"Yeah, we’re playing those mind games forever,
Projecting our images in space and in time."
–John Lennon, "Mind Games."
READING AS ADDICTION
“addiction: the quality or condition of being addicted...compulsive
physiological need for a habit-forming substance.”
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,
3d Ed., 1992.
“addict: to devote or give (oneself) habitually or compulsively.”
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
My name is Woodrow and I am a reading addict. If I am into a book or
a narrative that I find compelling, the world outside, to wit, the real
world, only substitutes as existence.
Since the beginning of February 2011 till today, which is February 3,
2012, the date at which I write this paragraph, I have been on an excessive
reading binge. I have addictively read three massive fictional epics: one
completed in a perfect place by the death of the author; one incomplete
after 16 years and in dire peril of never being finished; and one brilliantly
completed in ten years. Perhaps Chris Barsanti’s review of George R.R.
Martin’s, A Dance with Dragons, will suffice to sum up what I’m
"Like most series of this kind – Novik’s tales of dragon
squadrons battling over the English Channel, the twenty-odd Aubrey-Maturin
adventures, or one of Edgar Rice Burroughs's volumes in the nearly interminable
John Carter of Mars serial – one devours it ravenously, a few days or a
week, tops, and then the wondering begins anew: what about the next book?
And do I have time for it?" – Chris Barsanti, “The Barnes and Noble
The three epics I just finished were the twenty books of the Aubrey-Maturin
sea adventure classics (completed by the author’s demise at a perfect place),
G.R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” (5 volumes, not completed), and
the 7 books of the completed Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, which
I cannot rave enough about. All three of these series bear the indelible
mark of ERB’s influence on English literature. English professor’s be damned!
I consider adventure and fantasy as literature.
This last year was in essence a reading binge the likes of which I have
not experienced since the spring and summer of 1973, in which I spent 5
weeks in the Fort Lewis, Washington, stockade, and 9 weeks at the Military
Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for being AWOL for over
three years – or, what I like to call, my Canadian Exile Period. During
these 14 long, long, weeks of incarceration, I read 42 books. It brought
to memory the first time I binged out reading a book.
My first time was in Mrs. Allard’s fifth grade class at Wolter’s Elementary
in Fresno, California. Mrs. Allard concentrated on making sure that John
and I got the best of our education, picking out books for us to read.
John was a gifted artist’s son (his mother had worked for Disney on Fantasia)
and he and I competed in an unspoken talent contest for teacher’s pet in
I desperately wanted to read since I was three years old. I desired
most of all to read the comics page in the Sunday newspaper. I used to
stare at the cartoon panels and try to figure out what was going on. Both
of my parents were avid readers – their mutual love of William Saroyan
and John Steinbeck fueled their initial romance – but my mother was very
selfish with her time and didn’t have it in her agenda to teach me to read.
Neither did I have Tarzan’s gift of teaching myself to read.
I had to suffer through the tedious school method, which at least emphasized
phonics – “See Jane and Spot run down the road” – and by the time I was
six I could master some of the funnies on Sunday. I was always begging
my mother to buy me books so she finally broke down and bought me my first
book when I was seven years old, a Grossett and Dunlap juvenile history
of Kit Carson, which I struggled through, day after day, chapter by chapter,
longing for the next illustration. At least Kit Carson was fun to read
However, next to the ever present temptation of television, I found
reading nonfiction to be a chore. I got no help from my mother. She refused
to buy me fiction. And when I asked her what a word meant, she told me
to look it up in the dictionary; after all, that’s what they are for.
And then two things happened simultaneously to change that. The first
was a book Mrs. Allard gave me to read. It was a science fiction story
about a boy and his scientist neighbor who had built a space ship which
took them on an adventure into outer space. I started to read it the moment
I got home, put it down for a few moments during dinner, and finally finished
it before it was time to go to bed. My first marathon reading session,
and I was hooked for life.
The next was discovering John’s bookshelf in his bedroom. One day in
1957 we walked home from Wolters to the University Portals, a residential
community close to Fresno State College, where he lived, a couple of miles
from my house. That’s when I had my first reading epiphany. John had a
complete hardback collection of every Tarzan novel. Something triggered
in my subconscious – like the first time I saw the Great Pyramid, or Stonehenge,
or the statues on Easter Island.
