EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS'Sometimes an author's style has identifiable characteristics that proclaim his identity as powerfully as a byline.
By Patrick Dearen
Such is the case with Edgar Rice Burroughs. From 1911 when he began Tarzan of the Apes to 1944 when he crafted his last novel, Tarzan and “the Foreign Legion”, his style became simpler but retained a definitive fingerprint: his method of attributing dialogue.
When an attribution set up a subsequent sentence part – perhaps an infinitive phrase, direct object, or prepositional phrase – necessity generally demanded that ERB employ a noun-verb construction such as “Tarzan hastened to explain” (Return of Tarzan), “Tarzan assured him” (Tarzan the Untamed), or "Tarzan said to Jerry" (Foreign Legion). Pronouns, meanwhile, always required a “he said” format rather than “said he.” But in their most basic form, ERB's attributions with nouns almost invariably followed a verb-first pattern – i.e., “said speaker” instead of “speaker said” – as Patrick Adkins pointed in “Means of Authenticating ERB” (ERB-Dom 29, December 1969).
Just how addicted to this inverted verb-noun system was ERB? The search feature of today’s ebook readers allows for much easier analysis than ever before, particularly if we focus on the word “said,” the most common verb of attribution. In the entire Tarzan series (excluding "Tarzan and the Jungle Murders"), there are only five instances of simple attribution in which ERB places “said” after the noun. Four of these are in one novel alone: Tarzan and the City of Gold. The fifth is in Foreign Legion.
That’s five out of thousands. In fact, “said” occurs more than 7,000 times in the Tarzan series, with a large majority of those in attributions.
What are we to make of these anomalies? The one-time usage in Foreign Legion could be due to inadvertent transposition or stylistic experimentation on ERB’s part. Indeed, the novel’s reading grade level of 7.1 is unparalleled in the Tarzan series, which otherwise ranges from 9.0 to 16.4 (Dearen, “The Reading Level of the Tarzan Novels,” http://www.erbzine.com/mag0/0012.html). Of interest also are several atypical cases of ERB placing an attribution at the beginning of a sentence in Foreign Legion, such as:
Finally he said, “I didn’t know you were married.”
But the fact that four of the five “speaker said” variants occur in the same book, Tarzan and the City of Gold, cannot easily be dismissed. Furthermore, this novel also includes a sprinkling of other atypical attributions: “Gemnon explained” (twice), “Valthor admitted,” “Nemone explained,” and “Tarzan replied.” In the full series (again excluding “Jungle Murders”), ERB used “Tarzan replied” in simple attribution only two other times, once each in Return of Tarzan and Tarzan and the Ant Men.
The answer to the stylistic mystery of City of Gold probably lies in ERB’s employment of freelance editor Adele Bischoff in 1931 as he readied the first books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. for publication. Irwin Porges, in Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1st edition, 455-456, 758), presumes that this high school English teacher assisted with Tarzan the Invincible, and expressly states that she edited “The Dancing Girl of the Leper King” (Jungle Girl) and Tarzan and the Leopard Men. Although Bischoff may have corrected galley proofs, she also addressed the actual manuscript for Leopard Men. ERB, in a letter to Bischoff, complimented her “painstaking and intelligent editing.”
Porges’ final reference to this editor-English teacher is in regard to ERB’s submission to Bischoff of three chapters of Leopard Men on October 2, 1931. Although Porges provides no documentation of further contact between the two, the fact that ERB began writing City of Gold just 50 days later on November 21 (completing it January 7, 1932) is powerful circumstantial evidence that Bischoff likely is responsible for the abnormalities in the latter novel.
This does not explain, however, why Leopard Men would have no such deviations from ERB’s standard “said speaker” practice, so a level of mystery remains.
ERB’s overwhelming preference for the verb-noun construction is useful in assessing ERB’s degree of authorship for “Tarzan and the Jungle Murders,” which first appeared in the June 1940 issue of Thrilling Adventures. Porges documents that an editor for Thrilling Adventures extensively revised “Jungle Murders.” (ERB: Man Who Created Tarzan, 653) The novelette’s inclusion in the 1965 Canaveral Press anthology Tarzan and the Castaways raises the question of which version Canaveral editor Richard A. Lupoff used.
In the year of Castaway' publication, Lupoff addressed the issue for all of Canaveral’s ERB editions.“In all cases of varying text . . . , the manuscript version rather than the magazine version was used,” he wrote. (Lupoff, Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure, 1st edition, 263)Nevertheless, an attribution study of the Canaveral Press “Jungle Murders” indicates otherwise, as it contains 10 instances of the anomalous “speaker said” construction and more than a dozen cases of other noun-verb deviations. Even after three-quarters of a century, ERB’s stylistic fingerprint continues to speak loudly.
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