Edgar Rice Burroughs
On The Road To Salvation
I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy - I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it --
Came out with a fortune last fall --
Yet somehow life's not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn't all.
Robert W. Service -- The Spell of the Yukon
Edgar Rice Burroughs lived through what I would consider the most exciting and romantic time in the history of the world. The old world was fading; the modern world was emerging. On every level the most exciting and dramatic changes were scintillating. Darwin, Freud and Einstein in Science; Wells, Kipling, Doyle, Haggard in literature; The steamship and railroad the automobile and airplane revolutionized travel. The telegraph, the telephone, the movies. All the far places of the world including the Arctic and Antarctic were brought within the pale of Western Civilization for all to see.
But, that's not all.
Man not only discovered and revealed the world but he discovered and revealed himself. Freud, Jung and James in the science of the mind. In physical culture astonishing strongmen like the Great Sandow and Louis Cyr amazed the world with feats of strength. Bernarr McFadden made a cult of physical culture. Through his discovery of Dynamic Tension the great Charles Atlas was declared the most perfectly developed man in 1922. He really was, too.
There was also another class of men come into their time for a fleeting moment less respectable than these who Robert Service dubbed the Legion of the Lost. He also called them The Men That Don't Fit In:
These were the men who chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Gold for them is the symbol of salvation. The philosopher's stone of redemption. If only they can make that lucky strike then, my god, well, their lives will shine.
They look with rue upon "the sturdy, quiet, plodding ones" who they know will win in life's race but they hope to turn reality on its ear without that kind of effort. To be consistent, persistent, to earn their gold is beyond them; they have been disappointed or injured in their early life so that they feel that the world owes them a living. They refuse to work toward a goal; even if they made it big they could find no satisfaction in that manner; they want it handed to them in the form of a golden lucky strike.
While they hope to make that strike they invent the legend of the Big Rock Candy Mountain with its pie in the sky and lemonade fountains so many you can't count 'em, free for the taking.
We want what we want and we want it now without work! I know where that's at and so did Edgar Rice Burroughs. He found his Lucky Strike in Tarzan.
When John the Bully fixated Burroughs on the road to Somewhere, Brown School, he sent him out on the road to Anywhere, the great wasteland of the soul. Burroughs felt akin to these wandering men as is evidenced throughout his work. The hobo poet H. H. Knibbs' "Out There Somewhere" formed a credo for Burroughs' life; it meshed with his psychic malaise. This is most apparent in his great Mucker Trilogy and Coda.
So from 1849 through the great gold strikes beginning in California progressing through South Africa, Australia and the Klondike this breed of men were sent scurrying around the world chasing salvation in the form of a pot of gold. This was their era which neither they nor the World will ever see its like again.
Stereoview of the prospectors at Chilkoot PassThe marvelous photo of the long seemingly endless line of prospectors climbing Chilkoot Pass through the snow drifts on the way to the gold fields of the Klondike, which Charlie Chaplin parodied in his movie The Gold Rush, tells it all. Who but insane dreamers would suffer such hardship for what all of them must have realized was an unobtainable goal. I mean, you know, get a job. Still, many of them did find some gold and a few came out with a fortune.
By 1910 it was all gone. Burroughs' brothers and himself pursued the pot of gold on the big Snake River in Idaho with slight success. Although unable to find a gold mine Burroughs was able to capitalize on the weird scenes in his own gold mind, to appropriate a phrase from Jim Morrison and the Doors.
Snake River Gold Mining
As one of the Legion of the Lost he had reached the end of his tether, an abject failure, in 1911. But then he dug deep in his own personal gold mind far up on the slopes of the Big Rock Candy Mountain to come up with nugget after nugget; the kind of wealth of which most men only dream. But as Service noted "somehow the gold wasn't all."
His malaise was in his tortured soul and not his empty pocket. His whole literary corpus was the attempt to resolve the malaise in his psyche created by John the Bully in 1883 or '84 when he sent ERB out on the road to Anywhere along which road he made and spent a fortune "as he stripped and ran with a brilliant fitful pace" but, "each fresh move was just a fresh mistake."