I worked on John for a couple of hours, trying to get him to lend me
a copy, but he refused me every time. They were just too valuable in his
eyes. He had an almost religious awe of them. I believe he thought I would
like them as much as he did and thus would try to steal them from him.
They were his “precious.”
I got sidetracked from my mission when some local TV channel aired the
movie, Invaders from Mars, and John and I succumbed to Martian hypnotism,
sitting down, glued before the flickering tube. I totally forgot what time
it was and no longer had time to walk home before dinner. My mother had
to come and pick me up. Of course she was furious and banned me from ever
walking over to John’s house again. That was as close as I came to realizing
the promise of my first ERB epiphany.
My mother told me not to even think about it when I asked her to buy
me a Tarzan novel. In her eyes – I blame her mother, who made my uncle
dress up as a girl before he was of school age – ERB was a scandalous pulp
fiction writer who wrote “adult” fiction. I was much too young to read
that kind of stuff. She held this opinion even in light of the fact that
ERB died in 1950, at a time before censorship would allow the word “fuck”
to appear in print.
Anyway, there were times I was reacquainted with binge reading as the
years went by. When I was in the seventh grade, Wolter’s made available
a book buying club called Scholastics. I was able to buy fiction for the
first time through the mail. I bought and read books by Jules Verne, H.G.
Wells, and especially, Andre Norton (I loved the telepathy). I couldn’t
get enough. My mother finally broke down and got me a library card and
I finally had access to practically everything by the time I was 13. Everything
This was 1960, just prior to the ERB publishing revival. I kept looking
for Tarzan, but was always frustrated. By 1962 I had given up the quest,
and I became infatuated with such authors as Ian Fleming, Robert Heinlein,
and Playboy magazine. My mother was a Victorian prude and hated Hugh Hefner
till the day she died. She said that the day I took down my picture of
Jesus from the wall and replaced it with the Playmate of the Month, was
the day she lost me to the Devil. Hehehehehehe.
By the time I escaped from Toronto in the summer of 1970 during my Canadian
Exile Period (certain American exile groups were associating with the communist
French FLQ out of Quebec), David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust was gaining speed,
a musical tie-in (“Spiders from Mars,” “Major Tom”) to the international
surge in science fiction popularity. Time magazine came out with a list
of the best science fiction novels of all time and I set about finding
and reading them. In the fall of 1973, after getting out of prison and
entering my first of three final semesters at Fresno State, I went to the
book store and bought and read the complete John Carter series. I still
have them today.
After reading mostly modern science fiction, I found John Carter to
be a little out of date, although the imaginative world of the mythos was
rich. And after reading so many old legal opinions, I found ERB’s style
slow to my reading eye. I enjoyed the cliffhanger style, but the almost
rape scenes and the strained high sexual morality annoyed me, forgetting
about the censorship that guided pulp fiction in its early years. It wasn’t
until I read Tarzan 13 years later that I finally understood ERB's genius.
Rereading John Carter with this new understanding made all the difference
in the world.
I saw the John Carter IMAX preview on Christmas Eve with my oldest daughter
and her boyfriend while waiting for the new Tom Cruise "Misson Impossible"
movie. The visual images linked to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” were breathtaking.
And even though no one was naked, I got the distinct impression that this
movie will not disappoint true fans. I can’t wait to see it. It is obvious
to me that the director has the authentic ERB John Carter understanding.
Meanwhile, back to our narrative. Over the years, I managed reading
an average of 30 books a year, both fiction and nonfiction. I was reading
a book a week before I entered law school in 1985. (By the way, if you
were wondering how I managed to enter law school with a criminal record,
President Ford gave me a full, unconditional Presidential pardon in 1976,
just like the one Nixon got.) During law school, reading became my occupation.
After a full day reading briefs and opinions and summaries of the law,
I found cable TV as a soothing alternative to my reading addiction. Thank
God for the movie channels, and also for the History Channel.
