"Yeah, we’re playing those mind games forever,
Projecting our images in space and in time."
–John Lennon, "Mind Games."
READING AS ADDICTION
“addiction: the quality or condition of being addicted...compulsive
physiological need for a habit-forming substance.”
American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language, 3d Ed., 1992.
“addict: to devote or give (oneself) habitually
or compulsively.” (Id.)
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
My name is Woodrow and I am a reading addict. If I am
into a book or a narrative that I find compelling, the world outside, to
wit, the real world, only substitutes as existence.
Since the beginning of February 2011 till today, which
is February 3, 2012, the date at which I write this paragraph, I have been
on an excessive reading binge. I have addictively read three massive fictional
epics: one completed in a perfect place by the death of the author; one
incomplete after 16 years and in dire peril of never being finished; and
one brilliantly completed in ten years. Perhaps Chris Barsanti’s review
of George R.R. Martin’s, A Dance with Dragons, will suffice to sum
up what I’m getting at:
"Like most series of this kind – Novik’s tales
of dragon squadrons battling over the English Channel, the twenty-odd Aubrey-Maturin
adventures, or one of Edgar Rice Burroughs's volumes in the nearly interminable
John Carter of Mars serial – one devours it ravenously, a few days or a
week, tops, and then the wondering begins anew: what about the next book?
And do I have time for it?" – Chris Barsanti, “The Barnes and Noble
The three epics I just finished were the twenty books of
the Aubrey-Maturin sea adventure classics (completed by the author’s demise
at a perfect place), G.R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” (5 volumes,
not completed), and the 7 books of the completed Harry Potter series by
J.K. Rowling, which I cannot rave enough about. All three of these series
bear the indelible mark of ERB’s influence on English literature. English
professor’s be damned! I consider adventure and fantasy as literature.
This last year was in essence a reading binge the likes
of which I have not experienced since the spring and summer of 1973, in
which I spent 5 weeks in the Fort Lewis, Washington, stockade, and 9 weeks
at the Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for
being AWOL for over three years – or, what I like to call, my Canadian
Exile Period. During these 14 long, long, weeks of incarceration, I read
42 books. It brought to memory the first time I binged out reading a book.
My first time was in Mrs. Allard’s fifth grade class at
Wolter’s Elementary in Fresno, California. Mrs. Allard concentrated on
making sure that John and I got the best of our education, picking out
books for us to read. John was a gifted artist’s son (his mother had worked
for Disney on Fantasia) and he and I competed in an unspoken talent contest
for teacher’s pet in various projects.
I desperately wanted to read since I was three years old.
I desired most of all to read the comics page in the Sunday newspaper.
I used to stare at the cartoon panels and try to figure out what was going
on. Both of my parents were avid readers – their mutual love of William
Saroyan and John Steinbeck fueled their initial romance – but my mother
was very selfish with her time and didn’t have it in her agenda to teach
me to read. Neither did I have Tarzan’s gift of teaching myself to read.
I had to suffer through the tedious school method, which
at least emphasized phonics – “See Jane and Spot run down the road” – and
by the time I was six I could master some of the funnies on Sunday. I was
always begging my mother to buy me books so she finally broke down and
bought me my first book when I was seven years old, a Grossett and Dunlap
juvenile history of Kit Carson, which I struggled through, day after day,
chapter by chapter, longing for the next illustration. At least Kit Carson
was fun to read about.
However, next to the ever present temptation of television,
I found reading nonfiction to be a chore. I got no help from my mother.
She refused to buy me fiction. And when I asked her what a word meant,
she told me to look it up in the dictionary; after all, that’s what they
And then two things happened simultaneously to change
that. The first was a book Mrs. Allard gave me to read. It was a science
fiction story about a boy and his scientist neighbor who had built a space
ship which took them on an adventure into outer space. I started to read
it the moment I got home, put it down for a few moments during dinner,
and finally finished it before it was time to go to bed. My first marathon
reading session, and I was hooked for life.
The next was discovering John’s bookshelf in his bedroom.
One day in 1957 we walked home from Wolters to the University Portals,
a residential community close to Fresno State College, where he lived,
a couple of miles from my house. That’s when I had my first reading epiphany.
