The First and Only Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edgar Rice Burroughs Signature
Master of Imaginative Fantasy Adventure 
Creator of Tarzan and 
"Grandfather of American Science Fiction" 

Issue 0199


A Study of the 
“Frame” Stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs
David Arthur Adams (Nkima)
(Reprinted from ERBapa #44 – Winter 1994 by permission of the author)
“You have read the opening paragraph, and if you are an imaginative idiot like myself, you will want to read the rest of it; so I shall give it to you here, omitting quotation marks – which are difficult of remembrance. In two minutes you will forget me.”
ERB - The Land that Time Forgot
“There are my children,” I reminded him. “They are your blood kin.”
“Yes,” he said, “I know; but they might be afraid of me. After all, I might be considered something of a ghost by Earth men.”
“Not by my children,” I assured him. “They know you quite as well as I. After I am gone, see them occasionally.”
He nodded. “Perhaps I shall,” he half promised.
ERB - Llana of Gathol

Pre-Face to a Story of Masks
The fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs are dedicated to the study of the life and works of a unique phenomenon. The key to the man is his work, and the key to a world of works is the man himself. They are intertwined and bound together in a twisted jungle of mystery. They roam across many planets and plunge into the depths of time and memory.

Burroughs abides with his own creation both as its creator and as its many teeming subjects. Sometimes the man comes into focus directly (as in the prologs and forewards to his stories) then he quickly changes masks and turns to what seem to be tales of pure adventure, mesmerizing the reader into believing that he has disappeared. Yet the author of the story is there behind the characters, flickering in and out like a laser projection, slipping behind the screens of words like an invisible beast we feel is there behind the pillar, beyond the forest leaves, smiling at the way we have been captured by the spell of the master’s voice.

The fan of ERB has an unending mystery to solve. There is no time to waste over petty disputes. The work has barely begun. Do not be discouraged over the tomes of Porges and Lupoff and Farmer, et. Al. They are candles in a great darkness, useful, scholarly, entertaining, but the greater work is yet to be done by those who know the work has depth and meaning beyond the surface. The amazing skill of Burroughs-the-story-teller draws the unwary reader in – he thinks he has it all upon reading once, twice, three times, but the works contain more, always more than can be grasped by reading alone. The stories need to be pondered in the heart; the magician whispers to be revealed; the sleight of hand so wonderful to the child carries more than simple awe.

The canon of ERB needs to be seen as a whole. The stories have family resemblances. The faces can be uncovered; the masks have meaning.

The stories need to be studied individually in detail. A real man wrote them at a specific time in a specific order. There are reasons for the stories being written when they were, how they were, why they were. The reasons are not obvious. ERB did not simply write for money – this is only another mask of the magus – he had literary influences; he had personal psychological drives; he plumbed the depths of mythology in a forceful manner over a long life.

For all the clues Burroughs left, we are still in the dark about the simplest things. Who is Tarzan, Carter, Carson, Carthoris, etc? It is too easy to put them off as literary children alone, for they are icons, archetypes – complex, still growing at this death – not static, one-dimensional super-heroes to be swallowed and digested by youth on a long summer’s afternoon.

Why does Tarzan lose his memory so often; why is his body covered with scars; why does he scream like a beast; why does he kill? Tarzan is not just a comic book character, not just a movie idol, not just a made-up creature in a series of books. Why do we think we know him? Why do we seek closure on his mystery? Is Tarzan easier to capture than Hamlet? Why does Tarzan carry a knife rather than a sword? All of these questions can be answered in a moment, yet every answer will beg the questions being asked. Rather close the very nature of myth itself. Rather cage the archetypes in the iron bars of the conscious mind.

There is a great wealth in ERB yet to be minded. Opar is open to the traveler willing to make the long journey into the hidden mountains.

I struggle daily with stories I once devoured as a child. Where does the trail lead the inquiries of a mature mind?

Study the chain and the links in the chain. Each story is a gem, cut or uncut. Each image is both a mask and a face.

