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Volume 1109

Does It Really

fantasy and truth

by Dale R. Broadhurst 

back to part 5  |  forward to part 7  |  forward to part 8

Part Six: 

Issus Unveiled?

Not every work of fiction need be Moby Dick, pregnant with preeminent exposition upon divine predestination and human free will. Not every writer of imaginative fantasy need be Milton, or C. S. Lewis, or the author of the Book of Jonah. More often than not, it's enough to just let fantastic stories strut and fret their brief moments upon the stage of popular entertainment, and then allow them to fade into obscurity, to be heard no more. As much as I love "Flying Down to Rio," or "Top Hat," I do not expect their screen audiences gain any more cosmic enlightenment than Celia did by watching and re-watching Woody Allen's play-within-a play, "The Purple Rose of Cairo." It is all song, dance, and extravagant romance -- signifying nothing. 

I suppose I might be convinced to say much the same about the novels of Otis A. Kline or Ralph M. Farley, for that matter. But I cannot say the same for Baum's Wizard of Oz, or Burroughs' Mars stories. Am I wrong here? Well, ERB once said that the person "who takes himself and his work too seriously is certain to attempt something for which he is not fitted." And, "In fiction the reader has a right to expect entertainment and relaxation." Perhaps then, ERB never intended his tales to be read as anything more than escapist fiction. The few times he attempted to produce "serious writing," the publishers weren't interested. And, although Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth discerned that Burroughs struggled for acceptance as a creator of literature, it was only in the hands of master interpreters (like Hogarth himself) that the stories and characters of the Bard of Tarzana rose to the level of universal mythology. Edgar Rice Burroughs did not intentionally write "deep meaning" prose. 
Or did he? Consider this -- from Richard A. Lupoff's Barsoom:

Did Edgar Rice Burroughs believe in God? He was no friend of formal or organized religion. In his personal life he was no church-goer, and his books contain a good many potshots at priests and gods and pious poseurs. The Gods of Mars... is concerned largely with the destruction of the false and tyrannical cult of Issus. The cult is shown as a widespread fraud... and at the center of the whole rotten structure sits Issus herself, physically hideous and morally depraved. Other, localized religions on Barsoom come off little better, as do a variety of cults portrayed in Burroughs' non-Martian works.... 

But some sort of mysticism or religiosity, some sort of belief in a presence or force greater than the physical universe, crops up periodically in Burroughs' works in general and the Martian cycle in particular. Perhaps significantly, the more remote and the less detailed this "something more" is deemed to be, the more sympathetic Burroughs is toward it. And conversely, the more immediate and tangible, the less favorable its treatment.... (p. 125) 

All of which leads me to ask a pertinent question. Can a writer who avoids and/or denounces practically every conceiveable form of organized religion be truly called a devout, or reverent, or god-fearing person? Set aside for a moment the matter of whether or not any particular form of organized religion is intrinsically better or worse than another. And set aside the generally incorrect notion that the "dedicated religious" (monks, nuns, sadhus, holy hermits, hairy prophets, etc.) are not part of "organized" religion. If there can be said to be anything like "true religion," does not that concept necessarily involve some beneficial interaction between its fellow co-religionists? No man is an island, no matter his personal theology. Perhaps the mind and soul of Edgar Rice Burroughs wrestled with such thoughts -- or perhaps they didn't. I do not know. But his readers may be excused for wondering themselves about these things, and also about ERB's unvoiced opinions in that regard. 

Lupoff seems to imply that ERB was a Deist of the post-Darwinian age, a man who was at least occasionally sympathetic to intellectual piety and inherent morality. Whether or not that kind of description of the man can be formed, by reading his fictional writings and studying his scant documentary evidence available, I cannot really say. The most I can guess at, is, that ERB could not have been a committed atheist, of the ilk who finds even the intellectual manifestations of personal spirituality rather problematic. 

Speak Great Tur, Ere I Strike!

