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Volume 1702

Books, Burroughs And Religion
R.E. Prindle
     One of the more difficult problems with Burroughs is how he got his education.  There is a fair amount of learning displayed in the corpus.  He displays a deep understanding of Greek mythology while being very well versed in Evolution, Politics, Religion and up on the sciences including Psychology.

     He never attended college, so he is what they call 'self-educated.'  His last year of schooling was the equivalent of the twelfth grade at the Michigan Military Academy.  While his grades always appear to have been good he nevertheless failed to pass the entrance exam for West Point.  While this was tragic from his point of view it can be said in his defence that of those taking the exam with him only about 10% did pass.  Either a difficult test or a particularly inept group of applicants.

     ERB's schooling began in Chicago's public school system.  He attended Brown School from K-6 or 1-6 if there wasn't any kindergarten at the time.  Brown was apparently Grade, Junior and Senior High School combined as his future wife Emma graduated from Brown.

     Ostensibly because of an epidemic, which however didn't affect Emma or even the rest of his class too much, his father moved him to, strangely, a girl's school run by a Mrs. K.S. Cooley.  She called her school Maplehurst School for Girls.  His attendance would have been a difficult thing for ERB to endure and it may have left a mark on his character.

     He was removed from Brown attending Maplehurst for the Seventh Grade in 1887.

     His remonstrations apparently had their effect on his father as in the Fall of 1888 he entered Harvard School, another private institution.  He was to remain there for two and half years, from the eighth through the tenth grades.  Some very formative years in the life of any boy.

     Harvard was a Latin school which is to say that it offered a liberal curriculum based on the Classical model.  These two and a half years must have been the most intellectually influential years of his life.

     If, as he claimed, he learned Latin before he had learned English, this is the place.  Erling Holtsmark's opinions must be based on these years.  He received an 83 in Latin so he must have been assiduous in his studies.  His study of Latin would not necessarily account for his adopting the Homeric Circle Structure in his novels so he must have studied Greek mythology in translation.  Latin was considered the norm while Greek was somewhat exotic so it may not even have been taught at Harvard.

     One would have to know how much translation from Latin he did and what works he translated.  Two and a half years in Junior High doesn't necessarily make one a Latin scholar.  Still, as he himself admits these were very influential years if not the most influential of his schooling.

     Just as he would have been getting settled in to this new school environment his father, claiming another epidemic, jerked him out of Harvard in mid-second semester in the tenth grade sometime after February to ship him off to the Sweetser-Burroughs Ranch in Idaho where he attended no school but had a heck of a good time.  Here he came into contact with the esotericist, Lew Sweetser.  Sweetser was very influential in the young boy's education

     Jerked back East by his father he was now sent to Andover, Massachusetts and the Phillips Academy.  All these changes were too unsettling for him.  He goofed off at Phillips, playing the clown.  His father was asked to withdraw him before the first semester was over.

     His father next sent him to what ERB described as a 'polite reform school', the Michigan Military Academy outstate close to Pontiac.  This place was within the sphere of influence of Detroit although Pontiac High itself would later belong to the outstate Saginaw Valley League.

     He graduated from the MMA in 1895.  Kind of a long period of schooling.  The MMA didn't offer an intellectually stimulating environment, although in 1995-96 ERB did serve as a Geology instructor.  Giving a new high school graduate a position as instructor may give some idea of the educational level at MMA.  Geology too is an area in which ERB continued a life time interest.

     This was the extent of ERB's schooling.  the key period would have been the two and a half years spent at Chicago's Harvard School.

     Schooling is only part of one's education.  A great deal of learning is done outside of school, especially for curious minds of the nature of Burroughs.  Certainly the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 made an indelible impression on his seventeen year old mind.  The Expo may have been the greatest ever held.  Exhibitors came from across the country and around the world.  The wealth of the past and the excitement of the emerging scientific age were presented almost in toto.  Nor was his contact of the one or two day variety.  ERB was present on site for the entire summer as demonstrator of an electric car for his father's battery factory.