John had a complete hardback collection of every Tarzan novel. Something
triggered in my subconscious – like the first time I saw the Great Pyramid,
or Stonehenge, or the statues on Easter Island.
I worked on John for a couple of hours, trying to get
him to lend me a copy, but he refused me every time. They were just too
valuable in his eyes. He had an almost religious awe of them. I believe
he thought I would like them as much as he did and thus would try to steal
them from him. They were his “precious.”
I got sidetracked from my mission when some local TV channel
aired the movie, Invaders from Mars, and John and I succumbed to
Martian hypnotism, sitting down, glued before the flickering tube. I totally
forgot what time it was and no longer had time to walk home before dinner.
My mother had to come and pick me up. Of course she was furious and banned
me from ever walking over to John’s house again. That was as close as I
came to realizing the promise of my first ERB epiphany.
My mother told me not to even think about it when I asked
her to buy me a Tarzan novel. In her eyes – I blame her mother, who made
my uncle dress up as a girl before he was of school age – ERB was a scandalous
pulp fiction writer who wrote “adult” fiction. I was much too young to
read that kind of stuff. She held this opinion even in light of the fact
that ERB died in 1950, at a time before censorship would allow the word
“fuck” to appear in print.
Anyway, there were times I was reacquainted with binge
reading as the years went by. When I was in the seventh grade, Wolter’s
made available a book buying club called Scholastics. I was able to buy
fiction for the first time through the mail. I bought and read books by
Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and especially, Andre Norton (I loved the telepathy).
I couldn’t get enough. My mother finally broke down and got me a library
card and I finally had access to practically everything by the time I was
13. Everything except ERB.
This was 1960, just prior to the ERB publishing revival.
I kept looking for Tarzan, but was always frustrated. By 1962 I had given
up the quest, and I became infatuated with such authors as Ian Fleming,
Robert Heinlein, and Playboy magazine. My mother was a Victorian prude
and hated Hugh Hefner till the day she died. She said that the day I took
down my picture of Jesus from the wall and replaced it with the Playmate
of the Month, was the day she lost me to the Devil. Hehehehehehe.
By the time I escaped from Toronto in the summer of 1970
during my Canadian Exile Period (certain American exile groups were associating
with the communist French FLQ out of Quebec), David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust
was gaining speed, a musical tie-in (“Spiders from Mars,” “Major Tom”)
to the international surge in science fiction popularity. Time magazine
came out with a list of the best science fiction novels of all time and
I set about finding and reading them. In the fall of 1973, after getting
out of prison and entering my first of three final semesters at Fresno
State, I went to the book store and bought and read the complete John Carter
series. I still have them today.
After reading mostly modern science fiction, I found John
Carter to be a little out of date, although the imaginative world of the
mythos was rich. And after reading so many old legal opinions, I found
ERB’s style slow to my reading eye. I enjoyed the cliffhanger style, but
the almost rape scenes and the strained high sexual morality annoyed me,
forgetting about the censorship that guided pulp fiction in its early years.
It wasn’t until I read Tarzan 13 years later that I finally understood
ERB's genius. Rereading John Carter with this new understanding made all
the difference in the world.
I saw the John Carter IMAX preview on Christmas Eve with
my oldest daughter and her boyfriend while waiting for the new Tom Cruise
"Misson Impossible" movie. The visual images linked to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”
were breathtaking. And even though no one was naked, I got the distinct
impression that this movie will not disappoint true fans. I can’t wait
to see it. It is obvious to me that the director has the authentic ERB
John Carter understanding.
Meanwhile, back to our narrative. Over the years, I managed
reading an average of 30 books a year, both fiction and nonfiction. I was
reading a book a week before I entered law school in 1985. (By the way,
if you were wondering how I managed to enter law school with a criminal
record, President Ford gave me a full, unconditional Presidential pardon
in 1976, just like the one Nixon got.) During law school, reading became
my occupation. After a full day reading briefs and opinions and summaries
of the law, I found cable TV as a soothing alternative to my reading addiction.
Thank God for the movie channels, and also for the History Channel.