And then came the summer after my first year, the summer of 1986, the
year I discovered the true Tarzan. I was bored and thinking about running
for City Council with a close study mate, who was the son of the mayor
of Clovis, an adjacent city. I went next door one very hot day to see my
neighbor, Bob, a Vietnam vet, to ask him his opinion of a flyer I was putting
together. To my surprise, he was reading a Tarzan novel.
I told him I really liked the Tarzan movies and he told me that the
movie Tarzan was the stupid Tarzan. The real Tarzan taught himself how
to read English before he could speak it. I told him that most modern critics
thought ERB wrote fiction for juveniles and he laughed, stating that there
were at least a couple of rape scenes in every book. I went to the used
book store in the Tower District and bought the first 7 books, plus the
13th, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, and went through the first seven
before school started in the Fall. Over the years since then, I would reread
all of my ERB books, which included the full Pellucidar series, the Barsoomian
Mythos, and the above mentioned Tarzan novels.
I became fascinated with ERB and read everything I could on his life.
I discovered ERBzine in 2008, and encouraged by Bill Hillman, I began navigating
its labryinth of sites. I came across a series of articles that infuriated
me, for they suggested that the people in the Barsoomian Mythos were not
really naked. I wrote a tedious argument in favor of nudity (“Nakedness
on Mars”; ERBzine #3177)
and Bill posted it on his website in June 2010.
That July I was rereading the first three books and I emailed Bill about
whether anyone had ever visually depicted the Temple of the Sun in the
Palace of Issus. He didn’t know of any and asked me to give it a try. I
told him I had no artistic talent but I thought I could do a good job describing
it, in case in any artists wanted to tackle it. I did just that (ERBzine
#3302), and it evolved into this series, which has proved to be a grand
Enough said about me. I want to give a brief opinion of the three epics
I finished in the past year. Like I said, I began the Aubrey/Maturin series
in February 2011 and spent most of the summer with lots of free time, taking
a refreshing economy cruise on the Russian Riviera, making all the appropriate
cheap port calls – Port Popov, Gilbey’s, Gordon’s – you know, the good
water ports from Eastern limestone continental foundations. By the end
of the summer, I was over halfway through the brilliant Patrick O’Brian
sea adventures of Lucky Jack Aubrey, knowing enough landlubber knowledge
about what sails were being mentioned, and their stays and so forth, to
follow the narrative at a halfway intelligent level.
This is a rich imaginative readers’ world that you have to experience
for yourself – if you’re not absolutely addicted by Desolation Island,
give it up. But if you are fortunate enough to get hooked, look forward
to amazing sea battles in 100 foot waves, a crew of lesbian Malaysian cannibals
that rescue our heroes (from the frying pan into the fire), and otherwise
seemingly unbelievable adventures, that are just as unbelievably based
on the logs of actual fighting ships during the Napoleonic Age. In the
last few novels it seemed that the War of 1812 was going on much longer
than the real war did, but after all, this is from a British perspective.
Patrick O’Brian, like ERB, was a master of the cliffhanger and the absurd
with a highly intellectual literary style. It has just as much Darwin as
adventure. I will read this series again.
I have one complaint. Many of the locations are named after 18th Century
designations and are hard to impossible to find on modern maps or globes.
I had an atlas and a globe for reference but a readers’ companion containing
sea charts from that time, as well as translations for the foreign languages
in the novels would have been immensely valuable to an informed reader.
As for Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire,” well, it is like the difference
to being addicted on the one hand to marijuana and on the other to heroin.
Martin’s epic is a weird wizard’s world of dark magic, where every character
who has good tendencies gets punished and every evil character has his
or her day. I was so addicted to the last book, A Dance with Dragons,
that while visiting my youngest daughter in Las Vegas, I stayed in my hotel
room all day until I finished and ended up being an hour late for our reserved
dinner at the Mirage before seeing the incredible Cirque du Soleil floor
show, “The Beatles,” which had such a wonderful Frenchness to it as well
as brilliant acrobatics to a soundtrack that should be the envy of any
Anyway, it was no mean feat to read A Dance with Dragons. Not
only is the novel over a thousand pages, the hardbound book itself is physically
massive. It was hard to read because of its sheer size. One of the pleasures
of addictive reading is the tactile feel of the book you hold in your hand.
