Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 3615
Edgar Rice Burroughs: King of Dreams
by George T. McWhorter
Part I
Reprinted from Library Review 30 ~ May 1980
University of Louisville ~ Louisville, Kentucky
Part I | Part II | Part III | PDF Version

Editor's Preface

This issue of Library Review is devoted exclusively to Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) whose works represent the largest single "special collection" in the University of Louisville Library. In 1975, the year of the Burroughs Centennial, we mounted an exhibition which received extensive media publicity in Louisville and generated considerable local interest.

Since then the Burroughs Collection has grown to include nearly 6,000 volumes, the gift of the editor in memory of his mother, Nell Dismukes McWhorter.

A subjective analysis entitled: "Edgar Rice Burroughs: King of Dreams" is given in these pages, together with a description of the Burroughs Collection, its highlights, and a bibliographic overview of the Burroughs canon. Special thanks are due Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., Tarzana, California, for kind permission to reproduce numerous photographs which illustrate this issue.

The front cover portrait of Burroughs was taken in Chicago, 1916. Photographic work is courtesy of Professor Phil Owen, Instructional Communications Center.

Library Review, designed to acquaint our membership with one or more in-depth collections in the Rare Book Department, was founded in 1960 and is now in its twentieth vear of publication.

Subscription information and mailing are through the courtesy of Delinda Stephens Buie. Assistant Curator, Rare Books and Special Collections.

George T. McWhorter

Nell Dismukes McWhorter of Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee, taught her son to read at the age of five with one chapter of Burroughs per night, at bedtime.

This collection has been donated in her memory by her son, whose lifelong love for Burroughs (as well as for his enterprising parent) could not have found a memorial more fitting.

Vol. XXII ~ February, 1912. ~ No. 2
Under the Moons of Mars
by Norman Bean

Relative to Captain Carter's strange story a few words, concerning this remarkable personality, are not out of place.

At the time of his demise, John Carter was a man of uncertain age and vast experience honorable and abounding with true fellowship. He stood a good two inches over six feet, was broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, with the carriage of the trained fighting man.

His features were regular and clear-cut, his eyes steel gray, reflecting a strange and loyal character. He was a Southerner of the highest type.

He had re-enlsisted at the outbreak of the War, fought through the four years and had been honorably discharged. Then for more than a decade he was gone from the sight of his fellows.

When he returned he had changed, there was a kind of wistful longing and hopeless misery to his eyes, and he would sit for hours at night, staring up into the starlit heavens.

His death occurred upon a winter's night. He was discovered by the watchman of his little place on the Hudson, full length in the snow, his arms outstretched above his head toward the edge of the bluff.

Death had come to him upon the spot where curious villagers had so often, on other nights, seen him standing rigid -- his arms raised in supplication to the skies.

~ Editor's Note

I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. I appear today as I did  forty years and more ago, and yet I feel that I cannot go on living forever; that some day I shall die the real death from which there is no

I do not know why I should fear death, I who have died twice and am still alive; but yet I have the same horror of it as you who have never died, and it is because of this terror of death, I believe, that I am so convinced of my mortality.

Read the slightly revised text from the book release: HERE

The first published story of Edgar Rice Burroughs, under the pseudonym of Norman Bean. (To protest his sanity, Burroughs had submitted the manuscript under the alias of "Normal Bean," but the editor misinterpreted the authors intent and ruined his little joke by changing the spelling of the pseudonym. Somewhat miffed. Burroughs dropped the alias permanently.)
(Copyright © 1912 Frank A. Munsey Company)

Edgar Rice Burroughs: King of Dreams
by George T. McWhorter
Sir Isaac Newton acknowledged his debt to the past in the oft quoted line: "If I have seen further it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants." When Edgar Rice Burroughs ( 1875 -1950) was questioned concerning a similar indebtedness to Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells, he admitted that he hadn't read them! He was. himself, the initiator upon whose shoulders has stood a legion of American science fiction writers, many of whom have published enthusiastic statements of their debt to him.

Who was this man who captured the attention of the fiction-reading world with his very first novel and held it secure for nearly a hundred more? Gore Vidal writes of him as the "Archetypal American Dreamer" who had failed at everything he set his hand to until the age of thirty-six. This included being a drill instructor at a military academy in Michigan, a gold prospector in Oregon, a rancher in Idaho, a policeman in Salt Lake City, a salesman in Chicago, and the dabbler in countless get-rich-quick schemes which fizzled out as his and Emma's expanding family ushered in . . . an old familiar story.

Many of us are dreamers and escapists, but few are gifted story tellers in the tradition of a Scheherazade, a Hans Andersen, or an Edgar Rice Burroughs. The difference between us and them lies in a skillful blending of' the two worlds we know as "fantastic" and "real." It was as logical for Burroughs to use his knowledge of military science and tactics in describing a Martian army as it would be for a CPA to employ his skills in figuring out your income tax . . . for a fee! (Burroughs' fees resulted in a multi-million dollar estate which still thrives thirty vears after his death in Tarzana, California. Aside from Upton Sinclair, he was the only writer of his time to incorporate himself with a view to publishing his own books. Unlike Sinclair, he was brilliantly successful.)