And then came the summer after my first year, the summer
of 1986, the year I discovered the true Tarzan. I was bored and thinking
about running for City Council with a close study mate, who was the son
of the mayor of Clovis, an adjacent city. I went next door one very hot
day to see my neighbor, Bob, a Vietnam vet, to ask him his opinion of a
flyer I was putting together. To my surprise, he was reading a Tarzan novel.
I told him I really liked the Tarzan movies and he told
me that the movie Tarzan was the stupid Tarzan. The real Tarzan taught
himself how to read English before he could speak it. I told him that most
modern critics thought ERB wrote fiction for juveniles and he laughed,
stating that there were at least a couple of rape scenes in every book.
I went to the used book store in the Tower District and bought the first
7 books, plus the 13th, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, and went through
the first seven before school started in the Fall. Over the years since
then, I would reread all of my ERB books, which included the full Pellucidar
series, the Barsoomian Mythos, and the above mentioned Tarzan novels.
I became fascinated with ERB and read everything I could
on his life. I discovered ERBzine in 2008, and encouraged by Bill Hillman,
I began navigating its labryinth of sites. I came across a series of articles
that infuriated me, for they suggested that the people in the Barsoomian
Mythos were not really naked. I wrote a tedious argument in favor of nudity
(“Nakedness on Mars”; ERBzine
#3177) and Bill posted it on his website in June 2010.
That July I was rereading the first three books and I
emailed Bill about whether anyone had ever visually depicted the Temple
of the Sun in the Palace of Issus. He didn’t know of any and asked me to
give it a try. I told him I had no artistic talent but I thought I could
do a good job describing it, in case in any artists wanted to tackle it.
I did just that (ERBzine
#3302), and it evolved into this series, which has proved to be a grand
Enough said about me. I want to give a brief opinion of
the three epics I finished in the past year. Like I said, I began the Aubrey/Maturin
series in February 2011 and spent most of the summer with lots of free
time, taking a refreshing economy cruise on the Russian Riviera, making
all the appropriate cheap port calls – Port Popov, Gilbey’s, Gordon’s –
you know, the good water ports from Eastern limestone continental foundations.
By the end of the summer, I was over halfway through the brilliant Patrick
O’Brian sea adventures of Lucky Jack Aubrey, knowing enough landlubber
knowledge about what sails were being mentioned, and their stays and so
forth, to follow the narrative at a halfway intelligent level.
This is a rich imaginative readers’ world that you have
to experience for yourself – if you’re not absolutely addicted by Desolation
Island, give it up. But if you are fortunate enough to get hooked, look
forward to amazing sea battles in 100 foot waves, a crew of lesbian Malaysian
cannibals that rescue our heroes (from the frying pan into the fire), and
otherwise seemingly unbelievable adventures, that are just as unbelievably
based on the logs of actual fighting ships during the Napoleonic Age. In
the last few novels it seemed that the War of 1812 was going on much longer
than the real war did, but after all, this is from a British perspective.
Patrick O’Brian, like ERB, was a master of the cliffhanger and the absurd
with a highly intellectual literary style. It has just as much Darwin as
adventure. I will read this series again.
I have one complaint. Many of the locations are named
after 18th Century designations and are hard to impossible to find on modern
maps or globes. I had an atlas and a globe for reference but a readers’
companion containing sea charts from that time, as well as translations
for the foreign languages in the novels would have been immensely valuable
to an informed reader.
As for Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire,” well, it is like
the difference to being addicted on the one hand to marijuana and on the
other to heroin. Martin’s epic is a weird wizard’s world of dark magic,
where every character who has good tendencies gets punished and every evil
character has his or her day. I was so addicted to the last book, A
Dance with Dragons, that while visiting my youngest daughter in Las
Vegas, I stayed in my hotel room all day until I finished and ended up
being an hour late for our reserved dinner at the Mirage before seeing
the incredible Cirque du Soleil floor show, “The Beatles,” which had such
a wonderful Frenchness to it as well as brilliant acrobatics to a soundtrack
that should be the envy of any Beatles fan.
Anyway, it was no mean feat to read A Dance with Dragons.
Not only is the novel over a thousand pages, the hardbound book itself
is physically massive. It was hard to read because of its sheer size. One
of the pleasures of addictive reading is the tactile feel of the book you
hold in your hand. For example, I read all but the last volume of the Patrick
O’Brian saga in trade paperback editions, and the feel of these books in
my hands as I read was most pleasurable.
