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Chapter XX Revisited
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
11:00 AM ~ Cass Room
As I noted in my original Chapter XX, I attended the 17th (1959) World Science-Fiction Convention in Detroit, Michigan, as part of a group from the Pittsburgh Science-Fiction Society. We were to compete in the election for hosting the 18th World Science-Fiction Convention, in competition with Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, PA.
As a result, Vernell Coriell asked me, as a member of the Convention committee, to set up an organizational meeting during the Convention to form an Edgar Rice Burroughs club. I set up a meeting for September 5, 1960.
The result of that meeting was the foundation of the Burroughs Bibliophiles. I am sure that if it had not happened then, its formation might have been postponed for several more years. I feel that this speech was a pivotal point in the history of the Burroughs Bibliophiles.
The speech, which is reprinted below, was delivered at the 17th World Science-Fiction Convention in Detroit, on September 6, 1959.
Speech given by Bob Hyde
at the 17th World Science-Fiction Convention
Detroit, Michigan, September 6, 1959
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am Clarence Hyde, an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan and collector for twenty-five years. This session is scheduled for a discussion of Edgar Rice Burroughs, whom I will presume is not a stranger to this group. Probably many of you have never read any of his works, since a great many science-fiction readers do not consider him being their type of writer, but rather a comic strip writer, which he never was. Actually, Mr. Burroughs was a very versatile story teller, ranging from African adventure, cowboy and mystery, to life on other planets. He stands alone in his field of imaginative writing. I think he certainly should be considered one of the fathers of our modern day science-fiction-fantasy stories.
Burroughs had been an unsuccessful small business man for fifteen years before he wrote any stories. He stared as a cowboy at twenty in Idaho, then worked on a gold dredge, after which he became a railroad policeman in Salt Lake City. He went back to his home town Chicago and worked in his father's electric battery plant, then returned to Idaho to run a stationery store. He got back to Chicago by auctioning his furniture and became an unsuccessful salesman, then stenographic department manager for Sears and Roebuck.
To keep from going crazy with insomnia at night, he would imagine himself flying through space to a less cruel planet like Mars. In 1911 he began writing stories at night and on Sunday. All-Story magazine bought his first story. He was a pencil sharpener salesman at this time. It took two years and five stories before he felt he could quit selling pencil sharpeners and work full time at writing. From then on, he wrote about two books a year, until the Second World War started. After the war, he only finished one book.
Let us now consider some of his writings that fit into the category of science-fiction.
The most important group of these is the Martian series -- ten books and two short stories, published over a period of thirty years. This was the extent of his published magazine stories, his first one and his last one. These magazines show the span of years covered by this series. His first story, "Under the Moons of Mars" and his second, "Gods of Mars" were not featured on the covers of the magazines.
In his early days, we didn't have science-fiction magazines as such, just magazines published with all types of fiction together. His works appeared in the leading general fiction magazines of that period. However, this early edition of Amazing Stories, 1927, features the complete "Master Mind of Mars," the sixth book in the series, apparently written-to-order for this issue. It features a cover by the famous artist, Frank Paul. Later, the series continued here in Blue Book and another again in Argosy. Finally , back again in RAy Palmer's Amazing Stories, here featuring covers by the famous J. Allen St. John. These two are the short stories I mentioned. This last one was really the beginning of a new book. It was written before the war started, after which Burroughs became the oldest accredited war correspondent in the Pacific. He never did finish this Mars book, and it became the last thing he ever had published in magazines.
His concept of life on the dying planet of Mars, to which an American, John Carter, is somehow transported after falling asleep in a cave in Arizona, is that of a much older civilization than ours. Having achieved great scientific discoveries in their day, they were unable to really advance far because of constant warfare between their various races, so that t a good scientific organization could not develop. Burroughs has three different life forms reaching intelligence of a high level on Mars -- one group of four races of humans, and two different non-human groups -- the major race being a human red-skinned race.
There is a very curious mixture of science an d barbaric living and fighting. Swords and firearms are used side by side, with the sword being the preferred weapon, and John Carter the master swordsman.
Burroughs had to advance the science and technology at a rapid rate to keep ahead of Earth's own advances. At the time he wrote the early books, our air travel was just in its infancy, and his flyers had the incredible top speed of two hundred miles per hour. The Earth was advancing so fast that even a master such as Burroughs had a difficult time keeping ahead of it. By 1930, the Mars ships had reached four hundred miles per hour and ours perhaps two hundred, and in the forties our jets were going six or seven hundred miles per hour.