Several decades back I was a correspondent of the Lutheran minister, Rev. Henry H. Heins, a man whom Burroughs fans may know a little about. Like Rev. Heins, I was born into a family comprised of many Lutheran believers. His encouragement to me, to continue reading escapist fiction, was a welcome relief during my early teenage years. For it was at that very same time that my Lutheran teachers were telling me that my preoccupation with fantasy was an iniquitous waste of my God-given intellect. Indirectly, it was Rev. Heins' encouragement, in these and other troubles, that led to my eventually attending a graduate theological seminary. I did so, it turned out, as a practicing Latter Day Saint (which is itself a story for another day). What I'm trying to get at here, is that I frequently consulted and considered the various opinions put forth by Rev. Heins, concerning the value of imaginative fantasy, the writers of science fiction, etc. So when I read Dick Lupoff's quote from The Reverend, it was with a fair degree of concurrence and appreciation: 

Henry Hardy Heins, a Lutheran clergyman and one of the world's leading authorities on Burroughs (his bibliography of Burroughs is definitive) made this point: "The world may think me in a strange position, as a churchman, to be writing these words of intimate appreciation about someone who did not have any great enthusiasm himself for organized religions. But ERB respected those who tried to live sincerely according to their beliefs, while reserving his contempt for lives ruled by sham and hypocrisy... and actually, when it comes right down to the core of the matter, the barbed shafts which he occasionally hurled in his books at the followers of established religion are virtually identical with the indictments that I and my fellow pastors must sometimes preach to our own congregations; the necessity, for instance, of having a faith that is more than mere outward form." (p. 128)

Mr. Lupoff also offers these follow-up comments for his readers' consideration: 

Burroughs had a wonderful time hurling... barbed shafts in Master Mind, in the temple of Tur at Phundahl. The sequence contains a marvelous idol, concerning which Ulysses Paxton engages a believer in discussion: 

"I notice," I [Paxton] remarked, "that the people repeated the same phrase before this figure that they did at the last -- Tur is Tur. " 

"Oh, no," exclaimed Dar Tarus. "On the contrary they said just exactly the opposite from what they said at the other. At that they said, Tur is Tur; while at this they absolutely reversed it and said, Tur is Tur. Do you not see? They turned it right around backwards, which makes a very great difference." 

"It sounded the same to me," I insisted. 

"That is because you lack faith," he said sadly... 

For something Burroughs set up just to knock it down, the cult of Tur is quite nicely developed. There were many small idols, a great figure of the god... and even a holy book, the Turgan, supposedly written by the god himself.... Tur's home is upon the sun. There, one hundred thousand years ago, he made Barsoom and tossed it out into space. Then he amused himself by creating men in various forms... 

In fact it isn't bad as creation myths go... [and] Burroughs used the cult of Tur as a mechanism for some really venomous comments on the negative attitude of some religions toward human virtue and creativity... (p. 129) 

The Goddess Issus and one of her Thern Priests -- by Jesse Marsh
© 1952 by Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated 

"The whole fabric of our religion is based on superstitious belief..."

Rev. Heins says that "ERB respected those who tried to live sincerely according to their beliefs, while reserving his contempt for lives ruled by sham and hypocrisy." I wonder exactly what that means -- and I wonder just how accurate his statement may be? If his fictional writings provide any indication of Burroughs' real views, then he did not have to look very far into any system of organized religion to find "sham." As for hypocrisy, it seems to coalesce, in accumulations both great and small, wherever human beings profess to live by truly divine principles. I'd expect to find such things in all religions, except among the very young and the very compassionate. Could have ERB "respected" the pious Aztec, who led his prisoner up blood-soaked temple steps to be made a human sacrifice? Or would he have "respected" the faithful Puritan who would not "suffer a witch to live"? I doubt it. My best guess is that Burroughs' "respect" would have only been won by those whose lives demonstrated some additional virtues, beyond their simply living "sincerely according to their beliefs." 

