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THE JOHN CARTER TIBBETTS /
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS CONNECTION
1. John Tibbetts on
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John TibbettsAs the creator of both Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) has given educator, critic, and author John Tibbetts countless hours of reading pleasure.
“Burroughs is in my DNA,” Tibbetts, associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of Kansas, says. “One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my dad’s knee being read the blood-curdling saga of John Carter. I’m sure my mom was there shaking her head, because there’s some heavy duty stuff going on there. But I can still hear my dad’s voice reading A Princess of Mars.”
Tibbetts is no casual Burroughs fan. Among his prized possessions is a copy of A Princess of Mars signed in the author’s own hand. In 1949 Tibbetts’ father wrote the author, telling Burroughs that he had named one of his twin sons Allan after the adventure character Allan Quatermain (created by novelist H. Rider Haggard), and his other boy John after Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars.
“Burroughs sent us copy of A Princess of Mars and inscripted inside is a letter to me,” Tibbetts says. It says Burroughs was honored to have originated my name. My father apparently sent Burroughs a check for the book, and we got back a letter from Burrough’s secretary saying the author wanted this to be a gift for ‘little John Carter’.”
Tibbetts celebrated Burroughs’ life and work in From Africa to Mars! 100 Years of Tarzan and John Carter on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 2 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. His presentation is particularly timely. Not only does 2012 mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of those two enduring characters, but on March 9 Disney unveils its film John Carter.
Burroughs has long been categorized as a writer of “pulp” fiction, but Tibbetts believes that label doesn’t take into account Burroughs’ genius as a storyteller. “With Burroughs, nothing gets in the way of the action and the story. He’s a genius of serviceable prose. He wasn’t a stylist. His absolutely transparent prose allows you to access the characters. He had an amazing ability to put you into a story without the mediation of an author’s voice. H. Rider Haggard” – author of She and the Quatermain stories – “was probably Burrough’s closest rival, but he still has that Victorian sound in his prose. Burroughs gave us stripped-down modern prose that is verbally unencumbered.”
Just about everyone is familiar with Tarzan, the English child raised by apes in Africa – although they might be surprised to learn that on the written page Tarzan isn’t a grunting primitive but quite a cultured fellow. Tibbetts believes that Tarzan may be the most universally recognized character in all literature.
John Carter is less known. He’s a Civil War veteran who while prospecting in the Southwest is attacked by Indians and wakes up on Mars, where he woos princesses and fights monsters. “Burroughs was really ahead of his time. He sends John Carter to another planet with something like astral projection. And because of the lesser gravity there, Carter can fly. This is 20 years before Superman.”
In 1911 Burroughs was selling pencil sharpeners in Chicago after failed careers as a cavalryman, cowboy, and prospector. A fan of escapist fiction, he was dismayed at the poor quality of many of the books and magazines he read and decided to try own hand at writing. In 1912, the year his work first was published, he created Tarzan and John Carter. Two years later he came up with his third great literary franchise, the Pellucidar series about a civilization at the Earth’s center.
Though hugely successful, Burroughs always seemed to be scrambling for cash. Tibbetts suspects he lived beyond his means. Still, Burroughs moved out West, bought a ranch in California and founded a town named after his most famous character: Tarzana.
And while during his lifetime, Burroughs’ work was dismissed by the critics, in recent years a new generation of scholars has embraced his storytelling skills.
March 12, 2012
2. VERN CORIELL REMEMBERED
by John (Carter) Tibbetts
I was just out of a four-year stint in the Army Security Agency when I first met Vern Coriell. My friend, the late Tom Reamy, introduced us. I went to visit Vern in the fabled basement of his Shawnee Mission, Kansas home. A veritable Ali Baba's Cave. We connected instantly. Obviously Vern's enthusiasm for Tarzan and John Carter and all things Burroughs was more than a match for me. Also, I think maybe it was my middle name of "Carter" (bestowed upon me by ERB himself, in a letter written to my father in 1950).
Maybe it was the painting I had just finished of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in Robin Hood (which he promptly bought for a generous sum, bless him!). Or maybe it was our shared interest in that peculiar species of film-related books dubbed "Photoplay Editions." We were both avid collectors. And darned if he didn't give me several from his own collection, gorgeous editions of Fairbanks' The Thief of Baghdad and The Black Pirate. I learned quickly enough -- that's Vern, generous and giving to a fault.
I was immediately amazed at his limber agility. Although thickened around the middle, he could turn a somersault with ease (as he demonstrated on several occasions). Anyway, we met on many occasions after that. A special memory is the Dum-Dum he held at the Kansas City World Science Fiction Convention in 1976 (that was the event that brought Robert A. Heinlein back to his home town), Vern was kind enough to ask me if he could place my painterly interpretation of Frank Schoonover's immortal cover illo from Princess of Mars at the head table of the Dum-Dum. And there it stood. It was a good time. And Wilson "Bob" Tucker was there to toast the occasion (more than once!).
But of all the times we had together, pride of place goes to the night my parents and I were invited to Vern's house for a lovely dinner prepared by Rita. What a wonderful lady she was! And a great cook, too! There we were, dining amidst the splendor of her collection of Arkham House first editions and Vern's J. Allen St. John's paintings. And after dessert, we all trooped downstairs where I set up a 16mm projector and we all enjoyed a screening of James Whale's classic The Old Dark House. I wish I could remember more of the wonderful stories Vern and Rita shared then. What I do remember mostly is the conviviality of it all, Vern's hearty bursts of laughter and Rita's quiet and steady presence.
Maybe it was at that time that my father and I signed Vern's Guest book. (What an amazing tome that is!) You can see that book now in the loving care of George McWhorter. And when my dad and I visited the Archives in Louisville many years later, there they were, our signatures. Vern was gone by then. And now so is Rita. But seeing that book and the preservation of those signatures made the memories of Vern and Rita ever green.~ Reference
Burroughs Bulletin No. 82 ~ Spring 2010
I was in touch with Vern and Rita many times after I joined the Burroughs Bibliophiles in the late '60s. I had sent them tape reels of 77 episodes of the 1932 Tarzan radio series starring Jim and Joan Burroughs Pierce. In exchange Vern had sent me a huge box full of all the House of Greystoke publications he had issued. These same tapes later served me well. After spending an afternoon with Jim and Joan during one of our Tarzana visits, I had promised to send the tapes of their Tarzan radio shows which they hadn't heard for decades. I sent the tapes upon returning home to Canada and was surprised a few weeks later to receive a giant box from Tarzana containing all the ERB, Inc. editions plus a stack of dust jackets.
Many years later, shortly before Rita's death, Sue-On and I visited her House of Greystoke in Kansas City. She was in very poor health at that time, but was a gracious host for most of an afternoon. Sadly, the house was empty of all ERB material. Rita owned the house and when Vern moved on to new horizons he had loaded all the ERB treasures in a truck and left.
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