A READERS' COMPANION TO THE BARSOOMIAN
The Eighteenth Runner-Up in the Seven Wonders
THE MARTIAN APOCRYPHA
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
apocrypha: writings or statements of questionable authorship
–American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3d ed.
And now we come to the art of deception. We are here to scrutinize
the alleged Barsoomian installment known as John Carter of Mars,
consisting of two stories allegedly written by ERB (“John Carter and the
Giant of Mars,” and “Skeleton Men of Jupiter’), included in the Mythos
after some years and considerable controversy.
Best to let Richard A. Lupoff sum it up in his Introduction to the
Ballantine 1965 release of its edition of John Carter of Mars. Lupoff
is, of course, a famous American science fiction writer, a winner of the
prestigious Hugo award in 1963 for the fanzine “Xero,’ which he coedited
with his wife, and author of the most influential biography of ERB ever,
Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure. Lupoff, writing from New York
City, Jasoom, in June 1964 states:
“The publication of JOHN CARTER OF MARS
is an historic event for a number of reasons.
can view the publishing histories and editorial comments of the two stories
at ERBzine # 0740 (“John
Carter and the Giant of Mars”), and ERBzine
# 0739 (“Skeleton Men of Jupiter”). The ERBzine site correctly attributes
the authorship of “Giant” to John Coleman Burroughs. But this story was
first published under ERB’s name and was caught out by attentive fans and
critics. Not only is the style unlike ERB’s standard style – he writes
from John Carter’s point of view, but in the third person – but there are
horrible mistakes made about the Mythos that anyone who followed it would
have immediately spotted.
“First and most obviously, is the long and eagerly
awaited ‘eleventh’ book of the Martian series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
For sixteen years, ever since the appearance of LLANA OF GATHOL, the tenth
book in the series and the last of Burrough’s work to see print during
the author’s life, there has been a constant desire by his many followers
to see two remaining Barsoomian adventures appear in book form. They are
at last available, in the present volume, to Burroughs’ myriad fans and
“The second historical aspect of JOHN CARTER
OF MARS is its very name. Although JOHN CARTER OF MARS is a ‘natural’ title
for a book in the Martian series, it was never used by Burroughs himself.
It has been applied to a number of adaptations of the Barsoomian tales,
including two completely different children’s books and a comic magazine,
but has never before been used as the title of ‘real’ book.
“Regarding the two short novels (or novellas,
or novelettes, or even long short stories, the title is not worth the quibble)
that make up JOHN CARTER OF MARS, each has a fascinating tale of its own,
quite aside from the story content itself.” (JCM/Introduction.)
A good example is the Great White Ape that sexually molests Dejah Thoris.
First the ape is described as fully hairy, whereas every true ERB fan knows
that the apes were hairless except for a shock of bristly hair on top of
their heads. Besides ERB would never allow anyone to molest Dejah Thoris;
regardless of how close she came to being actually violated: she was always
rescued in time to keep her pure for her Chieftan. Lupoff discusses this
point and its objections more fully in his Introduction.
Lupoff admits his goal in planning the new release was to lay to rest
once and for all the true authorship of “Giant.” He wrote to both the editor
Ray Palmer and ERB’s son, Hulbert, asking whether it had been written by
ERB; if it had, whether Palmer or anyone else had tampered with it; and
if it had not been written by ERB, who was the real author. Palmer was
the first to respond, stating that the story was really written by ERB
and that nobody had changed it in any way. Perhaps he had that response
run by his lawyers first, since he had originally published the story under
Hulbert, however, discovered that John Coleman (Jack), his brother,
had actually been the author. This should come as no surprise. Jack had
already been expanding the Mythos in the funnies with his “John
Carter of Mars” comic strip, which debuted on Sunday, December
7, 1941: Pearl Harbor Day, and had taken over his father’s duties on the
children’s adaptations of his books. The fact of the true authorship is
revealed at the get-go at ERBzine
That leaves us with “Skeleton Men of Jupiter.” Lupoff describes that
this story was supposed to be like the series of four stories that made
up Llana of Gathol, to wit, four separate stories all linked by a common
thread – getting Llana back to Gathol. However, this idea soon breaks down
under close scrutiny in light of what facts we possess.
The first installment ends, not as the completion of a separate adventure,
but as a continuation of a regular story, the standard serialized adventure.