I can also only wonder what earthly role model (if any) provided substance for Burroughs' story of his hero John Carter overthowing a monopolistic, world-encompassing false religion in his second Barsoomian book The Gods of Mars? As "hero deposes the false religion" stories go, this one beats by far the legends of St. Patrick in Ireland, the Great Yogi, Milarepa, in Tibet, or Prince Madoc in the New World. The closest parallel that comes to my mind was the overthrow of National Socialism by Allied forces at the end of WWII in Europe -- and that was a case of a political system, not a religion, being destroyed through the combined effort of many warriors, not just the personal crusade of General Eisenhower. Of course the defeat of the false religion of Issus and her Holy Therns is just a story and it need not have any close parallel in any historical event, 

Still, I cannot quite forget something that Fritz Leiber said in 1959: "Anyone familiar with Rosicrucian advertisements knows their thinly-veiled claims of persecution by organized religion, apparently chiefly the Roman Catholic Church... On Barsoom the evil priesthood is represented by the Holy Therns, whose diabolic activities sound very much like those of Rome as described by the wilder Protestant propagandists." Among those unbridled propagandists were such American 19th century religious leaders as the Rev. Alexander Campbell and his erstwhile "disciple," Apostle Parley P. Pratt of the LDS Church. In the eyes of ardent preachers such as these, the "true" Christianity of the distant past had been for centuries secretly misled and perverted by the false and tyrannical cult of the "Great and Abominable Church" -- the romish "Whore of Babylon." This is the same world-wide papal organization that freemasons, rosicrucians, (and Theosophists?) claimed was their evil persecutor. On the other hand, many Protestant and Catholic believers in the USA and elsewhere pointed to occult sect leaders like the Theosophist "High Priestess," Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, as being the promulgators of false religions, "evil priesthoods," and secret plots against the divine truth. 

In his The Gods of Mars, was ERB purposely (or perhaps subconsciously) merging well-publicized characteristics of certain infamous 19th century cult leaders, along with the "evil priesthood" of the biblical "Whore of Babylon," to create his corrupt Martian goddess, Issus? 

It does not require a great leap of imagination to move from this sort of questioning, to the notion voiced by Phillip R. Burger -- that the imaginative fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs were influenced by his experiences among the Mormons, in the states of Arizona, Idaho, and Utah, years before he became a writer. Burger goes so far as to postulate that ERB based his dying Martian civilzation(s) upon the purportedly historical Nephites of the Book of Mormon. He says:

Richard Lupoff felt that Burroughs was influenced by the fantasies of Edwin Lester Arnold; Fritz Leiber felt that Burroughs was inspired by the Theosophical writings... Now to add Burger's Theory... as Burroughs worked out the millennia-long history of Barsoom, he patterned it upon what he knew of Southwestern archaeology and Mormon theology.... 

The Book of Mormon deals with the possible origins of the North American Indian... [telling of] the Hebrew prophet Lehi and his band... [who] set sail for North America... Lehi's sons, Nephi and Laman, argued and parted company... The Nephites remained civilized while the Lamanites adopted a nomadic, warlike lifestyle. Abandoning their religion and waging perpetual war upon the Nephites... 

Echoes of this fantastic history can be found throughout Burroughs' equally fantastic Martian series. The Nephites have their Barsoomian equivalents in the Orovars, the dominant fair-skinned race of a million years past... 

There is, of course, no direct evidence that Burroughs adopted Mormon theology and American archaeology for his own fictional needs; as with Lupoff's and Leiber's theories, my speculations are based upon my... personal impressions of reading Burroughs... ("Mesa, Mormons, and Martians: The Possible Origins of Barsoomian History," Burroughs Bulletin ns #16, Oct. - 1993). 

Elsewhere, Mr. Burger says, "Virtually all the efforts by various scholars (Barrett, Holtsmark, Atamian, myself, and everyone else) to track down some of Burroughs literary antecedents must be considered no more than theories that can never really be proven." ("Theories Come and Theories Go - Literary Theories," Burroughs Bulletin ns #32, - Fall, 1997). 