For example, I read all but the last volume of the Patrick O’Brian saga
in trade paperback editions, and the feel of these books in my hands as
I read was most pleasurable.
The first four novels in Martin’s series were in paperback, and although
bulky and a little more awkward than normal, much more pleasurable than
the massive hardback. It was a quest in itself to fight my way through
this book on my Red Rock Casino hotel bed (the only place where there was
adequate reading light), always having to shift my hold. I almost envied
people with electronic tablets. Almost. After all, the tactile feel of
a Kindle is one of those things that must give an alien feel to the physicality
of the read. It all goes to reinforce the idea that reading is hard work.
Martin is getting as old as me and his prospects of writing two more
thousand-page books to complete this epic are not improving with time.
But after being flayed alive as an addicted reader – like his character
Theon in the first five books – I don’t think I even care if he finishes
the series. Everyone I liked is either dead, maimed, or a zombie. It almost
seems obvious how his plots will work out after some five thousand pages:
don’t look for anything good to happen to anyone.
In my opinion, it was an amazing insight for Barsanti in his Barnes
and Noble review to link Martin’s epic to that of Aubrey/Maturin and John
Carter. Time magazine called Martin an American Tolkien, but this is wrong
until Martin finishes his epic. Lannister’s may always pay their debts,
but I am not sure if Martin is going to come through for his whipped readers.
In my opinion, in his dark character assassinations, Martin as an author
stands alone, and is so very unlike Tolkien in the love he had for his
characters. I find Rowling to be a much closer analogy to Tolkien, although
she is British. Perhaps the true American Tolkien is ERB after all. Or,
even more appropriately, Tolkien is the British ERB.
Finally, to make one thing crystal clear. Reading is not only addiction,
it is Magick. It is a telepathic experience between the author and the
reader. You can see the truth in this by chatting with someone online in
real time. By communicating by words on the screen, one engages in a mental
act of writing and reading which creates a telepathic link. After a few
minutes online you develop a rich repartee with the other person that is
analagous to the relationship long time couples have with each other, where
they complete each other’s sentences.
I used to read Tarot cards in the early AOL chat rooms in the mid-90's
and because of this psychic link caused by the medium, my readings were
uncannily accurate. I remember a man asking me if he should hold on to
his Motorola stock before cell phones really took off. I had no idea what
he should do but the cards told him in no uncertain terms to hold on to
the stock. I wish I had charged for that reading.
Magick has always been associated with writing and reading. In Old English
“spell” meant a story or narrative, or words formed together to create
blesses or curses. There were good spells (gospel) and bad spells (black
magick). There is little good magick in Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire.”
There is tons of it in the Harry Potter series.
Anyway, no one knows all this better than J.K. Rowling. Her Harry Potter
books were not only a joy to read, but they contained true Magick. After
reading Martin, Rowling was a God’s send. I was slow getting into this
series. After all, I didn’t get into Harry Potter when the books were first
popular, even though they were published by my old reading friend, Scholastics.
I had no intention of waiting in line to buy a book, competing with
millions of kids. I would wait and see the movies instead. While this worked
fine for the first few films, I found myself totally at a lost when I saw
the final film with my youngest daughter in IMAX 3-D when it came out last
My oldest daughter had bought me the Martin and Rowling series as gifts.
It seems that last summer, everyone who was hip in Portland, Oregon, was
reading Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire.” It took me a while to catch up,
and because my daughter didn’t want the series to come to an end for her
and have to wait another five years before the next installment, she read
the last book very slowly. In fact, I finished before she did and often
when we talked on the phone about the books she would have to call out,
“Spoiler alert!” when I broached upon an unread passage.
Anyone who has read “The Red Wedding” knows how psychologically delicate
Martin’s readers can become after prolonged waterboarding. I don’t know
how she knew that I should read the Potter series after Martin, but I am
glad she did. Rowling was such balm after the dark master. It is nice that
addiction can still produce a good high. A real surprise for me was finding
out how much more the Cloak of Invisibility is used in the books than in
the movies. The cloak is used in ways that should be familiar to any John
Carter reader, since invisibility was always a favorite ERB topic.
Well, here we are again back in February 2012, looking forward to the
Mayan Apocalypse. Well, to be exact, I am looking forward to the day after.