The first four novels in Martin’s series were in paperback,
and although bulky and a little more awkward than normal, much more pleasurable
than the massive hardback. It was a quest in itself to fight my way through
this book on my Red Rock Casino hotel bed (the only place where there was
adequate reading light), always having to shift my hold. I almost envied
people with electronic tablets. Almost. After all, the tactile feel of
a Kindle is one of those things that must give an alien feel to the physicality
of the read. It all goes to reinforce the idea that reading is hard work.
Martin is getting as old as me and his prospects of writing
two more thousand-page books to complete this epic are not improving with
time. But after being flayed alive as an addicted reader – like his character
Theon in the first five books – I don’t think I even care if he finishes
the series. Everyone I liked is either dead, maimed, or a zombie. It almost
seems obvious how his plots will work out after some five thousand pages:
don’t look for anything good to happen to anyone.
In my opinion, it was an amazing insight for Barsanti
in his Barnes and Noble review to link Martin’s epic to that of Aubrey/Maturin
and John Carter. Time magazine called Martin an American Tolkien, but this
is wrong until Martin finishes his epic. Lannister’s may always pay their
debts, but I am not sure if Martin is going to come through for his whipped
readers. In my opinion, in his dark character assassinations, Martin as
an author stands alone, and is so very unlike Tolkien in the love he had
for his characters. I find Rowling to be a much closer analogy to Tolkien,
although she is British. Perhaps the true American Tolkien is ERB after
all. Or, even more appropriately, Tolkien is the British ERB.
Finally, to make one thing crystal clear. Reading is not
only addiction, it is Magick. It is a telepathic experience between the
author and the reader. You can see the truth in this by chatting with someone
online in real time. By communicating by words on the screen, one engages
in a mental act of writing and reading which creates a telepathic link.
After a few minutes online you develop a rich repartee with the other person
that is analagous to the relationship long time couples have with each
other, where they complete each other’s sentences.
I used to read Tarot cards in the early AOL chat rooms
in the mid-90's and because of this psychic link caused by the medium,
my readings were uncannily accurate. I remember a man asking me if he should
hold on to his Motorola stock before cell phones really took off. I had
no idea what he should do but the cards told him in no uncertain terms
to hold on to the stock. I wish I had charged for that reading.
Magick has always been associated with writing and reading.
In Old English “spell” meant a story or narrative, or words formed together
to create blesses or curses. There were good spells (gospel) and bad spells
(black magick). There is little good magick in Martin’s “Song of Ice and
Fire.” There is tons of it in the Harry Potter series.
Anyway, no one knows all this better than J.K. Rowling.
Her Harry Potter books were not only a joy to read, but they contained
true Magick. After reading Martin, Rowling was a God’s send. I was slow
getting into this series. After all, I didn’t get into Harry Potter when
the books were first popular, even though they were published by my old
reading friend, Scholastics.
I had no intention of waiting in line to buy a book, competing
with millions of kids. I would wait and see the movies instead. While this
worked fine for the first few films, I found myself totally at a lost when
I saw the final film with my youngest daughter in IMAX 3-D when it came
out last year.
My oldest daughter had bought me the Martin and Rowling
series as gifts. It seems that last summer, everyone who was hip in Portland,
Oregon, was reading Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire.” It took me a while
to catch up, and because my daughter didn’t want the series to come to
an end for her and have to wait another five years before the next installment,
she read the last book very slowly. In fact, I finished before she did
and often when we talked on the phone about the books she would have to
call out, “Spoiler alert!” when I broached upon an unread passage.
Anyone who has read “The Red Wedding” knows how psychologically
delicate Martin’s readers can become after prolonged waterboarding. I don’t
know how she knew that I should read the Potter series after Martin, but
I am glad she did. Rowling was such balm after the dark master. It is nice
that addiction can still produce a good high. A real surprise for me was
finding out how much more the Cloak of Invisibility is used in the books
than in the movies. The cloak is used in ways that should be familiar to
any John Carter reader, since invisibility was always a favorite ERB topic.