"The Destruction of Wicked Zarahemla," from The Book of Mormon 

I would be more convinced by Brother Burger's "theory," if it were the six-limbed, savage Martians who had the red (or black) skins and the civilized Heliumites and their ilk who possessed the fair skins. And convinced all the better, if both the generally bad barbarians and the generally good red Martians had reverted to possessing ancestral white skins and lived in a golden age of peace, following the overthrow of wicked Issus and her minions. But in the Burroughsian Martian mythology it is the "First Born" of the Tree of Life who wear the "skin of blackness." There is no indication that ERB meant the Tharks and Warhoons to be devolutions of the more human-like Barsoomians. They had no white and delightsome "Nephite" ancestry to revert back to. 

But, getting back to the Mormon theologian Parley P. Pratt and other early Mormon preachers, they admittedly did present a view of the world-wide "Great and Abominable Church" that was akin to ERB's repugnant depiction of the corrupt Holy Therns and their Issus religion. In the Mormon explanation, the man (or boy) chosen by providence to overthrow and defeat the "Whore of Babylon" and her hireling false priesthood was Lieutenant General Joseph Smith -- depicted as a gallant horseman and sword-wielder in old LDS prints. Perhaps ERB drew his Jeddak of Jeddaks, John Carter, from romantic renditions of the Mormon Council of Fifty-anointed "King of the Planet," Joseph Smith. Now there's an intriguing idea! 

If ERB looked to the Book of Mormon for inspiration, he could have found there all sorts of wondrous accounts to transplant into his Mars stories. For example, another supposed ancient race of the Americas, the Jaredites, reportedly made good use of elephants in the days of yore -- rather like Burroughs' huge mastodonian zitidars, I'd guess. Hey! that concept might even explain the pictures that the schoolboy ERB once drew of American Indians mounted on just such beasts (see p. 14 of the 1975 Irwin Porges ERB biography, in the hardback edition published by Brigham Young University Press). 

If Burroughs the ten-year-old was reading The Book of Mormon as early as 1885, however, such a discovery might undercut other parts of Bibliophile Burger's "theory." After all, why go all the way to hot, dusty Arizona and hunt after the Apache Kid, (and suffer the local LDS locking away their drinking water from your parched lips) when you could remain safely back in Chicago, perusing the "Nephite Record" in the comfort of the family parlor? Or, for that matter, why read the Book of Mormon at all, when those self-same Latter Day Saints were publishing (that same year, by coincidence) an equally strange fantasy by the Rev. Solomon Spalding -- a tale in which a heroic crusader, named Lobaska, overthrows the false religion of North America and institutes his own "Sacred Roll" among the light-skinned mound-builders? As coincidence would have it, Spalding's little story also had prehistoric Americans riding about on extinct new world elephants. And, since the "Sacred Roll" was itself a phoney scripture, composed by the demi-god Lobaska, perhaps it was the prototype for the Phundahlian Tur's equally phoney holy writ, the Turgan.

Burger's "theory" might even be extended to Burroughs having taken his various depictions of nefarious phoney religions and believer exploitation, from the all too common hostile rendition of Mormonism during the 19th century. In that yellow journalism model, the false priests of Joseph Smith exploit the LDS laymen, while those same priests are exploited by the wicked Mormon leaders; and at the center of the whole rotten structure, the morally depraved Joseph Smith exploits all his followers from his position of supreme religious authority at Nauvoo, Illinois. (The Mormons, on the other hand, taught that it was they and Smith who were everywhere persecuted -- by the minions of Satan, clad in the sheepskins in clerics' robes). For a stereotypical story of the former type, read Percy B. St. John's 1861 potboiler, Jessie, the Mormon's Daughter, wherein the heroine is seduced by evil Mormon priests, and carried over a lengthy flow of water, to meet her maidenhood's doom at the end of that sacred pilgrimage, in the hidden chambers of the Temple of Joseph Smith at Holy Nauvoo. Oddly enough, in the St. John tale, Joseph Smith steals his Book of Mormon directly from the imaginative author Solomon Spalding! This is a plot worthy of Philip Jose Farmer! 