He did prove to be a prophet by predicting radar in "The Moon Maid" not one of the Mars books, but related to it, in that t rocket ship heading for Mars landed on the Moon instead. He wrote this in 1922 and said, "About 1940 had come the the perfection of an instrument which accurately indicated direction and the distance of the forces of any radio activity with which it might be attuned."
On Mars, the presence of John Carter with his fertile mind and leadership, advanced discovery and more changes took place than had taken place in the previous 100 thousand years of its history.
The books get better as the series progresses and changes from almost straight adventure with a fantasy twist to science-fiction and excellent fantasy adventure. But most of the technological advances described by Burroughs are theoretically possible under ideal conditions -- even synthetic men. Much study is being done today by scientists on tissue culture work. Few things are really impossible, even research on anti-gravity devices is being done by earthlings.
I feel his "Chessmen of Mars," "Swords of Mars," and "Llana of Gathol" are particularly fine writings in this series.
His Venus series consists of only four books, the first one of these not being written until 1932. In this case, a rocket ship intended for Mars landed on Venus because of the uncalculated pull of the moon. In this story, his rocket ship takes off along a mile-long track only slightly elevated from the horizontal, instead of straight up, as our actual rockets take off today. This series gave Burroughs a chance to create new types of civilization and different forms of life, using a different and younger planet as a setting. Political struggles, and the conflict between people are prominent features of this series. As in other stories, his political aspects are satirical of our own struggles on this planet.
In these, he describes the energy release of a Venusian substance when brought into the presence of a particular element. Burroughs mentions that the annihilation of one ton of coal would produce 18 thousand million times as much energy as would be produced by its combustion. This sounds as if he knew what atomic power was. He used it to power an airplane. We probably will have an atomic-powered aircraft in the near future.
The illustrator of most of his stories, J. Allen St. John, said that the last one of this series, "Escape On Venus" was the most remarkable Burroughs story he had ever read or illustrated.
The next series is that of life at the centre of our Earth called Pellucidar, with seven stories. Burroughs pictures the Earth as having a 500-mile thick surface, and being hollow. There is life on this intercrust, since the inter world cooled at a much later time. The surface of this planet cooled and hardened, but the interior kept cooling and contracted, pulling away from this hardened crust, until finally there remains a tiny hot sun in the centre of the Earth, giving light and heat to this region. This world is in the stone age, and Burroughs uses bitter satire on civilization by having the Americans who go there bring advancements to the people by bigger and better means of killing people -- where a reptile-type creature was the first to reach a high degree of intelligence.
Burroughs is one of the few writers who has been able to contrast competing species on the same land area. The utter impossibility of living on an equal basis is well developed.
Since in this world the land would curve up all around you, there is no horizon, also there is no time sensation with a sun always at the zenith. All the difficulties of navigation on the land and in the air and sea, created by the curing surface is worked out well.
This series brings out Burroughs' peculiar outlook on warfare. He prefers for his people to fight with primitive weapons -- bows and arrows, spears, clubs, swords, etc., until the situation gets tight, then he brings in guns and other advanced weapons to win for his main characters. He is determined to win no matter what weapons it takes, but he jumps away from advanced weapons whenever possible, indicating a romantic longing for the past.
In addition to these three series, there are several other science-fiction stories. "The Land That Time Forgot" has a peculiar and original evolutionary theory that is quite unique. A large isolated island is discovered far in the South Pacific with prehistoric life on it. The evolutionary theory is that each islander goes through seven separate evolutionary steps from ape to human, in his life time. All the newborn start at the beginning, but not all can progress to humans. After seven generations have progressed the seven stages, their offspring are true humans and no longer have to go through the cycle. This is quite an original idea, and the whole plot is well done.
Others are The Monster Men which deals with the artificial creation of life. The Eternal Lover, The Cave Girl and The Resurrection of Jimber Jaw are tales of prehistoric people mixed with modern man to show the contrast and development of character, again with satire of our modern society.
The Moon Maid I mentioned earlier is considered by many to be the best one he ever wrote. IN the year 2050, the Earth is invaded by men form the Moon, led by an American who had gone to the Moon 25 years previous. They take over the Earth, setting up a Communistic totalitarian form of government and reduce civilization back to the nomad life of Indians. War goes on for another 400 years before they are finally overthrown, and civilization reconstructed.
Three others complete his science-fiction writing -- Beyond the Farthest Star is advanced life on another planet under totalitarian government, and The Scientists Revolt, as well as Beyond Thirty are about future life on this planet.