Prolog: A Frame for the List of Frames

An old literary companion of mine by the name of Dr. P. Sigismund came over to see me a short while ago. He usually shows up at least once a week to see what I have been reading and to offer commentaries on my feeble cultural efforts that more than not do not meet his high standards. He greeted me with great enthusiasm and got right to the point.

“So, Adams, what have you been reading lately?”

“Well,” I replied with as much dignity as I could muster. “I’ve just finished reading A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

“What did you think of it?” he said, anticipating a scathing put-down of a minor literary item only worthy of a few disparaging words.

“Well, it’s quite a good work, really. A masterpiece of a sort.”

“Adams, you’re really reaching to find literary depth in Burroughs,” he said with a laugh.

“No, you see,” I explained, trying desperately to recover the situation, “it starts out with Burroughs addressing the reader as though he were a relative of John Carter, his nephew I think, and it sets up a frame for the story so the whole thing reads layer upon layer in the best tradition of fantastic literature.”

“Na, you’re stretching it, trying to make something out of the nothing that is really there. Anyway, that device was used by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein as early as 1818, and H. Rider Haggard used it in King Solomon’s Mines, in She, and in all the Allan Quartermain stories.”

I wish I had looked into this further because I was really at a loss to go on, so I just let it drop, and we talked about other “more worthy” writers of fiction for the rest of the evening. Later I made this little effort to at least console myself, even though it would probably not convince the good Doctor that ERB was nothing more than a second-rate scribbler of stories for the tired man after a hard day at the office.

Layers of the Frame in A Princess of Mars

1. ERB writes a novel in which he is a literary character who only appears in the Foreword. He in one step distances himself from his own work by creating a fiction within a fiction.

2. This second ERB presents biographical background of a relative, Captain Carter, who is called “Uncle Jack” which delivers a 2nd level of understanding. That is, Carter is a literary character presented as a real person. He recalls incidents which happened years ago when he (ERB) was a boy of five years.

3. Next he recounts events that happened when he was an adult in the year 1885 when he observed Carter writing a manuscript. He is watching Carter write the manuscript which will be the novel, Princess of Mars, but he is watching as ERB II.

4. Next he relates the events of March 4, 1886 surrounding the death of Captain Carter and the recovery of the manuscript. He has in his hands the very story he has not yet written.

5. Next, the manuscript remains unread for eleven years, according to the instructions left by Carter, finally presented as the novel, A Princess of Mars, beginning with Chapter 1.

The frame story is over, but the layers continue of this “unworthy” literary effort.

6. Carter begins his story with the words, “I am a very old man…” so we see ERB II presenting a manuscript written by a real man, however, the manuscript is actually the novel by ERB-I, who is presenting a fictional character, John Carter. The first person narrative implies that the experiences may be those of ERB-I if one may assume that a writer works at least in part from personal experience.

7. John Carter professes not remembering having a childhood at all. This implies another level of meaning which may or may not be explained by later events in his life.

8. In the very first paragraph, John Carter professes to have died twice already, which certainly increases the mystery which is already profoundly entangle in various levels of time.

9. John Carter relates his personal history and presents a picture of his life as a gold prospector in Arizona. An adventure leads him t a cave where he feels “a pleasant drowsiness creeping over me” like Keats in his “Ode to a Nightingale” where a “drowsy numbness pains my sense”, which leads Keats to celestial flights, thoughts of immortality, and strange visions, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music – do I wake or sleep?” (Keats) We are in the best traditions of romantic literature. Burroughs ends the Chapter with Carter reeling “drunkenly” on the Keatsian wine, “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Check it out, Dr. Sig, did Burroughs read Keats or what?)

10. Carter is frozen on the floor of the cave, “as though of hemlock I had drunk” (Keats) He can’t move. He professes to have been awake at this time, but by now the reader (you) are not too sure about anything, and in case you have forgotten, reader (ERB II) is still madly typing the manuscript.

