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Volume 7354

The Role of Jews 
in ERB's Fiction
Part I
by Alan Hanson

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The Role of Jews in ERB's Fiction
Part I
by Alan Hanson

These days it’s hard to discuss Edgar Rice Burroughs without having to address the subject of race. After all, in Tarzan, Burroughs created one of the world’s best-known fictional characters, a white English aristocrat who Burroughs installed as “Lord of the Jungle” in colonial Black Africa. As disturbing as it is for Burroughs fans, such an arrangement is bound to come under the magnifying glass of modern political correctness. While the treatment of blacks in Tarzan’s Africa is the most examined racial subject in Burroughs’ writings, there were many other ethnic groups that appeared in his fiction. For example, Arabs were often prominent in the Tarzan stories and ERB focused on American Indians in two novels. Jews were another group Burroughs included in his stories. Although his Jewish characters were infrequent, examining his treatment of them is worthwhile, considering that ERB wrote in the first half of the 20th century, a significant era in the history of Judaism.

Burroughs’ depiction of Jews in his fiction has been examined before. It comes up occasionally when Tarzan and the Golden Lion or The Moon Maid is being discussed. Additionally, the 1999 publication of ERB’s novel Marcia of the Doorstep, written in 1924, gave rise to new, brief discussions about the Jewish presence in Burroughs’ stories. The purpose here is to go beyond these past piecemeal probes and offer a more comprehensive summary and analysis of ERB’s relationship with Jews, not only in his fiction but also in his personal life.

As noted above, Burroughs’ significant Jewish characters are confined to three novels, all written in a short time span in the early 1920s. Part I of this survey will contrast the characters of Adolph Bluber and Samuels the Jew, who appeared in Tarzan and the Golden Lion and The Moon Maid respectively, two stories ERB wrote back-to-back in 1922. Two years later, Burroughs gave Heimer, a Jewish lawyer, a prominent role in Marcia of the Doorstep. Heimer, along with the few known relationships with Jews and opinions about them from ERB’s personal life, will be the focus of Part II.

Burroughs first used a Jewish character for a brief, non-speaking role in his second novel, The Outlaw of Torn (1911). When the dastardly De Vac was negotiating with a Frenchman for the purchase of castle Torn, the current owner suggested using a middleman. “’Come,’ said the Frenchman, ‘I have it. Deposit the money with Isaac the Jew — thou knowest him? — and he shall hold it together with the deed for forty days, which will give thee ample time to travel to Derby and inspect thy purchase. If thou be not entirely satisfied Isaac the Jew shall return thy money to thee and the deed to me, but if at the end of forty days thou hast not made demand for thy money then shall Isaac send the deed to thee and the money to me.” A decade later Burroughs used this depiction of Jews as dealers in money when he fashioned his first significant Jewish character in Tarzan and the Golden Lion.

Adolph Bluber

ERB’s physical description of Adolph Bluber indicates up front that the reader is not meant to like him. He is described as a “German, with a round, red face and a bull neck” and a “fat rascal of a Dutchman” with an oily smile. Tarzan weighed in on Bluber’s nationality by sizing him up on first sight as a “short, fat, German Jew.

Bluber was among the international group of conspirators gathered by Flora Hawkes for her plot to steal gold from Opar. Bluber was made the treasurer since, in the words of a fellow conspirator, “we know that he will squeeze the last farthing until it shrieks before he will let it escape.” When the conspirators first met in London, Bluber made it clear he would keep expenses to a minimum.

Vell,” he said, “how much you t’ink, Miss Flora, ve should have?

Not less than two thousand pounds to be on the safe side,” she replied quickly.

“Oi! Oi!” exclaimed Bluber. “But dot is a lot of money — two t’ousand pounds. Oi! Oi!

As the story unfolded, Burroughs continued to emphasize the innate thriftiness of the Jew. Did Burroughs intend that the reader take such penny-pinching as a general characteristic of Jews? Perhaps. He did have one other conspirator, Carl Kraski, make such an assertion. “He can’t help it,” explained the Russian. “It’s a racial characteristic; Bluber would try to jew down the marriage license clerk if he were going to get married.”

