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The Lost Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs

Updated on September 21, 2016

The February 1912 issue of pulp magazine All-Story has it’s place in the history of SF/Fantasy literature, it featured the professional fiction-writing debut of Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 – 1950).

All-Story published Burroughs’s weird and imaginative fantasy titled “Under the Moon of Mars” (which was later re-titled, A Princess of Mars), the “romance of a soul story of a Virginia squire named John Carter mysteriously teleported to the red planet Mars, known among its inhabitants as ‘Barsoom’.”

John Carter has many colourful adventures among the planet’s various feuding empires and eventually falls hard for the lovely Martian princess Dejah Thoris. Carter restores Dejah to her throne, marries her, makes her pregnant, and awaits the birth of their progeny. But when danger threatens the planet Carter seemingly sacrifices his life to save everyone, unexpectedly Carter suddenly finds himself back on Earth wondering if Barsoom was safe and if he would ever see his wife again.

Breathless fans pleaded for a sequel. Burroughs delivered one, “The Gods of Mars,” appearing just six months after A Princess of Mars concluded. It was another exciting assortment of weird creatures, hair’s-breadth escapes, chases, fierce battles, bloodshed, and another cliffhanging climax.

In October 1912 between that double dose of unhinged Martian extravagance arrived a different tale from ERB, this one even more spectacularly successful with magazine readers, and introducing a character that would change ERBs life forever, the title - Tarzan of the Apes.

After a mutiny at sea the ships crew maroon the Lord and Lady Greystoke on an uninhabited African coast. They build a shelter in the trees and a baby boy is born to the couple. His mother becomes ill and dies and his father is killed by Kerchak a ferocious ape. A female ape Kala grabs the crying baby from the cot and cares for it as her own, she had just lost her own baby. The child is named “Tarzan” by the apes, the name meaning “White Skin”, he grows to young manhood with his primate family and is loved by his adoptive mother.

Ultimately Tarzan’s superior intelligence and the knife he finds in the abandoned tree house of his human parents enables him to fight Kerchak, the fierce patriarch of the tribe, in a primal and vicious fight to the death.

“I am Tarzan!” he yells over Kerchaks lifeless body, “I am a great killer. Let all respect Tarzan of the Apes and Kala, his mother. There be none among you as mighty as Tarzan. Let his enemies beware . . .”

Edgar Rice Burroughs was paid $700 for the tale that would make him one of the immortals of literature. Tarzan became a cultural icon and ERB began churning out fiction almost as fast as his avid and ever-growing readership could consume it. Many more tales of Tarzan followed, and more adventures of John Carter on Mars, he created a new series featuring Carson Napier and his exploits on the planet Venus. ERB also wrote westerns, historical epics, and lost world fantasies like At the Earth’s Core and The Land That Time Forgot.

As a writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs was uneven. His prose was ragged and crude but he had other qualities in abundance: a wild imagination, a gift for describing action and a powerful sense of myth. ERB’s stories made him a fortune, he was the first writer to become a corporation, and his fame was such that the southern California town where he lived was renamed Tarzana in his honour.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec 7th 1941, ERB was living in Hawaii and he applied for permission to become a war correspondent. Permission was granted, and Burroughs became one of the oldest war correspondents during WWII. When the war ended, Burroughs moved back to Encino, California, where, after numerous health problems, he died suddenly of a heart attack on March 19, 1950, he was 74.

A Martian crater is named in his honour.


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    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

      Thanks for commenting Alun. I used to read ERB's Tarzan books at the library near my school and when I grew older I bought a bunch of them on paperback and read them again.

      And than I started on the Martian adventures. From there I got into Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein etc so my interest in sci-fi stems from John Carter and reading H.G. Wells War of the Worlds at a young age (by candle light during a powercut I vividly remember!).

      Btw I did publish a hub on Tarzan and his films, one of my most viewed hubs. I also wrote hubs on the other characters you mention.

      Thanks for posting!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

      I can't say I've ever read any of Edgar Rice Burrough's work Steve (but that's because I don't tend to read novels), but I am of course familiar with some of the film adaptations and he clearly had a great eye for characters. Tarzan must be one of the most reproduced characters in film history (if you haven't already done so, a hub listing the most filmed fictional characters in history would be a good idea - I guess James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Batman and Superman spring to mind).

      Interesting facts here about how his books came into being and his career as a war correspondent. And I wonder what the residents of Tarzana think? - sounds like a name which should be given to a village in the jungle, not a town in Southern California! Very nice photos of posters/book covers in this hub too. Voted up in several categories. Alun.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

      Thanks Doc Sonic, appreciate the comment. I enjoyed John Carter, the people bad-mouthing it are the ones who haven't gone to see it and are waiting to rent it instead. :)

      The sad thing is many more films were planned and now it's going to be just one. They should have stuck with the original book title - A Princess of Mars.

    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Great hub. Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of my all-time favorite writers. What an imagination! Personally, I enjoyed the John Carter movie, although that seems to put me in the minority. It varied from the book, but that's not really unusual in a movie adaptation of a novel. What did you think of the film? Voted up.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thanks Rob your kind words are much appreciated. I grew up reading ERBs Tarzan and John Carter stories, I still have that Princess of Mars paperback pictured 2nd from top, bought in the early 70's.

      Looking forward to the John Carter movie in March.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Great hub on ERB, Steve. I'm a fan of Tarzan, John Carter, the 'At the Earth's Core Books' and the 'Land that Time forgot'. I'm not familiar with his Venus books so that's something I'll have to look into.

      ERB didn't have great writing style but he was a fantastic storyteller. Most of his books were about a formidable man in a strange, hostile environment who conquers all obstacles and becomes the Alpha male.

      Excellent article on one of my favorite authors,


    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Very little originality in movies nowadays myi4u, too many remakes, sequels and prequels.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • myi4u profile image

      myi4u 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Wow, you've got a nice collection of classic hubs! They are all great to read. Personally, I think they are very original and I do believe that the movies nowadays actually steal some of those ideas and modernise it.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      I can't remember if I've read the Carson of Venus books in my youth but I did read the Mars series, Pellucidar and a whole bunch of Tarzan novels. I still have the paperbacks on my shelves. Thanks for popping by.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 6 years ago from California

      Back in the early 1980s I read the first three books, I seem to recall, in Burrough's Martian series. What a great writer of sci-fi action-adventure he was! He also wrote a Venus series. Have you read any of those books? Anyway, I love the artwork in those book covers. Later!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      ruffridyer, hinton, thanks for the comments. Much appreciated.

    • hinton1966 profile image

      hinton1966 6 years ago

      Burroughs is a classic author, he does not get enough respect. Nice hub.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      I love tarzan. ERB was an amazing author. I always liked his stand alone book The Monster Men. His tribute to frankenstien. An enjoyable hub.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Cogerson, RedElf, thanks for writing.

      I was going to add a bibliography but it would have made the hub twice as long. I've included a link to Burroughs official website which has detailed info on each of his stories and cover art too.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Good review of one of SF's seminal writers. Thanks!

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      Great hub on a great writer. I did not know about him being the one of oldest war correspondent.....I think most people only think of Tarzan when they hear Burroughs name but he has lots of other interesting stories....great selection of photos as always...voted up and useful...great job Steve.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thank you Zavala, appreciate the comment and the fan mail. ERB was one of the greats.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 6 years ago from Texas

      Fascinating works by a literary genius. Good research, good hub.