11. Carter looks through an opening of this Plato’s cave and sees savage faces. Is this really happening? A moaning sound comes from the back of the cave, and the “Indians” disappear. The ghost story continues until Carter snaps the spell with “a momentary feeling of nausea” and “a sharp click as of the snapping of a steel wire”, and he stands up only to see his own body lying on the floor of the cave. It is one of the best descriptions of an alien encounter ever written.

12. Carter goes out of the cave into the Arizona moonlight “a picture at once enchanting and inspiring; as though one were catching for the first time a glimpse of some dead and forgotten world…” This is the crux of the matter. Where is Carter at this moment?

13. Carter looks at the stars. He looks at Mars and stretches out his arms to the distant planet. “There was an instant of extreme cold and utter darkness.” Chapter III opens with a paragraph of sheer genius. When I first read it, I couldn’t believe ERB could have possibly anticipated so much of science fiction and the mind of Philip K. Dick. Read it. Re-read it. There are no space ships to transport him to Mars. He is simply there, and he knows it. “You do not question the fact; neither did I.” If that paragraph that opens Chapter III of A Princess of Mars does not knock you to the floor of your personal cave, nothing else in Burroughs will make sense beyond an easy adventure story. All of the lines have been cut. You are free to ride thoats.

I am certain that the frame in A Princess of Mars was constructed to be more than something to hold a work of art, in fact it is a part of the whole picture presented in the novel. So, Dr. P.S., Burroughs does have depth; you’ve just been reading too fast.

To further the study of the works of ERB, I present next a “List of the Frame Stories”. I believe I have covered all the works with frames, but the diligent scholar may find others. My purpose is to present an example of an outline study considering an over-view of the canon as a whole. I hope it will shed light on Burroughs and his works and make each story more interesting when seen as a part of the grand scheme of things. I wrote the outline this summer, and since this time I have been making other charts that I think will be of great help to hold all of ERB’s works in the mind at one time. Those familiar with Hesse’s Magister Ludi will know what I am speaking about. I hope to share these studies with you in the future.


The Mars Series

A Princess of Mars (All-Story, 1912)
Title: Foreword, To the Reader of this Work
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs (one-step removed)
Subject matter: John Carter’s biographical background -  John Carter’s manuscript – A Princess of Mars
End frame: None

The Gods of Mars ( All Story, 1913)
Title: Foreword
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs (one-step removed)
Subject matter: Meeting with John Carter himself 12 years after A Princess of Mars
End frame: None

The Chessmen of Mars (Argosy, 1922)
Title: Prelude: John Carter Comes To Earth
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs (one-step removed)
Subject matter: Meeting with John Carter himself before the chess table in ERB’s library at Tarzana. Burroughs (as John Carter’s nephew)  then re-tells the story told by John Carter.
End frame: Conversation between ERB and John Carter. Carter leaves a “rude cross” scratched by his sword “upon the concrete of one of the arches” of his house.

The Master Mind of Mars (Amazing Stories Annual, 1927)
Title: A Letter: from Helium, June 8th, 1925
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs (one-step removed)
Subject matter: A letter from Ulysses Paxton, Late Captain, __th Inf., U.S. Army and a manuscript from Paxton which is the novel at hand.
End frame: None

A Fighting Man of Mars (Blue Book, 1930)
Title: Foreword
Fictional author: ERB combines his persona in the Mars series with his persona in the Pellucidar series and has the events take place at Tarzana
Subject matter: A Morse Code message via Gridley Wave, introduced in Tanar of Pellucidar, sent from Mars by Ulysses Paxton, a character introduced in the previous novel, The Master Mind of Mars – a very labyrinthian series of characters and events. The novel at hand is the story of Hadron of Hastor, Fighting Man of Mars, as narrated by him to Ulysses Paxton. Introductory material on Martian races and ways is also presented.
End frame: None

Swords of Mars (Blue Book, 1934-35)
Title: Prologue
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs (one-step removed)
Subject Matter: A meeting with John Carter himself in a tiny cabin at the headwaters of the Little Colorado river in the White Mountains of Arizona. The story Carter tells Burroughs is re-told as the novel at hand “set down here in his own words, as nearly as I can recall them”.
End frame: None