     There is very little that escaped his notice.  Of importance was the appearance at the fair of the strongman, The Great Sandow.  This guy was undoubtedly the physical prototype for Tarzan.  Burroughs did object to the muscle bound appearance of the Strongman therefore giving Tarzan flowing muscles whatever those may be.  Intellectually there was nothing new that Burroughs couldn't have familiarized himself with, including varieties of psychology, religion and, well, really, whatever.  He carried the memories throughout his life.  For an extended account of the summer visit see Bill Hillmans account here on the ERBzine.

     Nearly all the writers and works we of our time consider classics were being written at the time by writers who were contemporaries or near contemporaries of Burroughs himself.  For instance Tennyson died when ERB was still in school.  He browsed among these writers copiously.  To a certain extent they are represented by what must be a fragment of ERB's library as presented here on ERBzine, certainly a great part of the collection must be missing.

     One can sort out the volumes by the decade in which they were purchased.  It is a fairly simple matter to cull out ERB's childhood books and then organize them by decade.  It seems as though the books that would have influenced him most before he came into money in 1913 are missing.  This would include writers we know he read and many we can only surmise from a careful reading of the corpus.

     The French writer who had a great influence on him, Eugene Sue, and his spectacular Mysteries Of Paris is in the library.  We know from the Mad King that he had read Hugo's Les Miserables.  There is evidence of Dumas, especially The Three Musketeers.  Jules Verne who had only a few titles of his voluminous output translated into English at the time is specifically mentioned by Burroughs in Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid although The Mysterious Island which influenced him most is missing from the Library.

     ERB disparages Dickens, as who wouldn't, while at the same time he had read some titles, as who hasn't?

     When it comes to writers like Haggard, Conan Doyle, E.W. Hornung, L. Frank Baum, London, Zane Grey, Poe, Mark Twain, Kipling and Wells ERB bubbles over with enthusiasm although he did claim to have never read anything of Wells.  Stuff and nonsense.  While The War Of The Worlds was not overly influential, The Time Machine was.  The First Men In The Moon, The Island Of Dr. Moreau and several of the short stories and as I suspect When The Sleeper Wakes, In The Days Of The Comet and The War In The Air.

     There is evidence he read Thackeray, Tarkington and a host of lesser lights.  ERB was quite simply an omnivorous reader; if a book or writer made a noise he heard about it and read the book or books. And not only of fiction; he fearlessly attacked the 'heaviest' of non-fiction.

     What he read during his school years can't be known for sure but most likely all the exciting stuff, from a full smorgasbord, that all the other kids were reading.  If he read Dime Novels about Nick Carter, the James Gang, Buffalo Bill and others I haven't been able to pick up any references in the corpus but then I've only read a couple Dime Novels myself.

     In 1923 ERB said he was 'rereading' Plutarch's Lives.  In rereading the work he said he was surprised to come across the Roman king, Numa.  He thought that he had invented the name Numa for his lions.  As he says, the name came to him from his subconscious.

     So we learn two things, neither surprising, that he did reread books from time to time and that his subconscious was active in forming his stories.  He didn't have to be consciously aware of what he was writing.  Plutarch's Lives is a very large work; my edition runs to five volumes.  As well Plutarch was one of the great mythological scholar of his or any time.  We don't know when ERB first read Plutarch but it had to be before he began writing Tarzan Of The Apes so let us say before 1910.  Possibly he read the work or many of the lives of  the noble Greeks and Romans while still at Harvard School.  Most likely he read the Lives before 1900 so that the whole mythology of Tarzan would have had time to form.  In addition to Heracles who Burroughs mentions repeatedly there is room for some modeling on Theseus with whom Plutarch opens his work.  In fact Theseus the Greek is compared with Romulus the Roman followed by the comparison of the two.  So, perhaps a key source for ERB's mythology might be Plutarch.

     There are a couple points to be found in the Theseus story that might provide clues to the formation of Tarzan in Burroughs mind while showing how the complex character of Tarzan evolved.