Well, here we are again back in February 2012, looking
forward to the Mayan Apocalypse. Well, to be exact, I am looking forward
to the day after. In fact, I have two amusing, improbable countdowns to
look forward to in 2012. The above mentioned and what I call the Alien
In the summer of 1970, after escaping from Toronto, I
ended up in a hostel in Edmunton, Alberta, in the middle of August. The
hostel was a military barracks set up temporarily by the Canadian government
to meet the needs of its youth culture, who had, that summer, taken to
the highways in droves, a mass “Like a Rolling Stone” movement. On the
night in question, it was a full moon in tandem with a full shimmering
green light curtain show of the Northern Lights.
I was high on LSD and had to heed a call of nature. I
went into the men’s latrine and closed the stall door. As I sat on the
toilet, the stall door turned into a window, and on the other side, inside
what I surmised to be a space ship, two aliens, looking like the Star Child
at the end of 2001, were talking to each other face-to-face, every now
and then looking over their shoulders at me. I was frozen in fear, somehow
knowing that I was the subject of their conversation.
Suddenly, one of the aliens turned and walked to the window
and put his hands and face against the glass. In my head I heard him speak.
He said, “We’re coming to get you in February.” With that the window disappeared.
I was amused at the time, it was so ludicrous. But every year since then
I keep an open mind. My daughters decided it meant that I was going to
die in February, and perhaps that is a valid interpretation. The Februarys
with 29 days are the worst, for I know if the prophecy comes true, it will
be in the 24th hour on the 29th day.
As a practical example of how this affects my life, on
December 18, 2001, I was late for court in Coalinga and found myself behind
a pickup truck on McMullen Grade in the midst of San Joaquin Valley Tule
fog. Tule fog is notorious for being deceptive. In one moment you can have
enough visibility to chance a pass, and in the next a vast cloud comes
out of nowhere and swallows you up.
And that’s exactly what happened. As I was passing the
pickup a cloud swooped out of nowhere and engulfed my car. I couldn’t see
in front of my windshield. I thought, “Oh, God, if there’s a semi truck
in front of me now, I’m dead!” And there was.
I recall how the adrenaline kicked in and everything slowed
down in super slow motion. I made eye contact with the driver of the 18
wheeler and turned sharply to my right, thinking, better to hit the pickup
sideways that the semi head-on. Unfortunately the driver turned in the
same direction, now turning into the other lane. The driver of the pickup
must have had a heart attack. Immediately, I swerved to the left, but by
then so had the semi driver. Again, I swerved hard to the right, and to
this day, I still believe if I would have had new tires, I would have made
it out of the skid. But as it was, the road was slick and my tires were
bald, and the last thing I remember as my car skidded at a semi-sideways
angle into the second set of rear wheels on the semi’s cab, was that I
was going to be crushed under the wheels. Then there was impact, a loud
CRASH! and, I thought, death.
But it was only the air bag knocking me out. I had hit
the semi at such an angle at our combined speeds of approximately 100 miles
an hour, that I came to a complete stop in the road at the point of impact.
A week later, as my daughter drove me to Kerman so that I could recover
my personal stuff out of my totalled car, I told her how I thought I had
died. It made me seriously consider parallel universes. In one I had died,
while in this one I had survived. She said, “I don’t see why you are so
worried, Dad. You should have known you weren’t going to die. It isn’t
So, as long as I can finish the 16th Runner-Up by the
end of this month, there shouldn’t be any problem. “Mischief accomplished!”
Ghek and Rykor by Gino d'Achille
I was also able to finish Tarzan and the Golden Lion
at the end of last summer, the third book in what I call ERB's 1921 Lust
Trilogy. If you have read enough ERB novels of different genres, you will
know that there are certain years of creation that are more lustful than
others. In fact, they can be measured by what I call the “ERB Lust Level,”
based on a calculus of how many near rapes and references to the female
bosom and/or figure appear in one book or a series of books. Let’s just
say ERB’s Lust Level was at the most obvious highest in the year 1921,
or equally as high as the early days of success in 1913-1914. Those were
the lustful years of Thuvia and La of Opar, where Jane is nearly raped
by everyone in the jungle.