Another characteristic Burroughs gave Bluber was an inclination for shady dealing. First, there was Bluber’s participation in Flora’s underhanded plot. Then, unmindful of his own duplicity, Bluber got angry when Tarzan threatened to terminate their scheme. “Der dirty crook,” Bluber maligned the ape-man. “He steals all our gold, und ve lose our two t’ousand pounds into the bargain.” And when he learned that the safari’s blacks were plotting to kill the conspirators, Bluber came up with a plan to turn the tables on the natives. Burroughs explained.

Bluber, with his usual cunning and shrewdness which inclined always to double dealing where there was the slightest possibility for it, suggested that they secretly advise the Arabs of what they had learned, and joining forces with them take a strong position in the camp as possible and commence to fire into the blacks without waiting for their attack.”

Burroughs also portrayed Bluber as being clumsy and cowardly. Note how the German reacted the first time he heard a lion’s roar in the jungle at night. “With a shriek the Jew leaped to his feet, so suddenly that he cleared the ground a good foot, and then, stepping backward, he lost his balance, tripped over his camp-stool and sprawled upon his back.”  Later, as Jane with 50 Waziri warriors prepared to defend the fleeing conspirators from pursuing natives, she ordered the plotters to join the Waziri. Bluber followed the others, but Burroughs wrote that he, “trembled pitiably” as he took his place on the front line. During a later attack by pygmy hunters, an arrow passing close to his head caused Bluber to scream with terror and collapse to the ground. There he lay with his face buried in his arms as the other men fought for their lives.

Finally, Bluber, while resentful of discrimination aimed at him as a Jew, is painted as a man equally bigoted toward other groups. He used the common slur toward blacks, and made the following statement about Christians.

Ven you get mad at me you call me a dirty Jew und say dat I am stingy, but Mein Gott! You Christians are vorser. You vould kill vun of your friends to get more money. Oi! Oi! Tank Gott dat I am not a Christian.

In summary, then, Burroughs stressed Bluber’s unsavory appearance, his stinginess, his propensity for shady dealings, his physical cowardice, and his own bigotry. In addition, ERB made it clear over and over that Bluber was a Jew. That may be surprising to those who have read Tarzan and the Golden Lion only in the Ballantine paperback editions issued since the early 1960s. All pre-war editions of Golden Lion contain at least a dozen references to Bluber as a “Jew.” Ballantine excised every such direct reference to Bluber’s religion from its paperback editions.

(In ERB-APA #57 in 1998, J. G. Huckenpöhler pointed out that Golden Lion was first bowdlerized by Grosset and Dunlap in the post-war era editions. In their “Books for Boys and Girls” series, G&D modified Burroughs’ text to eliminate references to Bluber as a Jew.)

For someone like me, who was raised on the Ballantine editions, it was really quite sobering to read for the first time ERB’s original version of Golden Lion, with all its racial slurs, not only against Jews but other ethnic groups as well. They give the story a much darker tone than the sanitized Ballantine version. Let me give just a couple examples of ERB’s original words in Golden Lion and how Ballantine changed them.

In a passage quoted earlier in this article, conspirator Carl Kraski, referring to Bluber’s stinginess, said, “He can’t help it. It’s a racial characteristic; Bluber would try to jew down the marriage license clerk if he were going to get married.” For it’s first printing of Golden Lion in 1963, Ballantine made two changes in that passage. It came out as, “He can’t help it. He’s that kind of chap; Bluber would try to bargain with the marriage license clerk if he were going to get married.” Later in the novel, Ballantine changed, “Shut up, you dirty Jew,” to “Shut up, you coward.” It wasn’t just slurs that Ballantine changed. They completely eliminated the word “Jew” from ERB’s text. Thus, “Tarzan ignored the Jew,” became “Tarzan ignored Bluber.” The bottom line is that Burroughs clearly wanted his readers to know Bluber was Jewish, while the cleansed Ballantine version forced the reader to infer the same from Bluber’s description, words, and actions.