     In Plutarch's story of Theseus the infant is abandoned by his father in a distant land but one allied to Athens.  Before the father abandons the child he places his sandals and sword under a large rock with instructions that Theseus can claim them when he is able to move the rock.

     In other words when he is able to fill his father's shoes he will be able to use his father's sword.

     In much the same way Tarzan reclaims his father's knife which enables him to more than fill his father's shoes.  The shoes might be represented by the cabin.

     At the same time Theseus was a mighty man.  He entered Athens after reclaiming sword and sandals dressed in women's clothes.  Ridiculed by some workmen he picked up a bull and threw it over his shoulder.

     Once again, in much the same way, Tarzan and D'Arnot enter the outpost of civilization where Tarzan is ridiculed by the inhabitants.  Armed with nothing but his knife, rope and loincloth Tarzan goes out into the jungle to kill a lion.  He brings it back over his shoulder wowing his detractors.  These situations would seem to be clear references to Theseus.

     While Burroughs seems genuinely unable to recall the genesis of Tarzan it would seem that the bits and pieces came from many places including Plutarch's legends of Theseus that Burroughs admits having read before he wrote Tarzan and again in 1923.

     I suspect a very fruitful period for ERB were the years between 1896 and 1900.  His second sojourn in Idaho was probably key.  His ownership of the stationery store during tht period reflected his interests.  He advertised that he could obtain any magazine in at least the US and England.  He was also keen on selling the latest books; thus he could read virtually anything and put it back in stock.  One wonders how useful the citizens of frontier Pocatello found these services. At any rate ERB only stayed in business for half a year.

     He apparently also acquired and read a copy of Darwin's Origin Of Species at this time.  As an avid reader of magazines he would have read many novels, yes, even H.G. Wells, in their pages while storing up his subconscious with an invaluable store of snippets of information about this and that.

     Along the way he began to preoccupy his mind with thoughts and theories on the nature of time.  The nature of Time is a topic that has occupied many a mind over the Ages.  Wells' Time Machine and Einstein's fantasies became prominent over 1895 and 1905.  It was not necessary for Burroughs to have actually read Einstein as the 'scientist' would have been widely discussed in the periodicals.  We know that Einstein's ideas were familiar to him from Invincible when he mentions 'curved space.'

     After 1913, when he came into  money, whole new vistas opened to him as he could afford to buy as many books as he wanted.  As a tribute to his curiosity, one of the first books he bought, one he had apparently wanted for a long time was Edward Gibbons' Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.  Another mammoth work he fearlessly tackled, finishing it in 1915 as he noted.

     ERB was an omnivorous reader who read daily all his life.  His later reading would add to his fund of knowledge and develop his fields of interest but those interests had been formed much earlier in life even before he began writing.  His writing would always be a means to find ways to express his interests within the context of providing entertaining material for his readers.

     ERB so cleverly integrates his thoughts and conclusions on serious matters such as mythology, politics, religion and evolution that most readers aren't aware of how they're being educated , of what they are actually taking in.

     Thus Burroughs rears his great mythological hero and his twentieth century myth in preparation for the coming Age.

     In fact as happens and has happened throughout the long Ages of the world an old god was dying.  Just as Kronos had replaced his predecessor of the Geminian Age so Zeus replaced Kronos of the Taurian Age while the Christ of the Piscean Age replaced the Arien Zeus.  Just as Plutarch recorded the fable of the crying out of 'Geeat Pan is dead' so sometime in the nineteenth century it was proclaimed that God was dead.  Both cries were correct.

     Nothing would have been more natural for the emergence of the mind of man into Scientific Consciousness as it had slain the great phantasm of the previous Religious Consciousness.  As an archetype for the New Age Edgar Rice Burroughs put forward his candidate for the man-god go be the archetype of the emerging New Age.

     Mankind can no longer believe in the supernatural so the Burroughsian psychological projection is the total man- healthy in mind and body.  The archetype of the future has arrived.

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