In fact, I have two amusing, improbable countdowns to look forward to in
2012. The above mentioned and what I call the Alien Abduction Countdown.
In the summer of 1970, after escaping from Toronto, I ended up in a
hostel in Edmunton, Alberta, in the middle of August. The hostel was a
military barracks set up temporarily by the Canadian government to meet
the needs of its youth culture, who had, that summer, taken to the highways
in droves, a mass “Like a Rolling Stone” movement. On the night in question,
it was a full moon in tandem with a full shimmering green light curtain
show of the Northern Lights.
I was high on LSD and had to heed a call of nature. I went into the
men’s latrine and closed the stall door. As I sat on the toilet, the stall
door turned into a window, and on the other side, inside what I surmised
to be a space ship, two aliens, looking like the Star Child at the end
of 2001, were talking to each other face-to-face, every now and then looking
over their shoulders at me. I was frozen in fear, somehow knowing that
I was the subject of their conversation.
Suddenly, one of the aliens turned and walked to the window and put
his hands and face against the glass. In my head I heard him speak. He
said, “We’re coming to get you in February.” With that the window disappeared.
I was amused at the time, it was so ludicrous. But every year since then
I keep an open mind. My daughters decided it meant that I was going to
die in February, and perhaps that is a valid interpretation. The Februarys
with 29 days are the worst, for I know if the prophecy comes true, it will
be in the 24th hour on the 29th day.
As a practical example of how this affects my life, on December 18,
2001, I was late for court in Coalinga and found myself behind a pickup
truck on McMullen Grade in the midst of San Joaquin Valley Tule fog. Tule
fog is notorious for being deceptive. In one moment you can have enough
visibility to chance a pass, and in the next a vast cloud comes out of
nowhere and swallows you up.
And that’s exactly what happened. As I was passing the pickup a cloud
swooped out of nowhere and engulfed my car. I couldn’t see in front of
my windshield. I thought, “Oh, God, if there’s a semi truck in front of
me now, I’m dead!” And there was.
I recall how the adrenaline kicked in and everything slowed down in
super slow motion. I made eye contact with the driver of the 18 wheeler
and turned sharply to my right, thinking, better to hit the pickup sideways
that the semi head-on. Unfortunately the driver turned in the same direction,
now turning into the other lane. The driver of the pickup must have had
a heart attack. Immediately, I swerved to the left, but by then so had
the semi driver. Again, I swerved hard to the right, and to this day, I
still believe if I would have had new tires, I would have made it out of
the skid. But as it was, the road was slick and my tires were bald, and
the last thing I remember as my car skidded at a semi-sideways angle into
the second set of rear wheels on the semi’s cab, was that I was going to
be crushed under the wheels. Then there was impact, a loud CRASH! and,
I thought, death.
But it was only the air bag knocking me out. I had hit the semi at such
an angle at our combined speeds of approximately 100 miles an hour, that
I came to a complete stop in the road at the point of impact. A week later,
as my daughter drove me to Kerman so that I could recover my personal stuff
out of my totalled car, I told her how I thought I had died. It made me
seriously consider parallel universes. In one I had died, while in this
one I had survived. She said, “I don’t see why you are so worried, Dad.
You should have known you weren’t going to die. It isn’t February.”
So, as long as I can finish the 16th Runner-Up by the end of this month,
there shouldn’t be any problem. “Mischief accomplished!”
Ghek and Rykor by Gino d'Achille
I was also able to finish Tarzan and the Golden Lion at the end
of last summer, the third book in what I call ERB's 1921 Lust Trilogy.
If you have read enough ERB novels of different genres, you will know that
there are certain years of creation that are more lustful than others.
In fact, they can be measured by what I call the “ERB Lust Level,” based
on a calculus of how many near rapes and references to the female bosom
and/or figure appear in one book or a series of books. Let’s just say ERB’s
Lust Level was at the most obvious highest in the year 1921, or equally
as high as the early days of success in 1913-1914. Those were the lustful
years of Thuvia and La of Opar, where Jane is nearly raped by everyone
in the jungle.