The middle portion of the Mucker Trilogy is built around Henry Herbert Knibbs' poem "Out There Somewhere" which was also the original and more appropriate name of the novel. The poem concerns the search for self in the Wasteland on the Road to Anywhere or Out There Somewhere:
Robert W. Service, who was a bank clerk in the Klondike, studied these men. He was one of the "steady, quiet plodding ones." He provided Burroughs the counterpoint to Knibbs with the longing to get away to Anywhere in his poem "The Tramps":
"...I had no intention of resigning myself to the dictates of an unkind and unjust Fate without a struggle. Furthermore, in the idiom of a famous American game, I had an ace in the hole."Burroughs' Mucker Trilogy is written on several levels or keys just like Homer and Dante or the Arthurian cycle from which Burroughs undoubtedly learned the method. For the literal meaning I refer you to his books; in this section I will deal with Burroughs' personal psychological key; in the later sections I will describe the historical and social keys of the novels.Burroughs -- The Swords of Mars
The Mucker Trilogy without Coda is, I believe, one of the great neglected gems of American literature. It is too late for it to find its rightful place but not too late to be discovered and appreciated by the discerning reader.
The Mucker -- a mucker was a Chicago term of the time used to describe a ne'er-do-well, a street person, a type of minor thug -- first of the trilogy was the tenth book of the Burroughs corpus which numbers some seventy odd, written from August to October in Burroughs' incredibly prolific year of 1913. As Burroughs explained in his 1930 novel, Tarzan The Invincible, he didn't mind "pirating" a political or religious idea so long as there was "a definite impression of fictionalizing." By that he meant disguising the true facts to the point where they were unrecognizable to the reader seeking only entertainment. He succeeds admirably well in all keys in this trilogy.
From his first novel written in 1911 to his last written in 1943 Burroughs is trying to work out his psychological dilemma. This central childhood fixation was given him on a street corner on the way to Brown School in Chicago in 1883 or '84 when he was eight or nine. The experience was both harrowing and terrifying, conditioning his mind for the rest of his life.
The incident was that which an "unkind and unjust Fate" with a capital F imposed upon him. Since you and I weren't there we may laugh and say it was a trivial incident but since I've walked many a mile in the same shoes I can tell you what's trivial to others is devastatingly fixating to one's own mind.
Burroughs was born in 1875. The Irish potato famine was very recent history in 1875. While the Irish had begun their immigration early in the century, by the '40s and '50s the invasion had become massive. The Irish population of New York or Chicago equaled that of Dublin.
In Chicago large numbers of Irish were crowded into the great slum of West Side Chicago. The stunning squalor of this huge slum belied the promise of this land of opportunity. The squalor was so breathtaking so other worldly, there was nothing like it anywhere else in this world, that Burroughs and many another author speak of the West Side with hushed awe.
The Irish came over with their antagonism to the English at fever point. Extending their antagonism to Americans of English descent, in cities and towns throughout America, Irish and English boys fought pitched battles every day.
In the early days before the Irish were able to control political graft the economic contrast between "Micks" and Anglos was very pronounced. Young Burroughs came from a very well-to-do family while his Irish antagonist was a young Irish hoodlum or mucker from the slums of the West Side.
Burroughs was eight or nine at the time while his antagonist was a much bigger young tough of twelve. On his way to prestigious Brown school one day this young tough blocked Burroughs way thoroughly intimidating and terrifying him. I leave it to your imagination to recreate the incident. Young Burroughs apparently broke and ran which left him a feeling of shame and cowardice for the rest of his life.
The incident had a three-fold effect on his psychology which absolutely controlled him until he was thirty-six, then haunted him with varying degrees of intensity the rest of his life.
