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In the early 1970's I approached ERB, Inc. with the idea of putting out a high quality collectors editor of TARZAN OF THE APES. I'd had contact with Hulbert Burroughs previously in 1965 when he authorized my reprinting some Burne Hogarth Tarzan strips in my fanzine HEROES ILLUSTRATED. Long story short, he approved the project and I had the book typeset from my first edition. Hulbert also agreed to write a remembrance of his father. That was completed and typeset. The search for an artist to illustrate the collectors' edition with ten new works of art led to Burne Hogarth who agreed to undertake the commission.
"I had never met an editor, or an author, or a publisher. I had no idea how to submit a story or what I could expect in payment. Had I known anything about it at all I would never have thought of submitting half a novel; but that is what I did.
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
20th CENTURY BARD
By Hulbert Burroughs
"Thomas Newell Metcalf, who was then editor of the All-Story Magazine, published by Munsey,, wrote me that he liked the first half of a story (A PRINCESS OF MARS) I had sent him, and if the second half was as good he though he might use it. Had he not given me this encouragement, I should never have finished the story and my writing career would have been at an end, since I was not writing because of any urge to write or for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife and two babies, a combination which does not work well without money.
"I finished the second half of the story wand got that first $400 for the manuscript. The check was the first big event in my life. No amount of money today could possibly give the thrill that that first $400 check gave me."
And so began in 1911 the remarkable writing career of my father, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Frequently asked how he came to write the TARZAN stories, my father's customary answer was that he wrote only because he needed the money. That, in my opinion, is not entirely true. Rather, as I think of his personal and professional life, I see clearly that ERB was born with an unusual imagination coupled with a powerful creative compulsion that he could not possibly suppress, even from his earliest years.
When only five years old, he began writing poetry. Soon he was illustrating his works in pencil, and then pen and ink. When I look at some of his illustrations, particularly his political cartoons, I realize that he probably could have made a name for himself as an artist had he not first succeeded as a writer. But writing seemed always to be a driving urge.
Even before he sold his first story in 1911, he wrote a short novel -- a truly delightful fantasy with the impossible title, "MINIDOKA, 1937th EARL OF ONE MILE, SERIES M."
Very significant to me, in retrospect, were the bedtime stories he used to tell to me and to my brother and sister each night before we turned out the lights. They were long, rambling, continuing stores that he invented while pacing slowly up and down our room. I remember, in later years, asking him how he was able to create such stories out of thin air. "I guess I'm just a born story-teller," he replied. "If I had lived a few hundred years ago I would probably have been a bard, wandering over the countryside spinning tall tales."
Even when not writing or drawing, ERB had to create something. He liked to work with his hands and with tools. He became interested in photography around the turn of the century and took thousands of pictures, many of which he processed himself in makeshift darkrooms. He enjoyed making things of wood, one of his inventions being an automatic cigarette dispenser.
During World War II when he was the oldest War Correspondent in the service, he invented a secret code which challenged the U.S. Army G-2 to decipher. It was never broken.
Of course, his inventiveness and creativity came to full fruition in his novels about other worlds. For his exciting tales of John Carter's adventures on the planet Mars he created entire civilizations with explicit details about the social, political, economic and religious institutions on that dying planet. He invented languages, alphabets and a Martian chess game called Jetan, played with live warriors to the death. He did the same for his stories of Venus and of Pellucidar, the world within a world, and for the planet Poloda in a solar system beyond the farthest star.
Once he sought the advice of an astronomer for scientific facts to support a world he was creating in intergalactic space. In his letter of thanks to the scientist my father commented: "I am glad that you found fun in answering my queries. I find fun in the imaginings that prompt them; and I can appreciate, in a small way, the swell time God had in creating the Universe." No, I do not believe that these are the words of a man writing solely for money.
There is no doubt that tat the time he wrote and sold his first story Edgar Rice Burroughs was dreadfully poor. Providing for his family was uppermost in his mind. So it was but natural for him to feel and say that he was writing only for the financial rewards. In later years, with the wolf no longer at his door, he added another reason for writing TARZAN stories. He once said: "My greatest satisfaction is that my stories have entertained and brought happiness and relaxation to millions of readers." He always felt that to entertain his readers was one of his highest obligations as a writer.
In 1932 he wrote: "It's difficult and even impossible for me to take these TARZAN stories seriously, and I hope that no one else will ever take them seriously. If they serve any important purpose it is to take their readers out of the realm of serious things and give them that mental relaxation which I believe to be as necessary as the physical relaxation of sleep -- which makes a swell opening for some dyspeptic critic.
"TARZAN does not preach; he has no lesson to impart, propaganda to disseminate. Yet, perhaps unconsciously, while seeking merely to entertain I have injected something of my own admiration for certain human qualities into these stories of the ape-man."
Contradictory as most of the foregoing quotes would seem to be, that last sentence gives the real clue to ERB's character and much of the significance of his TARZAN tales.
A man of extremely high ideals, he felt strongly about the weaknesses and dehumanization of modern civilization, and he firmly believed that his TARZAN character might influence readers, particularly younger people, to chose a life closer to Nature and in harmony with their environment.
Forty years ago he said: "It has pleased me throughout the long series of Tarzanian exploits to draw comparisons between the manners of men and the manners of beasts and seldom to the advantage of men. Perhaps I hoped to shame men into being more like beasts in those respects in which the beasts excel men, and these are not few. I wanted my readers to realize that man alone of all the creatures that inhabit the earth or the waters or the air above takes life wantonly; he is the only creature that derives pleasure from inflicting pain on other creatures, even his own kind."
In commenting about the worldwide popularity and appeal of TARZAN, he said, "We wish to escape not alone the narrow confines of city streets for the freedom of the wilderness, but the restrictions of man-made laws, and the inhibitions that society has placed upon us. We like to picture ourselves as roaming free, the lords of ourselves and our world; in other words, we would each like to be TARZAN. At least I would; I admit it."
TARZAN was perhaps his impossible dream, but I know that he felt TARZAN was not such an improbable example. In his own life my father was always true to the finest and most wholesome ideals he expressed in his books. Somewhere in one of his stories are these words:
"Why, oh, why will you not learn to live in amity with your fellows? Must you ever go down the ages to your final extinction but little above the plane of the dumb brutes that serve you? You are a people without love. You hate each other as you hate all else except yourselves. Come back to the ways of our common ancestors, come back to the light of kindliness and fellowship. The way is open to you. Together we may regenerate our dying planet. Will you come?"