvre. Kipling, who knew there was only one story and that every writer had told the same story from the beginning of literature, was flattered by Burroughs’ borrowing.
ERB, who used every story or detail in a story that he liked, had borrowed pretty freely of H.G. If Burroughs’ novel The Monster Men wasn’t inspired by Wells’ The Island Of Dr. Moreau, it must be completely original.
Perhaps the borrowing didn’t offend Wells so much, many of whose inspirations are not so cleverly disguised, as the criticism of his ideas of time travel by Burroughs.
Wells had personal as well as political motives for attacking ERB.
As one who admires Wells’ writing and intellectual abilities, I have to believe that he allowed himself to become a dupe of the Reds. His ardent desire for a Utopia must have blurred his vision. His defense of Stalinist atrocities rings as hollow as onyone else’s. He must have known he was defending evil and willfully blinked. At any rate, Burroughs as an individualist had to be brought down.
As Burroughs’ work is free of political references before the Bolshevik Revolution, it follows that his references to the Reds after 1928's Lord Of The Jungle must have been defensive measures in response to attacks.
If my understanding of the novel is correct, ERB made an oblique counter-attack in his 1929-30 Tarzan At The Earth’s Core. This novel was a counter-attack directed at the notions of Albert Einstein. Whether it is openly acknowledged or not, Freud and Einstein were active members of the Open Conspiracy, their works were as much political as they were scientific. In fact, the political content is easier to trace than the scientific.
In a rather bold move, ERB actually discredited Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity by disproving the objective existence of Time in Earth's Core. Without Time there is no Time-Space continuum and Einstein’s theory falls to the ground.
I know of no studies that deal with criticism of ERB's work, but there must have been many negative and belittling reviews of his novels. Success invites attack. There must be many mentions of Burroughs and Tarzan in The Daily Worker of the twenties and thirties for instance.
Either by reviews or word of mouth the word must have gotten to Burroughs that Wells was accusing him of a daring lack of originality in his writing. Burroughs makes what appears to be a direct response to both Wells’ criticism and the Red philosophy in 1930's Tarzan The Invincible.
In the opening paragraph, ERB defends his habit of borrowing from other writers, then he offers a couple of really remarkable passages which display a very informed and deep understanding of political currents. In chapter 3 he offers this rather profound analysis:‘Our Red emissaries have been laboring for a long time toward the culmination of the Revolution in India that will distract the attention and armed forces of Great Britain. We are not succeeding so well in Mexico as we had planned, but there is still hope, while our prospects in the Philippines are very bright. The conditions in China you well know. She is absolutely helpless, and we have hope that with our assistance she will eventually constitute a real menace to Japan. Italy is a very dangerous enemy and it is largely the purpose of embroiling her in a war with France that we are here.’That was a very comprehensive understanding of worldwide Red activities that could only have been obtained by the closest attention. It should be clear that when FDR sent military aid to China in the thirties he was providing ‘our’ that is Communist help to aid China against Japan. The above facts are the very facts that Reds in America were doing their best and successfully to obscure. ERB was also very aware of what was being done by American fellow travelers and well meaning philanthropists. Consider this passage from chapter 4:‘But what do the puny resources of this single Ameican mean to us?’ demanded Zora. ‘ A mere nothing compared to what America is already pouring into Soviet Russia. What is his reason compared with the reason of these others who are already doing more to hasten the day of world communism than this Third International itself -- it is nothing, not a drop in the bucket.’Needless to say that Henry Ford, who was later denounced as a Nazi, never got any credit elsewhere for forwarding this Red revolution. The Reds, shortly after the above passage was written, tried to invade Ford’s plants in Detroit to smash his machinery. If anything, his well meaning, if misplaced, aid to the Soviets assisted them in their defeat of the Nazis before Stalingrad. Well, many times our motives are misunderstood and our best intentions are turned against us.
’What do you mean, Zora?’ asked Miguel.
‘I mean the bankers and manufacturers, and engineers of America who are selling their own country and the world to us in the hope of adding more gold to their already bursting coffers. One of their most pious and lauded citizens [Henry Ford] is building great factories for us in Russia where we may turn out tractors and tanks; their manufacturers are vying with one another to furnish us with engines for countless thousands of airplanes; their engineers are selling us their brains and their skill to build a great modern manufacturing city, [Stalingrad] in which ammunitiuons and engines of war may be produced. These are the traitors, these are the men who are hastening the day when Moscow shall dictate the policies of the world.’