Llana of Gathol (Amazing Stories, 1941)
Title: Foreword
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs (one-step removed)
Subject matter: Meeting between John Carter and ERB at Lanikai on the Island of Oahu in Hawaii – Carter mentions ERB’s own mortality and gets a half promise from him to visit his children sometime in the future. By now we can easily recognize John Carter as ERB’s muse, and this opening is rather touching. The story Carter tells is then presented as the novel at hand.
End frame: None

Skeleton Men of Jupiter (Amazing Stories, 1943)
Title: Foreword
Fictional author: This foreword is so good that it should be quoted in full. ERB finally appears as himself without the mask or persona as John Carter’s nephew. He claims to dislike forewords but admits that he has used the device many times in his “deathless classics”. Burroughs is in rare form, full of tongue-in-cheek humor. He also points out again that he is merely John Carter’s amanuensis.
Subject matter: Chapter One: “Betrayed”: John Carter presents his own foreword with humorous comments on scientists and the fact that no one could possibly live on Mars.

The Pellucidar (“Inner World”) Series

At the Earth’s Core (All Story, 1914)
Title: Prolog
Fictional author: An African hunter
Subject matter: A spoken tale told to the African hunter by David Innes, the fictional hero of the story.
End frame: The African Hunter again, including the last letter from David Innes

Pellucidar (All Story, 1915)
Title: Prolog
Fictional author: The African hunter from At The Earth’s Core
Subject matter: A letter from Cogdon Nestor, __and__Club, Algiers revealing the telegraph of David Innes, whereby the story arrives from Pellucidar itself.
End frame: None

Tanar of Pellucidar (Blue Book, 1929)
Title: Prolog
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs himself (not one-step removed)
Subject matter: ERB’s relationship with Jason Gridley at Tarzana and the radio message via Gridley Wave from Abner Perry in Pellucidar, which becomes the novel itself.
End frame: Conversation between ERB and Jason Gridley

Tarzan At The Earth’s Core (Blue Book, 1930)
Title: Foreword
Fictional author: ERB himself presents Pellucidar as a place “every schoolboy knows”. It works as a frame and not a mere foreword because ERB presents his fiction as reality.
Subject matter: ERB brings up to date those who have not read the first three Pellucidar novels.
End frame: None

Land of Terror (Tarzana, 1944)
Title: (frame is contained in Chapter 1)
Fictional author: David Innes
Subject matter: Innes relates a radio conversation with Jason Gridley, discusses time computation problems in Pellucidar, then briefly sets up the story for those who have not read the other novels.
End frame: None

The Venus Series

Pirates of Venus (Argosy Weekly, 1932)
Title: the frame begins in Chapter 1: Carson Napier)
Fictional Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs (one-step removed, or is it two or three steps by now?)
Subject matter: One of the most intricately layered fictional devices that ERB ever devised. There is a conversation with Jason Gridley which informs the reader that it takes place after the Tarzan story in Pellucidar. A meeting with a ghostly female figure dressed in a white shroud is foretold in a letter from Carson Napier. A meeting with Carson himself takes place where he is informed  that the apparition has been sent by Carson by “thought waves”. The first meeting turns out to be another apparition through Carson’s thought waves. Carson plans to go to Venus and have ERB record his experiences there by transmitting the information back by thought waves. ERB even receives pictures from Venus “graphically photographed upon the retina of my mind’s eye.”
End frame: None

Lost On Venus (Argosy Weekly, 1933)
Title: Foreword
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs as the “scribe” of Carson’s telepathic thoughts
Subject matter: A very brief synopsis of the first story in Pirates of Venus
End frame: None

Carson of Venus (Argosy Weekly, 1938)
Title: Foreword
Fictional Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs as in the first two novels, months later.
Subject matter: A brief synopsis of the stories of the first two novels
End frame: None