Evil Mormon Priest Tries to Seduce Martha Brotherton
(An illustration typical of 19th century anti-LDS books) 

If more grist is needed for this "religious origins" rumor mill, allow Richard A. Lupoff to add his supply, in the ERB quote and comments that follow.

Only one morgor city [on Jupiter] was described by Burroughs, through John Carter, as the latter saw the city from the air as the Sasoomian spaceship on which he was a passenger approached it preparatory to landing. 

"It was entirely walled... [of] a uniform dark brown color... a dismal, repellent city... perfectly rectangular, having a long axis of about twenty-five miles and width of about sixteen... avenues [divided] the city into innumerable, identical square blocks. The buildings were all perfect rectangles... quite as depressing in appearance as is Salt Lake City from the air on an overcast February day." 

In tune with the grimness of their architecture and city planning was the general philosophy and educational system of the morgors. (Barsoom, p. 147) 

Had ERB been especially sympathetic towards Mormon society and religion, he probably would not have used an overview of Salt Lake City to illustrate his protagonist's opinion of the dismal morgor metropolis. Where the faithful LDS devotee might see a marvelous latter day Zion, complete with cheerful views, the sacred temple and hosts of divinely-appointed spiritual leaders, ERB (through his observer's report) describes only a depressing structural uniformity, reflective of an imposed, deleterious social conformity. 

The Bard of Tarzana did not conjure up his sinister view of Salt Lake City from the biased reports of other visitors. He lived (and worked, and brewed beer) in the planned city for part of the year 1901. His first recorded visit to the Utah city was in August of 1898 (see Vol. III, p. 9 - Spring 1965 - of The Burroughs Reader). Even at that early date, an elevated perspective view of the city could be easily had from one of the nearby mountain roads. In January and February, frequent atmospheric temperature inversions can cast a dreary grey haze across the entire Salt Lake Valley. Was this the most picturesque description of Mormonism's capital that ERB was able to summon from his vast store of early western memories? 

On second thought, perhaps hatching up such fanciful speculation is not so productive after all. It may say much about religious folly, but its offers very little insight into the spirituality of John Carter, John Clayton, or their admiring friend, Ed Burroughs. 

Part Seven: 

Ending Up a Few Loose Ties

Alternative origins for Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series continued to be publicized throughout the 1970s, all the way into the new century. And, as Vernell Coriell had feared, back in 1964: "Older fans of Burroughs' works and more authoritative 'experts' will laugh or shrug off Lupoff's suppositions, but the sad part of it is that younger fans could take him serious!" Despite some diminishing "older fans" efforts to defend ERB from the Arnold advocates (Robert R. Barrett's "their influence must be discounted," in "Another Look at the Boss of Barsoom," BB ns #30, Spr., 1997, comes most quickly to mind) Richard A. Lupoff's ideas on the origins subject have been kept alive by a growing number of writers and fiction publicists. I have already mentioned a relevant article in the April, 1987 issue of Starlog. Among other pieces in the popular press, Lupoff also wrote a similar article, "For the Love of Mars!," for issue #33 (2003) of Outre, The World of Ultra Media. Yet another example of his influential views can be found this little quote from the Sept.-Oct., 1973 issue of the semi-professional periodical, Comixscene:

There has been a great deal of controversy about the literary antecedants of John Carter. Richard Lupoff, in his book, Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure, advances the most plausible theory. He feels that Burroughs was influenced by the two novels of an earlier author, Edwin Arnold, Lt. Gullivar Jones on Mars [sic] and Phra the Phoenician.