These passages show that, indeed, the Reds had a well-informed articulate and popular opponent. One can only assume that this unwanted provocation drove ERB into this singular and remarkable display of political acumen.
ERB's opinions had to be researched and formed before 1930 so that a scant ten years or so after the Revolution surfaced in the US ERB was knowledgeable of the far-flung activities of the Reds and the party was ready to ‘expose’ him. The Reds did indeed know with whom they were dealing.
As their most well-known and successful author, they chose Wells to lead the attack on Burroughs. Of course this passed in the background where only those interested could see. No one else knew of the battle at the time and a very few are aware of it now.
Whether ERB or Wells ever met is not clear. However it should be borne in mind that ERB lived in Hollywood, or across the ridge in Tarzana, while Wells, who was very successful in films, spent some little time in the movie capitol. For some reason his high-pitched voice so disappointed Marion Davies, Hearst’s good friend, that she turned admiration to detestation.
Also living in Los Angeles after 1937 was the most famous of the ‘tween the wars writers, Aldous Huxley, of Brave New World fame. Huxley seems to have had some antagonism to Wells as evidenced in his novels After Many A Summer Dies The Swan and Time Must Have A Stop.
As Huxley took up Burroughs’s theme of the degeneration of ‘God’ into half-ape through genetic experiments to gain immortality, in 1939's After Many A Summer it seems that he might have been giving aid and support to the beleaguered ERB. It would be interesting to know if he and Huxley ever got together.
At any rate Invincible drew an angry retort from Wells in his 1933 novel The Shape Of Things To Come. Wells was a writer who believed in the perfectibility of Man. Thus 1922's Men Like Gods is another attempt at creating that mirage of the liberal mind, a Utopia. Wells was a Utopianist and Burroughs was a realist. Strangely, Wells chooses to attack Burroughs from a realist and not a Utopian point of view. Men Like Gods criticizes Burroughs personally for perpetuating a world of vicious men engaged in pernicious practices. Wells kills him off during the course of the story, which is a precious bit of wishful thinking.
Wells was of course a brilliant sylist while ERB clumped along adding component to component. The opening couple of chapters are so brilliantly satiric that echoes of it can still be heard in literature today. The novel’s hero is Mr. Barnstaple, which I presume means ‘horse pucky’ which is staple of barns, who starts out to be a caricature of Burroughs but ends in being an alter ego of Wells.
The book refers directly back to Tarzan At The Earth's Core, which denies the possibility of time travel. In Men Like Gods Mr. Barnstaple and several other ‘Earthlings’ are catapulted across ‘possible universes’ which in Wells’ imagination stretch out in limitless number side by side to infinity, to the universe just next door wich is the same as ours but nudged ahead a couple thousand years.
Now, possible universes is a concept not unlike the idea of God. The notion reqauires absolute faith because no one has ever seen or talked to God and no one is ever going to cross channels to another parallel universe or see anyone from one. But it's a pleaant thing to believe if you don't want to deal with reality.
Mr. Barnstaple, now an alter ego of Wells, understands and sympathizes with the Utopians, even though he realizes that he is but a primitive compared to them. The rest of the Earthlings are baffled by the Utopian lifestyle.
They decide to revolt and take over Utopia much as Peachey and Daniel do in Afghanistan in Kipling's Man Who Would Be King.
They are hopelessly mismatched. After inadvertently causing an epidemic of colds which hadn’t been seen in Utopia for millennia they move to conquer but are captured and sent to Quarantine Crag until a cure for the cold is discovered which take the Utopians only a few days. Here Wells does a marvelous parody of Burroughs' African style. The Crag is very similar to various mountain fastnesses of Burroughs. The Earthlings attempt to capture the Utopian representatives which Mr. Barnstaple foils. He then takes flight escaping in a hilarious take-off of Tarzan's escape from the Thipdar nest in Tarzan At The Earth’s Core.
His escape is fortunate for him because the Utopian response is to saw off the entire top of the Crag, expelling it and its inhabitants swirling off through the ‘possible’ universes’ to land one knows not where. In a Stalinist orgy of destruction Wells leads us to believe all were killed. Then realizing his own dystopian savagery he corrects the story so that the Crag was only ‘rotated’ in and out of the Utopian universe.
You see how easy it is to make facts comply with your fantasies when you don’t have to prove them scientifically.
During the rotation, only the two most dastardly Earthlings were killed, one of whom was Burroughs’ character.
The references to himself were no difficulty for Burroughs to pick up. He responded with two novels that are quite remarkable: 1932's Tarzan And The Leopard Men and 1933's Tarzan And The Lion Man.
