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EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS: A REAL
“The Mystery of Missing Foreword”
“I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.”
~ Edgar Rice Burroughs “Tarzan of the Apes”
This article exists because the Foreword to A PRINCESS OF MARS is missing!
Well, that hopefully did the trick! Before I explain, let me offer the following:
It all started, for me, back in the “Stone Age,” sometime in the late 1940’s.
What was it like, back then when Edgar Rice Burroughs was still alive—barely? The Second World War was still newly finished and the young people were beginning to rebuild their lives at the opening of the Atomic Age.
Well, there was Glenn Miller music. Even though he had died somewhere over the English Channel during the war, his music had become the signature “tune” of the war years, and continued being popular even after the end of the Big Band Area. This was shortly before the Elvis rock’n roll years. This was the romantic period of Sinatra. And Tarzan still swung through the movies in black & white.
And it was a time when the Burroughs books were hard to get in any form. Just the last ten or so Tarzan novels and the Mars and Venus books were in print, via Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. A few more Tarzans existed, thanks to Grosset & Dunlap. But that was it. It was only a hint of what had once been and what was yet to come.
I was an innocent, and the Burroughs universe was going to be an ideal place into which to escape. His fantastic lands of Barsoom, Pellucidar, Amtor, were all in the near future. And the real Tarzan, English Lord, cultured jungle man, was yet to come. But only after I had discovered and exhausted John Carter’s beloved Barsoom. It was A Princess of Mars that would thrust me right into the Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Foreword to the book was designed to quickly suck the reader in. Burroughs used the “promise of a story” to catch use like a fish on a string. He baited the opening lines with a narrative hook. Once properly hooked the “fish” is helpless. W. Somerset Mangham offered the classic illustration of the problem all authors face when he started one of his short stories with: “I wonder if I can do it.”
The opening line of Tarzan of the Apes is an excellent example of this: “I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.”
In both cases it actually takes only two words to hook the reader into continuing. The promise of those first words is enough to catch any reader’s attention long enough to finish the statement, whatever it might be. Without the ability to grab the reader long enough to hook him, the author will never get the “message” across—whatever that might be.
Burroughs, more importantly, was able to convince the reader that the people he wrote about actually existed. This had nothing to do with any ability to create deeply textured people, but rather the ability to make the reader want to believe. How could one doubt that John Carter actually existed? Burroughs kept us hooked no matter how impossible the plot or the details of the adventure. In fact, the events that he related were, well, stranger than fiction. Even then you always wanted to believe that John Carter lived and that Tarzan was really an English Lord. The earth was hollow and Pellucidar existed. What Burroughs told you about his own involvement with John Carter, David Innis, Tarzan, Carson Napier and all the other wonderful people of his personal universe (those wonderful Introductions!) simply had to be true. They were all alive and well, and somehow surviving in their strange and frightening lands.
In A PRINCESS OF MARS, Burroughs took only the first pages to really slip the hook deep into the reader’s craw.
The FOREWORD begins with:“To the Reader of this Work:Well, that teased me into continuing a little further. We are offered quick, direct “introduction” to John Carter and his relationship to ERB. And we are told that Carter had died and left a manuscript with special instructions to not have it publish until 12 years after his death. Everything, until now, was straight forward. Obviously interesting enough to keep reader going. But the real hook came in the closing lines of the Foreword:
“In submitting Captain Carter’s strange manuscript to you in book form, I believe that a few words relative to this remarkable personality will be of interest.”
“A strange feature about the tomb, where his body still lies, is that the massive door is equipped with a single, huge, gold-plated spring lock which can be opened only from the inside.”
That nailed me.
And this book cliff-hung all the way through THE GODS OF MARS and into THE WARRIOR OF MARS, which finished the opening trio of the Barsoom Saga.
Chapter One of A PRINCESS OF MARS opens with a full dose of narrative tricks that reel us into the book like a helpless fish tossed into a bucket of water.The author not only captures the reader with the content of his words, but also by the rhythmic way he “speaks” to us. This is not only inviting—it is hypnotic. While there might be some question as to ERB’s “literary” style [as many a “registered” critic or college professor might suggest] there is no doubt about the power of his verbal impact. Here he quickly grabs the reader and keeps ‘em hooked all the way to the last page—and beyond.I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am
a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have
never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood.