Perhaps I am nitpicking, perhaps ERB had turned his back on Barsoom and
the rich Mythos he had created. But this single adventure lacks one thing
that all other stories in the Mythos do not: a Foreword, or Prologue, that
explains to the reader the means by which ERB received the story. Sure,
“Skeleton Men” has a Foreword, but it is so unlike all of ERB’s other Forewords,
that it raises immediate suspicions.
There are no Epiphanies of John Carter to set up the stories of the
alleged new series beginning with “Skeleton Men of Mars,” or a narrative
detailing how ERB received the story by means of the Gridley Wave. Instead
we get an odd, generic Foreword that is allegedly supposed to assuage the
readers that this story was not written by his son, but by ERB himself.
I don’t know why Lupoff was so quick to accept Palmer’s explanation
that this series was like Llana of Gathol or the Carson Napier series Escape
on Venus, but he readily accepted the explanation, even though Palmer
had so clearly lied to him about “Giant.” As Lupoff puts it:
“This form of quasi-serialization was
one with which Burroughs’ experimented quite successfully the early 1940s.
But in my opinion the dead giveaway is the Foreword ERB allegedly wrote
at the beginning of “Skeleton Men.” Ironically, this is precisely the detail
that convinced Lupoff of its authenticity, although after personally receiving
it from Hulbert with a photostat of the original manuscript, I will admit
is very convincing evidence. But when the Foreword is studied in light
of everything else ERB had written in the Mythos, it really strains my
credulity. Here it is:
“However, wartime service as a correspondent
in the Pacific reduced Burroughs’ fiction output nearly to zero, and after
the end of the war his health prevented ERB from resuming his former pace.
As a result, the continuing episodes of John Carter’s Jupiterian adventure
were never written.” (JCM/Introduction.)
“Particularly disliking forewords, I
seldom read them; yet it seems that I scarcely ever write a story that
I do not inflict a foreword on my long-suffering readers. Occasionally
I also have to inject a little weather and scenery in my deathless classics,
two further examples of literary racketeering that I especially deplore
in the writings of others. Yet there is something to be said in extenuation
of weather and scenery, which, together with adjectives, do much to lighten
the burdens of authors and run up their word count.
Anyone who paid attention to the 17th Runner-Up to the Seven Wonders of
Barsoom knows that ERB had a completely different purpose for writing his
Forewords in the Barsoomian Mythos. This Foreword is a joke in comparison.
This fake ERB brags of his techniques of bleeding every last nickle out
of a story, effectively mocking all of the rich detail in the Mythos (weather,
scenery, and plenty of adjectives), which lead to the believability of
the story – what is called the suspension of disbelief, or belief, or however
you would like to call being caught up into a fictional story.
“Still, there is little excuse for forewords;
and if this were my story there would be none. It is John Carter’s story.
I am merely his amanuensus.
“On guard! John Carter takes his sword in hand.
“EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS.”
Note also that this Foreword could be about any book ERB wrote. There
is absolutely no mention of the series to which it allegedly relates. Perhaps
Lupoff didn’t notice, too involved with the “insight into the personality
of Edgar Rice Burroughs”:
“The Foreword of Skeleton Men of Jupiter,
by the way, is published here for the first time. When the magazine version
of the story appeared twenty-one years ago, the editor may have felt that
a Foreword would serve only to put off readers, while a policy of ‘On with
the story’ above all else, would have greater commercial appeal.
this flabbergasts me. ERB’s readers would naturally have expected a Foreword
before a new John Carter adventure. If they are like me, they would prefer
the Epiphanies most of all. Palmer’s reasons to Lupoff for authenticity
ring about as true as his normal bullshit, like titling a story about Okar,
“The Yellow Men of Mars,” when in fact, the Okarians in the story are unlike
all other Okarians – naturally having yellow skin – in that they have red
skins. (See “The Hothouse Cities of Okar,” the Third Wonder of Barsoom,
ERBzine #3306.) It
turns out from a close study of the cover to the August 1941 edition of
Amazing Storres, that the “Yellow Men” are actually Apts, the pure white
arctic monster that just happened to be painted on the cover with a yellowish
tint. Yes, anyone in their wrong mind would have good reason to take Palmer’s
word as gospel.
