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Volume 6606

About John Carter and the Giant of Mars
This article has been considerably revised and lengthened since its original publication in ERB-APA #140.
By Fredrik Ekman

 In 2018, I wrote an open letter to ERB, Inc. in connection with their Edgar Rice Burroughs Authorized Library, at that time still in the planning stages. One of the things I wrote about was the history and status of John Carter and the Giant of Mars. When I submitted the letter to the erb-list mailing list for comments from the members there, I was surprised to find that there is still a lot of misconceptions and factoids about that story. I will try to clear up some of them.

The story was first published in 1940 as a Better Little Book, credited to Edgar Rice Burroughs with every second page text and facing illustrations made by his son, John Coleman Burroughs. The art is uneven. The first dozen or so images are vivid and detailed, but later images appear rushed and some are pretty bad. The images of Dejah Thoris below, from pages 15 and 313 respectively, illustrate my point. Though I do not have the expertise to say which one is the better, it is very obvious which one took the most amount of work. The early picture has much more detail and hatching, and even a bit of dramatic background; it could well have been drawn after a photo, which was a technique often used by JCB. (See ERBzine #935 for some sample photos of Jane Ralston Burroughs modelling for Dejah Thoris.)

Also in 1940 (only a month after the BLB, according to Robert R. Barrett), a longer version with a different ending was published in Amazing Stories, also credited to ERB, and it is that version which was published in the book John Carter of Mars in 1964.

Almost from the start, the story was debated among fans, and many sought the answer to the riddle: Who actually wrote John Carter and the Giant of Mars? The first to openly question the story’s authorship seems to have been Jack Daley in a letter published in the March 1941 issue of Amazing Stories, to which editor Ray Palmer answered that Burroughs definitely did write the story.

John Coleman’s older brother Hulbert wrote in a letter that was published in The Gridley Wave #10 (June, 1963): “Although I cannot find the original manuscript, I have no reason to believe that my father did not write [John Carter and the Giant of Mars].”

Later in the same year, Bob Hyde visited Hulbert Burroughs in Tarzana, and he too asked who wrote the story. Hulbert asked his brother, and conveyed the following reply: “ERB collaborated to a small degree, but 90 percent of it was done by John [Coleman Burroughs].

In The Gridley Wave #14 (June, 1964), Vern Coriell had more information to offer. He had discovered that the BLB was partly identical to the magazine version, and was able to verify that JCB was paid for writing and illustrating the BLB. Hulbert wrote in a letter, regarding this: “[ERB] and JCB worked out a new ending to the Whitman story by adding 5,000 or 6,000 additional words ...”.

The letter from Hulbert to Vern Coriell was also cited in Irwin Porges’ ERB biography, though Porges still expressed some doubts: “If the two collaborated, as Hulbert suggested, this would have to have been done by correspondence – creating a number of difficulties. No record of this appears in Ed’s letters from Honolulu or in Jack’s well-preserved letters to his father.” (Porges, p. 662)

Hulbert’s information, as we shall see, was incorrect, but it is not to be wondered that Richard Lupoff, in his foreword to John Carter of Mars, says that ERB asked JCB “to collaborate with him in producing the story”. He goes even further, stating that ERB “lengthened it by some 5000 words and adapted it ‘upward’ for adult readership” for the later magazine publication. Lupoff’s foreword is the source of much of the confusion that still remains regarding the story.

The real facts have been known to fandom now for over twenty years. Robert Barrett and Danton Burroughs (JCB’s son) found a 1940 letter from JCB to ERB (missed by Porges, for some reason), relevant parts of which were published in The Gridley Wave #190. Years later, Barrett wrote a detailed account in The Burroughs Bulletin #72 (highly recommended reading!), where he also made reference to other sources, such as ERB, Inc.’s old bookkeeping records. Barrett makes a few things clear:

1. ERB had no part in writing the story, nor in editing it in any way. In all probability, he did not even discuss plot points with JCB. At the time, ERB had moved to Hawaii, but JCB remained in California.
2. JCB’s wife, Jane Ralston Burroughs, wrote the first third, that is between 5,000 and 7,000 words.
3. The magazine version was actually written first, then shortened by a net 5,000 words and a new ending was added for the Better Little Book. All by JCB.
4. JCB, together with ERB’s secretary Ralph Rothmund, submitted the longer version to Amazing Stories without ERB’s knowledge, though ERB and Rothmund seem to have discussed the possibility beforehand.
It appears that JCB was not entirely truthful when asked by fans about the story. The reason may have been that, in retrospect, he wanted to cover up that his father had received credit for a story he had no hand in. Or if you want to give him the benefit of the doubt, he may have just forgotten the details after several decades.

JCB said in his above-mentioned letter: “Whitman wanted 15,000 words. If anything I wrote under your name could sell to a magazine at this length then I could easily extend it on to 20,000 words and make a little more. So the poor story groaned on to 20,000 and then I went back and made another ending at 15,000 – thereby producing one story with two endings.

