INTRODUCTION by Jeff Long
Edgar Rice Burroughs was a product of the streets and alleys
of Chicago’s great West Side. And so was one of his most complex heroes
– Billy Byrne.
Reared in a harsh environment where life was cheap and
brute strength ruled, Billy’s transformation in The Mucker from
hulking thug to gallant gentleman rivals the rise of ERB’s most famous
creation, Tarzan, from savage beast to noble savage.
Both were torn by inner battles that pitted upbringing
against intellect, underscored by the desire of each to become more than
a mere accident of birth could dictate.
Burroughs explored the theme often, in settings that ranged
from the Arizona plains among the Apaches to the laboratory of a mad scientist
who dared create a race of Monster Men.
ERB never mined those contrasts so thoroughly, however,
as he did with Byrne and Lord Greystoke. Billy’s urban jungle proved no
less a challenge than the one conquered by John Clayton in Tarzan of
Both novels are pure fantasy, with twists and turns and
exotic locales worthy of the Master of Adventure’s extraordinary imagination.
But The Mucker adds a grain of gritty realism. It’s the story of
a troubled city youth, raised in a setting that rings familiar today. While
the ethnicities may have changed in Billy’s West Side Chicago neighborhood,
the seemingly insurmountable obstacles faced by the young men who live
There’s a crucial difference between Clayton and Byrne.
Burroughs explored the way Tarzan’s noble lineage drove
his ascent to a lofty position above beasts and unscrupulous men. Billy,
the scion of an alcoholic mother and absent father, had no such advantage.
Unlike many other Burroughs novels, the conclusion of The Mucker
holds no dramatic revelation about a separation at birth from wealthy or
royal parents. That makes Byrne’s ultimate triumph all the more impressive.
In true Burroughs fashion, each hero owes the spark for
his determination to a woman, who helps him become more than his background
might have allowed. For Tarzan, it was Jane Porter – a Baltimore belle
who rose herself to meet with dignity and vigor the challenges of the grim
and dangerous circumstances thrust upon her by fate. Fate also introduced
Billy Byrne to Barbara Harding, the New York socialite whose strength and
self-confidence became a beacon to a man who might have otherwise wallowed
among society’s forgotten dregs.
Burroughs never visited Africa. But he was intimately
familiar with Billy Byrne’s streets and alleys, born in 1875 near the corner
of Washington Boulevard and what was then called Robey Street, known to
Chicago residents today as Damen Avenue. That’s a stone’s throw from "The
Land of Grand Avenue" where young Billy prowled.
I’m convinced that ERB knew the people described in this
book. From the muckers who were ready to "insult the first woman who passed,"
to the cops at the Twenty-eighth Precinct on Lake Street who adhered to
their own chivalrous code. Old Man Schneider was probably like a dozen
barkeeps populating that working class neighborhood of Old Chicago.
My own grandfather, born in 1905 in the same neighborhood,
swore he knew the people ERB wrote about in this book. And the archives
of The Chicago Tribune reference such social problems of the day as young
boys fetching pails of beer from local saloons in the way that six-year-old
Billy Byrne did for Kelley’s Gang.
When the Chicago chapter of the Burroughs Bibliophiles
formed in 2006, we naturally took our name from the ERB book that opens
on the streets of our great city.
The Muckers are pleased to present it to you now, as we
host the 2010 Burroughs
Bibliophiles Dum-Dum. It’s richly illustrated by artists – professionals
and fans – who know and love ERB’s work as much as we do. They were recruited
by Mucker and longtime Bibliophile Joan Bledig, who also designed this
The Chicago Muckers:
Joan Bledig, Mike Conran, Laurence Dunn, Dave Gorecki,
Jim Hadac, J.G. Huckenpohler, Ray Le Beau, Frank Lipo, Jeff Long, Ken Manson,
Greg Phillips, Bill Ross, Jerry Spannraft, Ellern Vartanoff, Brad Vinson,
and Bruce Wood (1947-2009)