“He may well have been right for the pulp magazine
audience of a generation ago, but assuming the readers of books to have
a slightly more serious and patient outlook on literature, I have restored
the Foreword, obtaining its text from a photostat of ERB’s original manuscript,
kindly furnished by Hulbert Burroughs.” (JCM/Introduction.)
I mean, if ERB truly wrote this generic Foreword to “Skeleton Men,”
he was getting senile, or on a binge, and this state should be reflected
in other stories he was working on at the same time, like, for example,
am a Barbarian – but it is not. In fact, the fake ERB style reflected
in “Skeleton” lacks exactly those things pointed out in the Foreword, to
wit, adequate descriptions of scenery, weather, and adjectives. The style
is noticeably more breezy and modern, unlike ERB’s standard story English
which always sounds as if it has been translated from Latin or Greek. This
was a style ERB readily admitted to. To me, the best title for this collection
is The Martian Apocrypha. With such a title, there is no attempt to deceive
the reader into believing he or she is reading an authentic Barsoomian
tale for the true believers, the ERB Chosen Ones – as the title John
Carter of Mars insinuates.
The books of the Bible’s Apocrypha have much of the same problems.
There is the Roman Catholic Apocrypha, the Reformation Apocrypha of Martin
Luther, and, of course, the fundamentalist Bibles with no Apocrypha at
all. I wish I had the skills to run a computer analysis comparing the words
and style of all the other books in the Mythos in order to have a valid
comparson to the words and styles of “Skeleton Men.”
I will admit that at first read, it does sound authentic, but on closer
inspection, I hear alarm bells ringing deep in my gut. Again, my gut instinct
is insufficient proof to overcome’s Richard Lupoff’s expert conclusion,
but I believe that even those closest to their subjects can make important
errors. Oh well, at least that is my opinion. Lupoff goes on his introduction
to give a summary of the entire Barsoomian Mythos, and at the end, it is
nice to know that he still retains some of the same suspicions as me:
“A final note now concerning John Carter
and the Giant of Mars. In the magazine version of two decades ago there
were a number of footnotes, signed ‘Ed.’ It is not known today whether
this ‘Ed.,’ was Raymond A. Palmer, editor of AMAZING STORIES, or Edgar
Rice Burroughs, who sometimes described himself as merely the ‘editor’
of John Carter’s true adventures, rather than as an author.
Which is a good place to end, wouldn’t you say? So, here I am on the evening
of February 29, 2012, with less than five hours until midnight. Should
I go ahead and email this installment to Bill Hillman before the Midnight
Hour, before the aliens have a chance to abduct me? My February countdown
is running out of time. Or should I wait till the last second of the last
minute of February before sending it?
“These footnotes are retained in the present
edition, the reader is free to form his own opinion regarding their authenticity.
“To the reader who regards science fiction as
a sugar-coated course in chemistry and physics equally as to the one who
seeks only serious sociological extrapolation, Burroughs’ Martian novels
will prove unsatisfactory.
“But to the reader who seeks magnificent adventure
in an endlessly imaginative, exotic setting, these books without question
represent an all-time high in the field.” (JCM/Introduction.)
One amusing coincidence that you might enjoy is the calendar I bought
at the local Barnes and Noble last fall. The calendar is a bunch of posters
made as part of the Work Projects Adminstration (WPA) under FDR, called
“The Ranger Naturalist” series, looking like most propaganda posters from
the Thirties. And wouldn’t you know it, the poster for February 2012 is
known as “America’s First Monument,” the Devil’s Tower, made famous in
Steven Spielberg’s, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The irony
of this just came to me last night as I contemplated the countdown staring
at the poster. This caused quite a bit of chuckling. I mean, what a coincidence.
ERB is often criticized for the amazing coincidences that occur in his
stories, but the ones that occur in my life are mindblowing. Lately, I’ve
begun a Donald Trump routine of hiring and firing people that appear out
of nowhere all day long every day in my life, causing me to have to take
notice or perish, especially when driving or walking next to busy roads.
If someone makes me stop, they’re hired, for they are obviously people
that do their jobs well in the conspiracy of fate. Those that are just
a little bit too late to make a hassle out of my life are fired on the
spot. And, like Mitt Romney, the Mormon candidate for President of the
United States, I find that I enjoy firing people. I’m sure most readers
can relate to that.
Anyway, I have decided to wait until the Midnight Hour, when my love
comes tumblin’ down.
After all, “I still live!”