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The Lost Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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.