Escape On Venus (Fantastic Adventures, 1941)
Title: Foreword
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs as in the other novels, but now at Lanikai on the island of Oahu as in Llana of Gathol. Signed as “The Editor”
Subject matter: ERB calls this the “fourth story” of Carson as narrated to him telepathically. ERB provides a synopsis of the first three novels.
End frame: None

Wizard of Venus (Written in 1941)
Title: Foreword, signed, Honolulu, October 7, 1941, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs as in the other novels.
Subject matter: Only a note about the beginning of the series, and a teaser that Carson’s use of telepathic powers will occur in the novel itself. ERB throws a loop around a loop – another ring within a ring of complexity.
End frame: None

The Tarzan Series

Tarzan of the Apes (All Story, 1912)
Title: (frame is contained in Chapter 1 – Out to Sea)
Fictional author: Edgar Rice Burroughs (one-step removed) form “the narrator” who is his “convivial host” somewhat “under the influence of an old vintage”
Subject matter: A spoken tale, a “musty manuscript” which is John Clayton’s diary, “yellowed, mildewed” and “dry official records of the British Colonial Office”
End frame: None

Tarzan the Invincible (Blue Book, 1930-31)
Title: (frame is contained in Chapter 1 – Little Nkima)
Fictional author: Burroughs pulls off a tour de force by narrating an introduction in his own voice, then slipping into the story so smoothly one is deceived into believing it is a part of a newspaper story in an historical setting.
Subject matter: Burroughs tells us to “Take the story simply as another Tarzan story,” but he refers to “a news dispatch that appeared inconspicuously in the papers some time since.”
End frame: None

Tarzan Triumphant (Blue Book, 1931-32)
Title: Prologue
Fictional author: Burroughs in a rather philosophical mood (“Time is the warp of the tapestry which is life.”) begins this novel in his own voice, yet the tone is one of a scholar of ancient history, and he does achieve some distance with this device.
Subject matter: A brief account of Angustus the Ephesian, an early convert of Paul of Tarsus.
End frame: None

Tarzan and the Castaways (“The Quest of Tarzan”, Argosy, 1941)
Title: Included in Chapter 1
Fictional author: ERB in his own, musing and amusing, mature voice weaves a quick spell and a quick transition to the story.
Subject matter: A brief, fictional history lesson about the Mayans.
End frame: None

The Miscellaneous Series

The Outlaw of Torn (New Story, 1914)
Title: The frame is included in Chapter I
Fictional author: ERB implied, who dug up the story through his wife’s cousin, who was related to “a certain Father Superior in a very ancient monastery in Europe.”
Subject matter: It comes from a collection of “mildewed and musty manuscripts”. It is really a bit of tongue-in-cheek, and it is too bad this frame is so brief. “In the retelling of it I have left out most of the history.” The humor is also very dry.
End frame: None

The Land That Time Forgot (Blue Book, 1918)
Title: Frame included as part of Chapter One
Fictional Author: The mysterious author, who will be forgotten in two minutes. The most bizarre frame ERB ever constructed.
Subject matter: A manuscript found in a quart thermos bottle off the coast of Cape Farewell in Greenland.
End frame: None

The People That Time Forgot (Blue Book, 1918)
Title: Frame consists of all of Chapter One
Fictional Author: The mysterious “I” tells the story of Tom Billing’s departure, who disappears without a sign or signal since.
Subject matter: The story of Tome Billings in Caspak as related by himself.
End frame: None

The Moon Maid (Argosy, 1923)
Title: Prologue
Fictional Author: The man in the Blue Room of the Transoceanic Liner Harding the night of Mars Day – June 10, 1967. We assume it must be ERB himself, as he is listed as the author of the story.
Subject matter: A meeting with a mysterious stranger – and incarnation of one of the many Julians – who tells ERB the story. This intricate frame is the most concentrated one in all the stories, for it both sets up the story and proves to b e a part of the story itself. Indeed, the nature of time itself is the subject matter as much as the characters portrayed. This story of the future is itself framed in a story of the future (1967), for it was published in 1923. The confusions of time that rise in the mid of the reader were constructed by ERB in response to the latest scientific theories of Albert Einstein, who wrote Relativity, the Special and the General Theory: A Popular Exposition in 1920.
End frame: The following morning after hearing an all night story. Of course, this open-ended tale leaves room for a sequel.