Should Burroughs be criticized for creating an unfair Jewish stereotype in Adolph Bluber? Of course, opinions differ. The case against Burroughs is greatly tempered, I think, but the fact that Bluber is not an evil character in Golden Lion (like Heimer is in Marcia of the Doorstep). Bluber’s role in the story is one of comic relief, and, as such, Burroughs intended his character to generate humor and not dislike of Jews. The most memorable passages involving Bluber in the novel bring a smile to the reader’s face, not a frown. For example, there’s the African safari suit Bluber bought because he saw one like it in a movie at the “Princess Teayter.” The movie hero spent “t’ree mont’s in Africa hunting lions und killing cannibals, und ven he comes ouid he hasn’t even got a grease spon on his pants.” Of course, Bluber’s suit gets torn and dirty, and worst of all to him, “— tventy guineas for dis und no vun to see it but niggers and lions.” Then there’s Bluber’s humorous comment after the standoff between the west coast natives and Jane’s Waziri warriors. Trembling with fear at the prospect of an attack a moment before, Bluber’s attitude changes after the foes retreated. Burroughs wrote, “The Jew swelled out his chest. ‘It takes more as a bunch of niggers to bluff Adolph Bluber,’ he said pompously.” (Of course, Ballantine removed the slurs from the previous two statements.)

As for Bluber’s stinginess, Burroughs drew some humor from that too. The conspirators found themselves besieged by pygmy hunters when Tarzan arrived on the scene. From his prone position, Bluber raised his head and addressed the ape-man. “Come qvick! Come qvick!” he said. “Safe me, safe me, und I giff you five pounds.”

In the final analysis, then, ERB created in Adolph Bluber a Jewish caricature, not an unjust stereotype. Certainly, many would resent the making light of their religion, and some today may charge Burroughs with poor taste. However, in regards to Adolph Bluber, it is clearly going too far to accuse ERB of fostering discrimination toward Jews. It must always be remembered that Burroughs created Adolph Bluber two decades before World War II, after which the great horror of the Holocaust was revealed to the world. Today, it is easy, but patently unfair, to judge his Jewish characters through the harsh filter of that attempted genocide.

Samuels the Jew
A much more serious and likeable ERB Jewish character is Moses Samuels in part two of The Moon Maid, written right after Golden Lion in 1922. Actually, Samuels was probably created in 1919 when Burroughs wrote the story Under the Red Flag. That story, about a twenty-first century America dominated by repressive Soviets, failed to find a publisher. Three years later, however, Burroughs revised it, changing the setting and converting it into a science fiction story. Under the Red Flag became The Moon Men, the middle portion of The Moon Maid trilogy. Since Samuels is central to the religious freedom theme in The Moon Men, it is likely he was reprising his role from Under the Red Flag.

Samuels first appears in The Moon Maid when he encounters Julian 9th on the road, where they discuss the repressive ruling Kalkars, descendants of the conquering moon men. “A little, dried up old man,” is the only physical description Burroughs gives of Samuels. Unlike Bluber, Moses had a practical skill. “He made his living,” explained narrator Julian, “by tanning hides. He was a most excellent tanner.” The Kalkars were Samuels’ main customers, and as they paid the Jew in paper money, which was worthless to the Americans, he was as poor as the rest of the natives. Unlike the scheming Bluber, however, Samuels did not look for a way to enrich himself at the expense of his fellow man. As they walked down the road, Moses told Julian he had no way of paying him for the hides Julian had provided him. “I have not paid you for the last,” explained Samuels. “They paid me in paper money; but that I would not offer to a friend for a last year’s bird nest.”

Samuels made another interesting comment during this conversation with Julian. Discussing the new local Kalkar leader, Moses explained, “… if he is a half-breed, as I hear he is, he will hate a Jew … However, if he is pure Kalkar, it may be different — the pure Kalkars do not hate a Jew more than they hate other Earthmen.” The significance here is that pure Kalkars, direct descendents of the conquering moon men, had no history with Jews, while half-breed Kalkars, those who bred with earth people, still retained the centuries old hatred of Jews.