Edgar Rice Burroughs used his fiction to cover over political and economic themes that run throughout the stories. He exposes, condemns and damns various types of politics. Communism, a primitive variety, is given the basis of the failure to advance of the Green Men of Mars. Red Communism is given as the breakdown and fall of the civilization of Venus and the Moon. Italian-type Fascism is blasted in Llana of Gathol and the Nazi variety is held up as ridiculous, insane and thoroughly detestable in Carson of Venus.
Democracy is often ridiculed. However, Burroughs seems to be divided between two loyalties, one a republic, and the other the partial hereditary, individual rise of ability with a form of government resembling modern Sweden in its social outlooks. Burroughs always insisted on the individuals right to go as high as his ability and energies can take him in all fields.
Economically, he favors competition, enlightened capitalism and hates economic and political dictatorship. He doesn't like the idea of industrial work but admits to its necessity.
One of the most important themes in the Burroughs writings is longevity of life. In the Mars series, John Carter has a youthfulness in keeping with the 5,000-year life span of the Martians. John Carter has never known any childhood and has been about 30 years old for as long as he can remember. The Venus series includes a serum that gives an average life span of about 1,000 years. In the Pellucidar series, a longer life span is clearly stated. Abner Perry, an old man when he arrives at the inter world, grows 10 years younger in the course of the series. IN the last one of this series, a man from Massachusetts living in Pellucidar, is over 130 years old and still hale and hearty.
The outstanding trait of all Burroughs' books is the impact of dynamic civilizations on static cultures. Most people consider him superior in describing strange beasts, but his descriptions of strange men are supreme. In all of his works, it is the people that stand out. The impact of dynamic people seems to show that he fears the unorganized muddling that can do harm with superior technology. He fears that men may not be ab le to live up to the machines he creates, indicating a deep social consciousness.
On the racial angle, he casts more stones at the white man than any other type. He depicts good and bad groups in all races, the worst type is always white men -- on Mars, Earth, or elsewhere.
I have not mentioned in this discussion of his science-fiction stories, Burroughs most famous character -- Tarzan. There has never appeared a character in fiction that captured the imagination of man, become as widely known, nor had the effect on the world that Tarzan has had. Tarzan has been widely known, and translated into most of the languages of any importance, and at least 100 million books concerning Tarzan have been printed, with new editions still coming out every year, somewhere in the world. The world has never before observed such a phenomena. If one includes the motion pictures made about Tarzan, the comic strips and books, etc., it is at once evident that there also may never again be another character in fiction with such prominence or following. The word "Tarzan" has become a part of the English language and to most people the jungle they picture in their minds is the jungle of Tarzan, not the real jungle of Africa.
This series as a whole should be classified as fantasy adventure rather than science-fiction, but there are overtones of science-fiction, in some of them. The first book, Tarzan of the Apes is really an allegorical treatment of the rise of mankind from apes to humans, in this case British nobility, all in one man's lifetime. Burroughs wanted to show that inherited moral, mental, and physical qualities could overcome the handicap of being reared in a sub-human environment.
In Tarzan the Terrible he creates creatures of prehistoric appearance in the swamps of central Africa, and people with a prehensile tail. Burroughs regarded these as his most fascinating experiment in the enterprise of creating monsters. He felt this was his best and most ingenious Tarzan story. In Tarzan and the Ant Men, he writes about a race of people 18 inches tall and Tarzan's reduction to this size and return to normal size. In Tarzan at the Earth's Core, he goes to Pellucidar through the North Polar opening.
The longevity theme is greatly stressed in the Tarzan books. In Tarzan and the Lion Man, an individual gains an extended life span by hormones, plant extracts, pollen of flowers and cell transplantation. In Tarzan's Quest, a whole tribe and Tarzan achieve longevity by taking youth pills made from glands of young girls. In the last book, Tarzan and "The Foreign Legion," Tarzan also states that an incredibly young-old witch doctor had made him immortal, for all practical purposes.
In closing, I want to say two things. Most of this talk is not original with me. I wish to give thanks to Vern Coriell for using material from his magazine, the Burroughs Bulletin and especially to Thomas Gardner, from whose article most of these ideas were taken.
Secondly, I wish to leave you with a strong recommendation to either read some of Burroughs' books or to reread them. You will find they read much differently than they did when you were young. Burroughs did not write juvenile books, he wrote for an adult public.
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
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