It is probably safe to say that a child's mind conceives of the existential world in terms of black and white, rather than grey (the "greys" being reserved for experience and introspection). The Burroughs penchant for creating heroes without blemish and villains who arc totally execrable has provided continuing fodder for adverse criticism. Yet this same tendencv lies at the root of his lasting appeal as a writer for, and shaper of youthful morality. Even in our adult experience it is difficult

to conceive of anyone we greatly admire as having faults. Likewise, if anyone has grievously offended us it is difficult to think of him as having redeeming qualities. So the fantasy world created by Burroughs deals largely in black and white concepts of good and evil, easily perceived by youngsters yet infinitely embellished by imaginary situations in exotic locales. The total effect is that of having roots in the real world while we travel the unexplored realms of fantasy. Since all of us fantasize on occasion, the sanity of Burroughs" "Normal Bean" approach anchors us between the two worlds with a birdVeve view of the best of both.

The unexplored universe was his, and his unique fantasies (in harmonious partnership with his practical knowledge and experience) took him to the moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and beyond. His earthly locales covered time periods from the Stone Age to Greco-Roman times; from the Plantagenets to the plains of Western America; to the modernity of Chicago, Hollywood, Europe, and the Balkans. Lost civilizations in remote jungle fastnesses, hidden plateaus and extinct volcanos of Africa, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, and the Pacific are recurrent themes.

His series of seven novels at the Earth's core, with an inner sun hanging at perpetual zenith, is a marvel of invention. Lost tribes of  Paulists, Israelites. Crusaders, and Atlanteans come to life in his limitless vision. Reincarnation, suspended animation, elaborate machines, and warps in the skein of time transport his cavalcade of heroes to and from the present to an antediluvian past or a future seen only by himself.

Burroughs was a keen observer of human nature. As previously noted, he tended to create stereotypes, but in the final analysis they lend a pleasing credibility to his fast moving plots. They all behave as expected and the action zips along with new surprises in rapid succession. One can almost see the author chuckling to himself as he leaves his hero on the brink of disaster at a chapter's end. to pick up a different thread of his plot in the ensuing chapter!

It is a device guaranteed to hold one's attention until the denouement brings all the threads of his spellbinding tapestry together. With a dreamer's vision (which creates bliss out of torment) his stories end happily.

The world's first glimpse of Tarzan of the Apes
in its premiere publication:
All-Story, October, 1912. Cover Artist: Clinton Pettee.
(Copyright © 1912 Frank A. Munsey Company)


The familiar silhouette drawn by Fred Arting
for the first hardcopy edition
There were no other illustrations. 
(Copyright © 1914 A. C. McClurg & Co.)

Facsimile of Burroughs' manuscript with pen he used. 
(Note pseudonym)
(Copyright © 1975 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.)

His writings reveal as much of himself as did the writings of any author from Homer to Dostoyevsky. His cynicism is healthy, his optimism laudable, his humor catching. His die-hard detractors admire casting him in the role of an uncompromising sorehead who extols the virtues of instinctive animal behavior over the pitiable foibles of civilized man. With Burroughs it was the lack of predictability and purpose in human nature which rendered it a justifiable object of censure. Like Mencken he waged war on hypocrisy, tempered by his own idealistic formula for survival. Like Mencken he used humor and irony as lethal weapons in his armory of literary devices.

Some years ago a radio program entitled "Information Please" (moderated by Clifton Fadiman) presented a panel of literary experts which discussed great books. When W. H. Hudson's Green Mansions came under discussion, the gentlemen of the panel each praised "Rima" (the "bird-girl") as a character worthy of emulation.

Jan Struther (author of Mrs. Miniver and the only woman panelist present) was not asked her opinion until her colleagues had concluded their remarks. She delivered a death blow with her observation: "I'm always a bit skeptical of people who are kinder to animals than to human beings." Such a situation was never envisaged by Burroughs, nor was it a "consummation devoutly to be wished" as his critics would have us think.

Pretense, and only pretense, was what disturbed Burroughs about the human parade, and his principal character ("Tarzan") invariably reverted to the predictability of the jungle world in preference to the unpredictability of civilized men and women as a place in which he could thrive. When our professional battles bleed us, it is good, even necessary, to have a personal retreat where we can lick our wounds, be it a geographical location or a mental "Shangri-La."

The escapist world of Burroughs has given solace and retreat to approximately five generations of young people and shows no sign of diminution or harmful effect. The Burroughs brand of nostalgia keeps all these iienerations vounu in spirit. ("I still live!" echoes the indestructible Virginia transplant. John Carter of Mars.) A successful author recently informed me that he customarily reads one or two Burroughs novels every year in order to maintain his sanity.

At the Earth's Core, illustrated by St. John.
J. Allen St. John (1872-1957) was the artist for 33 first editions of Burroughs.
He taught at the Chicago Art Institute for over 20 years.
(Copyright © 1922 byEdgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.)

Edgar Rice Burroughs (age 37) relaxes in his study in 1912,
pondering his sudden success with his third novel: Tarzan of the Apes.
(Copyright © Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.)

Part I | Part II | Part III | PDF Version

BILL HILLMAN: Editor and Webmaster
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2011/2017 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.