Tarzan And The Leopard Men seems to be a direct response to Men Like Gods. In contrast to the Godlike Utopians the Leopard Men are savages pretending to be animals. The story is based on a real life situation in the heart of darkness and not in an imaginary Utopian parallel universe. In the Leopard cult the savages dressed in leopard skins, attacked victims using iron claws that extended through the fingers of the closed fist -- not unlike the tines of the combs used for the Afro hair style of the 1960s and 70s in the United States -- and left them hideously torn lying on the jungle floor.
The cult survived at least through the sixties, its most famous eruption occurring in the fearsome Mau-Mau ravages of the 1950s.
Thus Burroughs contrasts ‘what might be’ with an actual state of affirs. On the first page of Leopard Men is a reference to Wells’ novel, When The Sleeper Wakes. Thus ERB makes a wry comment of Wells’ state of mind. When Wells wakes from his dream of Utopia, the Heart Of Darkness is what he will see. The Leopard cult villains are the antithesis of the Utopians. Thus Leopard Men answered Wells’ Men Like Gods rather sharply. Whether Wells continued the argument I am unable to say. Given Communist strategy, they may have passed criticism on to Burroughs in such a way that he could only respond without apparent provocation. ERB was quick enough to beware of such traps. Nevertheless 1933's Tarzan And The Lion Man appears to ridicule Wells in a rather savage manner.
It would appear that the character of ‘God’ in Lion Man is based on Wells. As a result of genetic experiments God, rather than progressing in a Utopian fashion, regresses from Man to ape or, perhaps, ‘Leopard Man.’
It would seem that Aldous Huxley who followed the work of both Wells and Burroughs entered the fray on the side of ERB, publishing After Many A Summer in 1939 which carries on the theme of an English Lord regressing to apehood in the search for eternal life.
Perhaps because Burroughs was prodded by this attack of the open Conspiracy he turned out what I think are the finest novels of his career. Even though I find At The Earth’s Core rather tedious reading, still upon reflection the subject makes it much more interesting. A further search for meaning might open other vistas.
Tarzan at the Earth’s Core leads into what I consider the best of the Tarzan novels: Tarzan The Invincible, followed by Tarzan Triumphant, Tarzan And The City Of Gold, Tarzan And The Leopard Men and Tarzan And The Lion Man.
Although the later work of Burroughs is much maligned, probably because of Red influence, as repetitious or even ‘hack’ work, I find that when placed in its proper context of the Communist and Wells quarrel and his really exciting discussion of the psychological problems of the Animus and Anima, there is a depth of meaning and maturity which is really remarkable.
Interestingly enough, after 1934 the tone of the work of both Wells and ERB changes. In Wells' Star Begotten he seems to come to his senses or his hero, based on himself, comes to his senses, possibly because ERB shouted across the possible universes to him in Leopard Man, Wake UP! Wells actually repudiates the tone of his earlier work in Star Begotten, surprisingly even rejecting the attitude of his phenomenally successful The Outline Of History.
The theme of Star Begotten is once again the evolution of another superior human species. This time they are created by cosmic rays beamed on Earth by Martians. The narrator is humbled before the emergence of this new sub-speices to which his son will belong when the two protagonists of the novel, Joseph and Mary, discover the truth.Joseph says to Mary: ‘Sometimes I think you seem hardly to belong to this world…’The miracle happened in an instant.
She had a freakish idea.
“Is it that?’
She turned to look him in the face.
‘Joe. Joe, dear. Tell me…’
Would the jest offend him? No. She stood away from him and put a finger to him.
‘Joe! You aren’t by any chance a sort of fairy changeling? Not one of these Martians?’
He stopped tearing the scraps of paper in his hands. A sort of fairy changeling? Not one of those Martians? He stared at this new, this tremendous idea for a time. ‘Me!’ he said at last. ‘You think that of me?’
A great light seemed to irradiate and in a moment to tranquilize the troubled ocean of his disordered mind. The final phase of his mental pacification was very swift indeed. At a stroke everything became coherent and plain to him. He had, he realized, completed his great disclosure with this culminating discovery. His mind swung around full compass and clicked in place. He too was starborn.
Well, I don’t know whether H.G. woke up or went into a deeper trance, but perhaps at ERB’s insistence he realized tht he lived with feet in Africa and his head on Mars. A little stretcher perhaps but yes, H.G. was of a new breed, star-begotten, if you will, and so was Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Wait a minute. I’m having funny sensations. Yes, can it be true? I’m star-begotten too. Maybe just maybe….
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