However, as Burroughs saw it, the tyranny of the conquerors had cleansed twenty-first century American society of its anti-Semitism. To Julian and the other Americans, Samuels the Jew was accepted like any other member of their repressed community. Julian explained how old religious differences had been forgotten in the Kalkar assault on all forms of religion.

Among us were descendants of Methodists, Presbyterian, Baptist, Roman Catholic and Jew that I knew of and how many more I did not know, nor did any of us care. We worshipped an ideal and a great hope, both of which were all goodness, and we called these God. We did not care what our great-grandfathers thought about it or what someone a thousand years before had thought or done or what name they had given the Supreme Being, for we knew that there could be but one and whether we called Him one thing or another would not alter Him in any way.

Of course, the Kalkars of The Moon Men had originally been the godless Soviets of Under the Red Flag. In both stories, however, Burroughs’ message was the same. If despots come to power in America, freedom of religion will be lost for all. Religious hatreds, like that for Jews, only weaken the country and will hasten its fall to outside conquerors. In The Moon Men, Burroughs showed how people of all faiths working together could start to throw off the conquerors’ yoke.

As the sole representative of the Jewish faith, Samuels offered a positive and courageous contribution to Burroughs’ brave new world of the twenty-first century. Unlike the stingy Bluber, Samuels was generous. He was even willing to give as a gift the thing most dear to him. As a wedding gift, he presented Julian with a crucifix that had been in his family for generations. “It is my most prized possession,” he explained to Julian, “but being an old man, and the last of my line I wish it to go to those I love most dearly, for I doubt that I have long to live. Again yesterday, I was followed from the church.”

Samuels was right. Within moments of giving the cross to Julian, the Kash Guard came to question him. He refused to tell the names of others who attended the forbidden American church, and when the cross was found on Julian, Moses protected his friend by claiming it still belonged to him. The moon men tortured him until he died, silent and loyal to his fellow Americans to the end. Over his body, Julian delivered his eulogy.

I had loved this old Jew, as we all did who knew him. He had been a gentle character, loyal to his friends, and inclined to be a little too forgiving to his enemies — even the Kalkars. That he was courageous his death proved.”

With his death, the brief role of Samuels the Jew in The Moon Maid saga came to an end. As a man, this Jew was loyal, generous and courageous, everything that Adolph Bluber was not. Symbolically, though, Samuels stood for the self-sacrificing heroism that Burroughs felt Americans would need to fight off foreign tyranny in the future. It was surely by design that Burroughs chose a representative of history’s most persecuted race to demonstrate the patriotism and courage that America would need in its darkest hour.

Remember Moses Samuels

Unfortunately, of these two Burroughs Jews, Bluber’s laughable character has been, and will continue to be, better known to Burroughs’ critics than that of the honorable Moses Samuels. For starters, Bluber appears in a Tarzan novel. Tarzan and the Golden Lion has been more often printed and will always be more available than The Moon Maid. Furthermore, even should the political correctness police take the time to find a copy of the latter novel, it probably will not tell the full story of Samuels the Jew. His gift of the cross and his courageous death are episodes that appeared in the original magazine version of The Moon Men, but were eliminated from the story when it became part of The Moon Maid trilogy for book publication in 1926. Most later editions of The Moon Maid have followed the text of the first edition, so the complete story of Samuels the Jew has been difficult to find through the years. (Two sources of Burroughs’ full account of Samuels are the Ace Books paperbacks of The Moon Men and Bison Books’ 2002 edition of The Moon Maid.) 

 It remains for Edgar Rice Burroughs loyalists to remember the story of Samuels the Jew and be ready, if necessary, to recall it in defense of Burroughs’ balanced view of Jews in his fiction. And let it always be remembered that Burroughs, like all authors of the past, wrote in the context of the times in which he lived, and that must figure prominently when he is asked to account for the content of his fiction.

— the end of part one —


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Tarzan and the Golden Lion
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