Gulliver Jones, as comic fans know, is a young American officer who, through mishap, finds himself on Mars -- a Mars inhabited by barbarian, red-skinned savages and a graceful, civilized, yellow race. Jones almost immediately falls in love with the princess of the yellow people and spends the remainder of the book keeping her, and himself, out of danger. 

Phra is a sailor, who, in a dream-like state, and out of his physical body [??], finds himself on many strange planets [sic]. The two tales combined aparently became the synthesis of the John Carter formula. Just as the adventures of John Carter are derivative of other sources, so too has the saga influenced the works of others. The primary example of Burroughs' work being utilized by different creators may be found in the Flash Gordon newspaper strip by Alex Raymond. 

Green Men at the Earth's Core -- in Adventure Comics #37

As for John Carter providing an influence upon later characters in the realm of comics, Flash Gordon probably does owe something of a debt to the Barsoom stories. However, the first artist to draw John Carter comics panels, (Jim Gary, in 1939) paid back the debt with interest, by making the Mars of The Funnies look very much like Alex Raymond's Mongo -- complete with giant mushrooms and numerous swipes from Raymond's well-drawn human figures. ERB's Martian tales were also a direct influence upon the Cotton Carver strip, in early issues of Adventure Comics, along with the later interplanetary hero circulated by the same comics publisher, Adam Strange. 

But what about the Comixscene remarks, saying that Edwin Arnold's Gulliver Jones was already known to "comic fans" in 1973? The answer to that question is neatly encapsulated in a quote from Roy Thomas, formerly a well-known wordsmith and editor at Marvel Comics:

The first time Marvel approached Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. [for character publication rights] was in 1970 or 1971... We were negotiating and had worked out a deal... then Mark Goodman, our publisher at that time, decided... not to accept the deal... 

... [then] both series [John Carter & Tarzan] came my way... I was instrumental in seeing that [Marv Wolfman] got the [Carter] series, and also in recommending Gil Kane as the artist. Gil and I had worked together, before, on the Gulliver of Mars series, which was somewhat along the John Carter theme. ("Foom Interview," FOOM 20, Marvel Comics, 1978.) 

In other words, after failing to secure an ERB Inc. contract to publish John Carter and Tarzan, in 1972, Marvel Comics tried out the royalities-free character of Gulliver Jones, having all sorts of Carter-like adventures on Mars. Once reader acceptance of such a character could be assessed, Marvel could re-weigh the possible financial gains to be had in publishing licensed selections from the Burroughs stories. Thomas also mentions that, around that same time, he became "interested in... Richard Lupoff's book..." Gulliver of Mars -- a transparent John Carter knock-off -- appeared in issues 16-21 (Mar. 1972 to Jan. 1973) of Marvel's showcase adventure comic, Creatures on the Loose.

One last comment about the Marvel Gulliver may be worth inserting here. It is from Camille E. Cazedessus, Jr.'s 1973 article, "Lords of the Jungle."

... even odder is Marvel's adaptation of a Barsoomian-style adventure called Warrior of Mars... [unable to secure ERB licensing] Marvel next bid for rights to the creations of Otis Adelbert Kline... But these rights too, eluded Marvel. 

But Roy Thomas... was enough of a Burroughs fan to be aware of the controversy that has raged for some years over ... the theory, quite unproved, that Burroughs' Martin series was inspired by an earlier novel, Lieut. Gullivar Jones... This book was originally published in 1905... so a comic adaptation of its contents, even though resembling John Carter of Mars, could hardly bring a successful charge of plagiarism! 

Result: Warrior of Mars, a rather interesting pseudo-Burroughsian feature. It only lasted a short time, however... (from Don Thompson and Dick Lupoff's The Comic-book Book, p. 288). 