In fact, the first 1914 Lust Trilogy – The Beasts of
The Girl from Farris’s, and Thuvia, Maid of Mars
– declare ERB’s lust for women other than his wife. The lust may have been
over a woman or women in particular, or just a lustful longing that comes
with marital frustration.
After the Lust Trilogy of 1921, the Lust Level would wane
until it came back with a vengeance in 1927-1928, the time when ERB began
openly associating with Ashton and Florence Dearholt – when he wrote Tarzan
at the Earth’s Core with its Red Flower of Zoram, and A Fighting
Man of Mars, with its Cloak of Invisibility, bull dyke bodyguards and
scandalous royalty, not to mention the erotic horror of the Spider Kingdom
of Ghasta. (ERBzine #3312.)
But back to the year 1921. In this year ERB penned three
novels in a row that are at the height of his Lust Level: The Chessmen
The Girl from Hollywood: and Tarzan and the Golden
Chessmen opens with a totally naked Tara of Helium bathing
in her private pool, then receiving a full body massage from a naked female
slave. The Lust Trilogy ends with Jane returning at the end of Golden
Lion being nearly raped two times. Oh, what amazing stories are to
be found in this Lust Trilogy. This was ERB at the height of his profession.
Remember also that during this period his imagination was at its peak:
this is when he invented Jetan . . . and Ghek.
Originally, I was going to include Ghek in the “Weird
Creatures of Mars” article (ERBzine
once I got into that one I realized that Ghek deserved an article of his
own. If it hadn’t been for ERB’s brilliant creation of the Jetan game in
Manator, Ghek’s adventures would have owned The Chessmen of Mars.
In fact, Ghek would have made a great continuing character if ERB was into
that sort of thing. But he wasn’t. Look at Carthoris and Thuvia for example
. . . and even Tars Tarkas.
Ghek has the honor, only reserved for a select few of
ERB characters, from going from hideous monster to romantic hero. All it
took to perform this miracle was Tara of Helium. The more times I read
The Chessmen of Mars, the more times I see why many science fiction
critics consider it their favorite story in the Barsoomian Mythos. ERB
was at the height of his fame when he wrote this story. It was 1921 and
ERB was living a fantasy life of the wealthy landowner on Rancho Tarzana,
spending many hours with his family, horseback riding, swimming, the country
squire in all aspects.
ERB and Emma worried about the influence that Hollywood
would have on Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann), their eldest daughter during this
period. The fear of Hollywood corruption was apparently causing family
friction. The discerning reader can detect family tensions in the 1921
It is my opinion, based on gut instinct and what can be
discerned in the 1921 Lust Trilogy – in the end, of course, pure speculation
– that ERB had knowledge of and was in some kind of association with both
Ashton Dearholt and Florence Gilbert during this period, reflected in the
characters of Gahan of Gathol and Tara of Helium in Chessmen, Wilson
Crumb and Gaza deLure in Girl from Hollwood, and Esteban Miranda
and Flora in Tarzan and the Golden Lion. I mean, don’t get me wrong,
but I find Florence and Flora a little too close to be coincidental.
Officially, according to family history, ERB didn’t meet
Ashton and Flo until Valentine’s Day, 1927, but it is a fact that the Gilberts
grew close to the Burroughs during this period, likely because they were
all from Chicago. In fact, Flo had grown up in ERB’s childhood neighborhood,
a few blocks from the Old Major’s house. It seems like too much of a coincidence
that ERB could have written about characters so alike the real Ashton and
Florence six years before officially meeting them.
There is a scene in Girl from Hollywood where the
owner of the ranch (a disguised Rancho Tarzana) leases some of his property
to Wilson Crumb to make westerns. Scouting out appropriate film locations
was one of Ashton’s specialties, and it is hard to believe that he would
not have sought ERB out in the Early Twenties for just such a purpose.
Since Flo provided such a later scandal in the lives of
the Burroughs’ family, a previous rendezvous between the three of them
could have led to a justified family suppression of relevant information
during this period. Like I said, it is only gut instinct – which has not
proven to be always accurate in the past. I know this is the kind of stuff
of a Ross Macdonald detective novel – which are always such a great read
– but it makes one think.
Anyway, back to Ghek. . . .