I take this to mean that JCB took the half-finished story and wrote the 20,000-word version first (Amazing), then completed the 15,000-word version (BLB). (It has been suggested that he first wrote 15,000 words, then lengthened it, and finally wrote another short version, but that seems like a very roundabout way of interpreting the letter.)

Internal evidence and story structure support Barrett’s account.

In the Amazing version, the chapters are all of uniform word count up until Chapter 9, which is one chaper after the stories branch. The remaining five chapters are all significantly shorter than the average for the story as a whole. Why this is, we can only guess, but possibly JCB, in his determination to lengthen the story, added extra chapters to the original plot, thereby diluting the chapters that had already been planned from the beginning. Such dilution can possibly be seen in Chapter 11 – “A Daring Plan” – in which practically nothing significant happens, and those few things that do happen could easily have been incorporated in the preceding and following chapters.

In contrast, the BLB has fairly uniform chapter length, up until the final chapter (where the two versions branch), which is about double the average length of the previous chapters. This suggests that the chapter divisions were made before the final chapter was written. Perhaps the shorter chapters were original for both versions, but some editor decided that the chapters should be longer for the Amazing Stories publication. At any rate, JCB just wrote the ending without considering that the length of the new chapter did not match the previous ones.

Another sign that the Amazing version was the original can be found on pages 186 and 188 of the BLB. There we have the following quote:

“One other fact he [John Carter] noted, also. Apparently there was only one means of entrance or exit into the dungeon that formed the rats’ underground city, and this was the same tunnel through which he had first been dragged.
“This fact he was to remember later and use to good advantage.”
The corresponding quote is on page 39 of the Ballantine paperback (Gino D’Achille cover), although interestingly, the forward-looking final sentence is not in that version, nor in Amazing Stories.

In the BLB, this discovery of the single entrance is never referred back to. In the Amazing text, however, this is one of the crucial elements in Carter’s plan to defeat Pew Mogel and Joog. Carter explains, in Chapter 14 (p. 82 in the above-mentioned Ballantine edition):

I had noticed in Korvas, when I was a prisoner in their underground city, that there was only one means of entrance to the cavern in which the rats live—a single tunnel that continued back for some distance before it branched, although there were openings in the ceiling far above; but they were out of reach.
That the earlier reference ramains in the BLB text, even though this last quote, along with the rest of the Amazing ending, is missing, strongly suggests that the longer text follows the story structure as originally plotted. The shorter BLB text has clearly been trimmed down before the rewritten ending.

One may certainly like the Giant story for what it is. In particular, the BLB version is not bad at all for a story in that format. JCB’s art, rushed as it is, is also enjoyable. It is a shame that it was not allowed to remain in that format. John Coleman Burroughs, for all his postive sides, was no Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the finished story is nowhere near the standard of the Master of Adventure.

The important thing is to realize that ERB had absolutely no part in the writing of the story. Though sanctioned by him and published in his name, it is all JCB’s and his wife’s product. It is therefore obvious that it has no place in the collected works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.


Jane Ralston Burroughs Poses for JCB's Dejah Burroughs Art:
John Carter of Mars, Better Little Book, 1940, complete text and images at
John Carter of Mars, 1964, complete text with Lupoff’s foreword at
John Carter and the Giant of Mars: ERB Biblio
The Gridley Wave #10, June 1963,
The Gridley Wave #14, June 1964,
The Gridley Wave #190, July 1998,
Irwin Porges, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan, Brigham Young University Press, 1975
Bob Hyde’s Odyssey of a Tarzan FANatic, Ch. 26
Robert R. Barrett, “John Carter of Mars: The Completely True and Factual Story Behind the Story”, The Burroughs Bulletin #72, Fall 2007

Fredrik Ekman has been a freelance writer, but nowadays works as a language teacher in his native Sweden. In addition to reading and writing, his main hobbies are leading and singing in choirs, and instructing ju-jutsu (he has a 3rd Dan black belt).

His first real exposure to an Edgar Rice Burroughs character was at age eight when he was given a Tarzan comic book annual for Christmas. Such annuals (oversized by US standards) were produced almost without interruption in Sweden from 1944 through 1989. A few months later, he got a John Carter comic book (the Marvel version). During the next few years, he read his first few Tarzan books, and watched some Weissmuller films on TV. Still, the Burroughs characters were just one of many literary and cinematic interests.

His true addiction was awakened about the age of eighteen. He accidentally came across a Swedish translation of The Gods of Mars at a flea market, which in spite of somewhat poor translation was an eye-opener. He started to slowly build up a collection of first the Martian series and comics, later other Burroughs adventures.

Ekman became a member of the ERB-list mailing list in the late 1990s; his first contact with fandom. He has since been a member of many different on-line groups, e.g. ERBzine and For the Love of All Things Edgar Rice Burroughs on Facebook. He started contributing to in 2000, and became a contributing member of the ERB-APA in 2006. He remains an active contributor to both ERBzine and ERB-APA.

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