So, as in the case of Jim Gary's reliance upon Flash Gordon in creating a comics John Carter, Marvel's subsequent reliance upon John Carter to create a comicbook Gulliver Jones, gets a cart or two in front of the original author's horse. Luckily little or nothing of cosmic importance was developed in the Roy Thomas version of the Gulliver Jones story, so I can leave further discussion of that subject to another day. Not so with Marv Wolfman's version of John Carter for Marvel; but, as my time is limited, that magazine's stories of the Barsoomian Tree of Life and similar topics must also wait for my continued attention elsewhere and elsewhen. 

Gullivar Jones meets John Carter

Dick Lupoff once said that John Carter was Phra the Phoenician. Then he said that Edgar Rice Burroughs was John Carter. Ergo: ERB is Phra! If that deduction sounds just a bit too ridiculous for any further contemplation, let me say that I also recall Brother Burger writing that the creator of Carter "owned a copy of Phra the Phoenician" and that the evidence for this fact "can be found in the Burroughs Memorial Collection in Louisville, [Kentucky]." The fictional Phra took measures to insure that he would never again awaken, while Gullivar Jones merely faded into obscurity. However, just when it appeared that Gully, like his literary cousin Phra, had taken his final breath in the realm of contemporary popular fiction, he was resurrected -- for what may yet prove to be a true immortality. 

In March of 1999, Alan Moore's new comic-book (graphic novel may be the more appropriate term) appeared, under the title of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," with illustrations by Kevin O'Neill. The first six issues of this remarkable magazine constituted a mini-series featuring a cast of copyright-lapsed Victorian characters, (Haggard's Allan Quatermain, Stoker's Mina Harker, and Verne's Captain Nemo, along with Wells' Invisible Man, and Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll) all assembled together to protect the safety and honor of the British Empire. 

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is something like a step-grandchild of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is one of the more recent manifestations of the literary "cross-over" device, in which popular fictional characters from one series of stories (say, Tarzan of the Apes) join those of another series (say, the Earth's Core characters) to produce an enhanced fantasy with several fictional notables joined in adventuresome cooperation (or in adventuresome conflict, such as in the 1940s Human Torch and Submariner comic-book battles). Copying from the Sherlock Holmes fans' efforts at keeping their hero alive in various pastiche situations, the Burroughs bunch have tried this same device through the years, in such productions as "Tarzan on Mars" and in the Philip Jose Farmer "Wold Newton" tales (including such 1970s productions as his A Feast Unknown, Lord of the Trees, and Tarzan Alive).

Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, besides its combination of diverse primary characters, has also featured numerous, well-known fictional guest stars, drawn from the pages of different Victorian era novels. And, as by now might be expected, among these cameo appearances have been depictions of Gullivar Jones, Barsoomian Tharks, and even the greatest swordsman of two worlds, Captain John Carter himself. No wonder this, in the brave new world where copyright-expired texts of the Warlord of Mars' exploits are up for grabs and distributed freely around the world via the internet. The popularity of these sorts of license-free "famous character-fortified" graphic novels has inevitably led to the creation of various role-playing games for their fans. With the recent appearance of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen motion picture, (starring Sean Connery as Alan Quatermain) it appears predictable that the phenomenon will continue to expand, mutate, and live on in various unanticipatable forms, whereby fictional characters like Gullivar Jones and John Carter will become stock personas, available for our vicarious thrills in innumerable future virtual reality plots. 

LOEG II:1 with Gullivar Jones, etc.

Gullivar Jones and John Carter, 
as drawn by Kevin O'Neil.
This is a panel from LOEG vol 2 #1,
the cover is depicted to the left

Just as the LOEG was wrapping up its first acts of derring-do, on the last page of issue #6 in the initial volume, H. G. Wells' Martian spaceships are seen approaching this planet --- "No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's..." etc., etc. Of course, the second six-issue miniseries of LOEG has its lead heroes saving humankind from the War of the Worlds monsters. A goodly portion of the first episode is set on Mars -- which turns out to be ERB's Barsoom, supplemented with story elements taken from the works of Edwin L. Arnold, C. S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock, etc. 