So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man
of about thirty. I appear today as I did forty years and
more ago, and yet I feel that I cannot go on living forever;
that some day I shall die the real death from which there is
no resurrection. I do not know why I should fear death,
I who have died twice and am still alive; but yet I have the
same horror of it as you who have never died, and it is
because of this terror of death, I believe, that I am so
convinced of my mortality.
Burroughs was masterful at holding the reader by hook or crook from Chapter to Chapter, from book to book. In his very first, A PRINCESS OF MARS, readers were given a sampling of what would soon become an ERB trademark. He ends the first John Carter adventure in the following manner:When those words were first published, the public had to wait several years for the next book in the series: THE GODS OF MARS. The author immediately uses the same hook in the FOREWORD’s opening lines:Did the Martian reach the pump room? Did the vitalizing
air reach the people of that distant planet in time to save
them? Was my Dejah Thoris alive, or did her beautiful body
lie cold in death beside the tiny golden incubator in the
sunken garden of the inner courtyard of the palace of Tardos
Mors, the jeddak of Helium?
For ten years I have waited and prayed to be
taken back to the world of my lost love. I would rather lie
dead beside her there than live on Earth all those millions of
terrible miles from her.
The old mine, which I found untouched, has made me
fabulously wealthy; but what care I for wealth!
As I sit here tonight in my little study overlooking the
Hudson, just twenty years have elapsed since I first opened
my eyes upon Mars.
I can see her shining in the sky through the little window
by my desk, and tonight she seems calling to me again as
she has not called before since that long dead night, and I
think I can see, across that awful abyss of space, a beautiful
black?haired woman standing in the garden of a palace,
and at her side is a little boy who puts his arm around her
as she points into the sky toward the planet Earth, while at
their feet is a huge and hideous creature with a heart of gold.
I believe that they are waiting there for me, and something
tells me that I shall soon know.From Chapter to Chapter we are strung from cliff-hanger to cliff-hanger until the very end of the book. [Burroughs used the cliff-hanger at the ends of his Chapters, much like a movie serials would do for years, leaving someone in a terrible life-threatening situation. ERB would many times open the next Chapter with a totally different set of characters, until he had cliff-hung them in a frighteningly dangerous situation. Then he jumps back to the first group. This is a delightfully cheery way to keep the reader going madly through a book. But Burroughs took this a giant step further with the opening and closings of his books.] Here is a classic Burroughs trick. He has placed John Carter’s woman in a cell with two other females. The door is closing [and will remain closed a full Martain year—about two of ours]. The last thing John Carter sees is revealed in the final paragraphs of the book:TWELVE years had passed since I had laid the body of my
great?uncle, Captain John Carter, of Virginia, away from
the sight of men in that strange mausoleum in the old
cemetery at Richmond.
Often had I pondered on the odd instructions he had left me
governing the construction of his mighty tomb, and especially
those parts which directed that he be laid in an OPEN casket
and that the ponderous mechanism which controlled the bolts
of the vault’s huge door be accessible ONLY FROM THE INSIDE.And as she finished speaking I saw her raise a dagger on high, and then I saw another figure. It was Thuvia’s. As the dagger fell toward the unprotected breast of my love, Thuvia was almost between them. A blinding gust of smoke blotted out the tragedy within that fearsome cell—a shriek rang out, a single shriek, as the dagger fell.The smoke cleared away, but we stood gazing upon a blank wall. The last crevice had closed, and for a long year that hideous chamber would retain its secret from theeyes of men. [And a few paragraphs later he ends the book.]
Ah! If I could but know one thing, what a burden of suspense would be lifted from my shoulders! But whether the assassin’s dagger reached one fair bosom or another, only time will divulge.These words thrust the reader at the speed of light into the next book: THE WARLORD OF MARS.