He was fixated in his subconscious, which fixation controlled his conscious mind. At the same time the bully assumed the prominent position on his Animus or Ego, with the result of a castration complex in the Freudian sense which will be explained in the appropriate place. Perhaps more important and troubling was that the bully assumed the role of Burroughs' female Anima which he experienced as a male Fate in women's clothing. This realization found expression in his 1911 novel The Outlaw of Torn. The Mucker Trilogy and Coda would be devoted to resolving this dilemma.
In Freud's "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence," I paraphrase Ernest Jones from Vol. III of his biography, Freud maintained it was an error to regard the Ego as a unitary synthesis; (boy, this guy could really heave it around, synthesis of what?) he said that there were ways in which in early childhood, a splitting could take place in regard to the attitude toward reality.
I do not agree with Freud's conception of the Animus or Ego. The Ego or Animus is an anatomical fact. The "splitting" of it is a psychological detail. The Animus is the spermatic side of the spinal cord which passes out of the brain stem to form the free end of the left lobe of the brain while its lower end is attached to the right gonad. Quite literally the penis is the man. As an anatomical fact it cannot be damaged by traumatic events. What traumatic events do is alter the organization of the clothing of the free end of the Animus.
Prior to this incident there was no place on ERB's Animus for this bully. One assumes that the Animus was confidently clothed by the single reassuring image of young Burroughs' father. The incident created a place on the Animus or clothed the Animus with the image of the bully alongside that of the father which conflicted with the previous dominant image of the father.
This is what Freud means, or should have meant, by "the splitting" of the Ego.
Thus Burroughs was now conflicted with the identity of the clown on the one hand and the hero on the other, with the clown uppermost. The defeated Ego expresses its humiliation in the image of the clown. On the subconscious level Burroughs had been presented with a Challenge for which he had no adequate Response so he suppressed the trauma into his subconscious where he "forgot" it. Encysted in the subconscious it controlled his image of himself. Having failed in this crucial Challenge his Response was to assume the role of the perpetual failure.
He was now by an "unkind and unjust Fate" condemned to failure unless by struggling he could use his "ace in the hole" to free himself. His ace was a version of psychology which he apparently developed himself.
His problem in life now was to exorcise his fixation and remove the traumatized figure of John the Bully from his Animus while seeking an appropriate female figure for his Anima.
Burroughs has a very well developed vision of psychology which appears to have been formed completely independently of either Freud or Jung. His psychological notions were complete when he began writing, which was before Freud had been translated into English. I have been unable to trace the origins of Burroughs' ideas of psychology, as yet. He seemed to be aware of the notion of the Animus and the Anima since he describes it so well. He could have obtained an idea of it by a study of Greek Mythology with which he was well acquainted and from which I developed my own ideas which match those of Burroughs so well.
As Freud says, when such a trauma as Burroughs' occurs the victim identifies with the oppressor, admiring him and being solicitous of his welfare. Burroughs identifies this thug who fixated him only by the name of John. If he remembered his last name he doesn't reveal it. From that point on Burroughs wanted to grow up to be just as tough as this guy John. He was so fixated that John became his favorite name. He said that he even considered legally changing his name to John. His novels are liberally sprinkled with Johns, both heroes and villains, reflecting his love-hate relationship. His major alter egos are John Carter of Mars and John Clayton otherwise known as Tarzan.
Continued in Part 1b: ERBzine 1330
The Chessmen of Mars (e-Text Edition)
The Girl From Farris's (ERB C.H.A.S.E.R)
Marcia of the Doorstep (ERB C.H.A.S.E.R)
The Mucker (ERB C.H.A.S.E.R)
The Mucker (e-Text Edition)
The Oakdale Affair (ERB C.H.A.S.E.R.)
Outlaw of Torn (ERB C.H.A.S.E.R)
Outlaw of Torn (e-Text Edition)
The Oakdale Affair (ERB C.H.A.S.E.R)
The Oakdale Affair (e-Text Edition)
Tarzan the Invincible (ERB C.H.A.S.E.R.)
R. E. Prindle welcomes your comments
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