The Moon Men (Argosy, 1925)
Title: The frame is included in Chapter I: A Strange Meeting
Fictional author: If The Moon Maid was the most intricate framing sequence of ERB to date, this one is definitive. The Director of the U.S. Bureau of Communications, whom we first met in The Moon Maid is framed in a story of a polar bear hunt in the Arctic Ocean some fifty miles southeast of Herschel Island. After this exciting framing story of the author, the main story is framed in reference to a fictional future Earth (1969) and another tale of one of the many Julians.
Subject matter: A frame story completely entwined within a frame story, leading to another story – that is: the polar bear hunt wrapped in the meeting with a Julian (which implies the whole Moon Maid story) followed by the person-to-person, told story of the Moon Men. The present Julian (1969) even says, “Let me preface this story, as I did the other…” Our admiration for the beauty of these frames must be open-faced and unabashed.
End frame: The next morning after an all-night story. A sequel is implied by a smile.

I Am A Barbarian (Written in 1941)
Title: Foreword
Fictional Author: The Editors
Subject Matter: A “free translation of the memoirs of Britannicus, for twenty-five years the slave of Caius Caesar Caligula.
End frame: None

Beyond the Farthest Star (Blue Book, 1942)
Title: Foreword
Fictional Author: The now famous ERB sitting before a typewriter at Diamond Head, Hawaii. He presents his own psychological profile at midnight. He is looking for a story; the alert reader can see the shade of John Carter, Ed discovers Tangor.

Tangor Returns (Part II of Beyond the Farthest Star) (Written in 1940 – Op. Post. 1964)
Title: Foreword
Fictional Author: ERB waiting before his typewriter for the rest of the story of Tangor. The old lion struggling after midnight.
Subject matter: Tangor himself returns to type the tale. He even supplies his own paper!
End frame: “Editor’s note: I wonder if Tangor ever reached that little planet winging its way around a strange sun, 450,000 light years away. I wonder if I shall ever know.” How very sad…

It has been suggested in many places that ERB’s powers fell off in later years, yet it has been demonstrated here that his work actually became more complex and foreshadowed many postmodern novelistic techniques. Vernell Coriell, founder of the Burroughs Bibliophiles, in his own Foreword to the Ace paperback printing of the Venus Series says that “it is the unique style of making the impossible plausible that made Edgar Rice Burroughs the most popular and best selling author in the world.”

An interesting source for further study of this theme is Steven G. Kellman’s The Self-Begetting Novel, Columbia University Press, New York, 1980. Even though Kellman points out that “In the self-begetting narrative, the hero forges his identity as novelist and through a  novel,” the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs fit many ideas presented in this work. Perhaps Coriell said it best that the Burroughs style was “unique” because he was able to use a literary technique, then step back and let the story unfold without becoming bogged down on technique alone as so many writers do. It’s easy to conclude that this desire to tell an interesting and exciting story demonstrates a lack of sophistication, however, Burroughs is still being widely read today, while Proust and Joyce, the so-called giants of modern literature are rapidly becoming plodding dinosaurs doomed to literary extinction.

Epilog: End Frame for a List of Frames

“So, Dr. Sigismund, who do you think will be read in the year 2100, Burroughs or Joyce?
“Well, not Joyce, certainly. Only a few dry as dust professors I know admit getting all the way through Finnegan’s Wake.”
“And Burroughs?”
“He’ll probably be around. Tarzan is pretty hard to kill.
“And the science fiction stories?”
“Classics, I guess – a dangerous status.”
“But, will they be read in the year 2100?”
“What do you care? Do you plan on being around that long?”
“Who knows?”
“You’ve been reading too much Burroughs lately.”
“And you?”
“Ya, I still read him now and then.”
“Does that prove anything?
“It proves a lot.”

Copyright 1994 & 1999 - David Arthur Adams

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