This ability to tease, please and tease the reader on and on from book to book was a skillful trick that Burroughs used again and again. The unsuspecting public had been seduced even before Tarzan of the Apes was published in All-Story Magazine. The literary world, though, was little affected until 1914, when A.C. McClurg & Co. offered up this third Burroughs novel in a hard cover edition. [The Outlaw of Torn having been his second, though at that point, unpublished manuscript.]
The very opening line to TARZAN OF THE APES is quotable as a hook in itself. The first two words force you to read on to the first period. And who can refuse to discover what follows? Who can escape the implications of the opening statement?I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other. I may credit the seductive influence of an old vintage upon the narrator for the beginning of it, and my own skeptical incredulity during the days that followed for the balance of the strange tale.Right to the very ending of the book:
Tarzan took the envelope and tore it open. The message was from D’Arnot. It read:Fingerprints prove you Greystoke. Congratulations. D’ARNOT. As Tarzan finished reading, Clayton entered and came toward him with extended hand. Here was the man who had Tarzan’s title, and Tarzan’s estates, and was going to marry the woman whom Tarzan loved—the woman who loved Tarzan. A single word from Tarzan would make a great difference in this man’s life.And, of course, Tarzan, a true gentleman, says nothing. Instead he returns to Africa and his beloved jungle, alone, without the woman he loves. It will, naturally, take another book to unite them. Thus THE RETURN OF TARZAN become, in reality, the second part of what could have been published as a one volume saga, “The Romance of Tarzan.” Instead, these books were followed by scores of others.
Many of them give an illusion of reality, a sense that these events, though quite impossible, must have happened. Burroughs made us want to believe.
This habit of designing his books in such a way as to cause the reader to believe in the reality of his people and worlds, is a vital element of his style and charm. And to miss the Forewords and Introductions was much the same as missing the openings or closings of the books themselves. They were, in the case of Burroughs, a necessary element of the magic; without these touches his characters missed out on the vital connection of being in some way a part of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ real existence. He knew John Carter; he knew Carson Napier; he knew Davis Innis. If Burroughs existed, so did they. Thus, we come to the centering point of this article, the beginning gambit, the reason for its existence.
I began in the following manner:This article exists because the Foreword to THE PRINCESS OF MARS is missing!I suggested that the mystery would be resolved as a result of reading the article. Well, Resolution Time has arrived!
On the Internet it is possible to download quite a few of the public domain ERB books. One of these is, of course, THE PRINCESS OF MARS. And much to my horror, I learned that the vital FOREWORD was missing.
How could they have done such a stupid thing? Didn’t they know these were the very first words ERB ever wrote? (Well, at least the opening lines to his first novel.)
As a result of trying to discover the reasons for this terrible crime, I contacted several Burroughs experts, via the TARZAN, Edgar Rice Burroughs Website.
It was some time before I discovered at least enough of the truth to satisfy me. By then George McWhorter had suggested that I write an article dealing with this matter and ERB Hookers and Cliffhangers.
Steve Armstrong came up with what is the real reason. He did a bit of investigating on his own and wrote the following to me:
“I would say on the Princess of Mars, they were lazy. The Ballantine edition has it in there, and that is what they used.”
So the mystery of the missing Foreword is, sad to say, a matter of very little importance; though the trip I took to discover this truth has turned into a kind of interesting adventure which has lead all of us to this final point.
Some others, it turns out, were Edgar Rice Burroughs type novels
[WARRIORS OF NOOMAS, RAIDERS OF NOOMAS, SWORDMEN OF VISTAR, THE SLAVES OF LOMORROW]
published by Powell Sci-Fi.
He has offered the following as examples of how he used the ERB touch.
The following examples illustrate how I used some of Burroughs' tricks in my own writing. [Not until now did I realize how closely I had done so. It is embarrassingly obvious when one compares the following examples with those of ERB's first two Mars books quoted in this article.]
American author Charles Nuetzel
was born in San Francisco in 1934.
The son of artist Albert Nuetzel,
Charles has written over 70 paperback originals
(TORLO HANNIS OF NOOMAS ~ ADAPT OR DIE ~ etc.)
under many pen names.
Much of his work is displayed on his Website at:
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
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