The reader soon learns that the octopi monsters threatening the earth are not true Barsoomians, but intergalactic imperialists who have already invaded Mars. Although much of the characters' conversations are presented in Barsoomian "hieroglyphics," the reader can decypher some of that text by holding the pages of LOEG II:1 up to a mirror. When Gullivar meets with John Carter, their interchange is recorded in English, which makes it fairly easy to follow the story. The action progresses on Barsoom, with Gullivar and Carter leading the good guys in fights with the Wellsian octopi. Near the end of LOEG II:1 the League members make their appearance, with plans to thwart the monsters' invasion of Jasoom. The remainder of this illustrated account may be had in the newly-issued, 228 page hardcover reprint of the entire Vol. II series, available from America's Best Comics. 

Part Eight: 

Walking in the Garden of the Infinite

I am not the first observer to conclude that Edgar Rice Burroughs was preoccupied with thoughts about longevity, death and immortality. That perhaps Carter's awakening on Mars is symbolic of a type of afterlife. And, in that context, I have oftimes wondered just what to make of the sentiments expressed in following passage, as written by ERB for his story, The Chessmen of Mars:

Doubtless in our own subjective minds lie many of the impressions and experiences of our forebears. These may impinge upon our consciousness in dreams only, or in vague, haunting suggestions that we have before experienced some transient phase of our present existence. Ah, if we had but the power to recall them! Before us would unfold the forgotten story of the lost eons that have preceded us. We might even walk with God in the garden of His stars while man was still but a budding idea within His mind. 

There's an old Moody Blues song that has also left its impression with me. Part of the lyrics go something like this: "Some try to tell me thoughts they cannot defend; just what you want to be, you will be in the end." What was it that Edgar Rice Burroughs wanted to be? According to Richard A. Lupoff, at an early stage in ERB's life, he wanted to be John Carter of Mars. 

If Theosophy had ever been able to cut itself loose from such absurdities as its phoney cosmic evolution tenets, and its notions of elevated souls guiding human events by way of psychic energy projected from the Himalayas, the new religion might have absorbed enough genuine Eastern thought to have said something similar to what the Moody Blues lyrics have to say -- that at the demise of a dreamweaver (like Mr. Burroughs) he or she becomes the dream. And from thence, might "even walk with God in the garden of His stars." 

Immortality: the Final Frontier

My mind "reals" at the possible scenarios of what may yet lie in store -- (are you taking notes here, Danton Burroughs?) -- in the way of future role-playing games and virtual reality experiences. Today we have the beginnings in a mass-marketed John Carter game and an internet-based role-playing adventure, "The League of Extraordinary Americans," featuring Lieut. Gullivar Jones, the characters of Mark Twain, and other literary "immortals." What will another ten or twenty years bring? I can almost envision a game in which the player becomes H. Rider Haggard, or Edgar Rice Burroughs, or Philip Jose Farmer, creating and developing fictional heroes and heroines for numerous sub-stories in his (or her) own virtual Grand Adventure. As SciFi author Frank Herbert might have put it, "...plots within plots..." 

Edgar Rice Burroughs may yet find immortality. 

Some elevated Eastern philosophies teach that the karmic wheel, reincarnation, the afterlife, etc. are all just intermediate steps along the spiritual pathway -- from ignorance to enlightenment. The ultimate realization is something far more complex (and indescribably more simple!) than these primitive theological artifices. Given such a mind-bending view of things, "being what you want to be" is not the end -- it is just one more experience en route to discovering what you really are -- already are. Whether it's Alice down the Rabbit Hole, or transcending one's ego in Deer Park, it is all the same -- in The End.

"From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have."
  -- The Bard of Avon 

"I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments,
prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality
you and I may share, my Lolita."
  -- Vladimir Nabokov 

"I yet live!"   -- John Carter

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1: John Carter: 
Sword of Theosophy Revisited
2. Lupoff of Mars
3. ERB: Search for Ultimate Answers

Issue 1109

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