In fact, the first 1914 Lust Trilogy – The Beasts of Tarzan,
Girl from Farris’s, and Thuvia, Maid of Mars – declare ERB’s
lust for women other than his wife. The lust may have been over a woman
or women in particular, or just a lustful longing that comes with marital
After the Lust Trilogy of 1921, the Lust Level would wane until it came
back with a vengeance in 1927-1928, the time when ERB began openly associating
with Ashton and Florence Dearholt – when he wrote Tarzan at the Earth’s
Core with its Red Flower of Zoram, and A Fighting Man of Mars,
with its Cloak of Invisibility, bull dyke bodyguards and scandalous royalty,
not to mention the erotic horror of the Spider Kingdom of Ghasta. (ERBzine
But back to the year 1921. In this year ERB penned three novels in a
row that are at the height of his Lust Level: The Chessmen of Mars;
Girl from Hollywood: and Tarzan and the Golden Lion.
opens with a totally naked Tara of Helium bathing in her private pool,
then receiving a full body massage from a naked female slave. The Lust
Trilogy ends with Jane returning at the end of Golden Lion being
nearly raped two times. Oh, what amazing stories are to be found in this
Lust Trilogy. This was ERB at the height of his profession. Remember also
that during this period his imagination was at its peak: this is when he
invented Jetan . . . and Ghek.
Originally, I was going to include Ghek in the “Weird Creatures of Mars”
article (ERBzine #3384-3385),
but once I got into that one I realized that Ghek deserved an article of
his own. If it hadn’t been for ERB’s brilliant creation of the Jetan game
in Manator, Ghek’s adventures would have owned The Chessmen of Mars.
In fact, Ghek would have made a great continuing character if ERB was into
that sort of thing. But he wasn’t. Look at Carthoris and Thuvia for example
. . . and even Tars Tarkas.
Ghek has the honor, only reserved for a select few of ERB characters,
from going from hideous monster to romantic hero. All it took to perform
this miracle was Tara of Helium. The more times I read The Chessmen
of Mars, the more times I see why many science fiction critics consider
it their favorite story in the Barsoomian Mythos. ERB was at the height
of his fame when he wrote this story. It was 1921 and ERB was living a
fantasy life of the wealthy landowner on Rancho Tarzana, spending many
hours with his family, horseback riding, swimming, the country squire in
ERB and Emma worried about the influence that Hollywood would have on
Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann), their eldest daughter during this period. The
fear of Hollywood corruption was apparently causing family friction. The
discerning reader can detect family tensions in the 1921 Lust Trilogy.
It is my opinion, based on gut instinct and what can be discerned in
the 1921 Lust Trilogy – in the end, of course, pure speculation – that
ERB had knowledge of and was in some kind of association with both Ashton
Dearholt and Florence Gilbert during this period, reflected in the characters
of Gahan of Gathol and Tara of Helium in Chessmen, Wilson Crumb
and Gaza deLure in Girl from Hollwood, and Esteban Miranda and Flora
in Tarzan and the Golden Lion. I mean, don’t get me wrong, but I
find Florence and Flora a little too close to be coincidental.
Officially, according to family history, ERB didn’t meet Ashton and
Flo until Valentine’s Day, 1927, but it is a fact that the Gilberts grew
close to the Burroughs during this period, likely because they were all
from Chicago. In fact, Flo had grown up in ERB’s childhood neighborhood,
a few blocks from the Old Major’s house. It seems like too much of a coincidence
that ERB could have written about characters so alike the real Ashton and
Florence six years before officially meeting them.
There is a scene in Girl from Hollywood where the owner of the
ranch (a disguised Rancho Tarzana) leases some of his property to Wilson
Crumb to make westerns. Scouting out appropriate film locations was one
of Ashton’s specialties, and it is hard to believe that he would not have
sought ERB out in the Early Twenties for just such a purpose.
Since Flo provided such a later scandal in the lives of the Burroughs’
family, a previous rendezvous between the three of them could have led
to a justified family suppression of relevant information during this period.
Like I said, it is only gut instinct – which has not proven to be always
accurate in the past. I know this is the kind of stuff of a Ross Macdonald
detective novel – which are always such a great read – but it makes one
Anyway, back to Ghek. . . .