Monday, March 12, 2012

Trout Fishing on Barsoom or E.R.B. Appreciated...

Over and above the "assigned classics" (Twain, Dickens or Poe), a few select authors will follow one's boyhood to an adult's estate.
For me, one of that elite few, is Edgar Rice Burroughs, Creator of Tarzan, Discoverer of Barsoom, Amtor, Pellucidar plus a host of other places and just possibily the real father of Modern Science Fiction.
I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs about 1974, a most auspicious year at the tender age of twelve my mind was at last opening up to all the possibilities fantasy literature had to offer.
Dyslexia was behind me, Mars, Venus, Captain Kirk and the Galaxy beckoned.
That and those god-damned Frank Frazetta covers to Edgar Rice Burrough's then omnipresent reprints, a boy of twelve will never ever forget the like.
As a writer, Burroughs knew what his audience liked, two fisted gentleman heroes, adventurers who must first survive some bizarre undiscovered location, second they must scoop up a veritable dream princess for a mate and thirdly they must conquer and rule justly.
This was John Carter Warlord of Mars, Carson Napier of Venus, Tarzan of the Apes, David Innes in Pellucidar and on and on and on.
Burroughs made that formula sing arias in over eighty novels.
Gore Vidal once wrote a cheeky ode to Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs back at the dawn of the Age of Camp in the 1960's. He noted Burrough's misspellings, his spotty sense of African zoology and then swung into a long praiseful discourse on the superiority of Burroughs' "fight scenes".
According to Vidal, no one wrote better fistfights which was no small achievement, apparently writing brawls is a hard business, too often they are written as boring or laughable affairs.
And in truth, Burroughs' fight scene do pop off the page pretty consistently, be it Tarzan tackling a gorilla or John Carter skewering an assassin.
Burroughs heroes are expert & upright users of violence.
If Burroughs had a flaw as a fantasy writer, it is that his heroes inevitable comquered all and ran up into a meta contextual wall, they've won, now what?
After all who wants to read about the adventures of a beloved all powerful Emperor?
Burroughs got around this by wrapping series up and moving on to other planets and realm or else putting heretofore lower ranking members of the supporting cast in the spotlight.
If need be he'd restart the whole mishaugas by throwing the original hero's Son into the mix.
With Tarzan Burroughs' staved off boredom by deploying a vast array of Lost Civilizations, almost a dozen of them in over twenty books. At one point, the need for a challenge to Lord Greystoke sent the Ape Man to the Center of the Earth and a few rounds with the dinosaurs of Pellucidar.
And that is another thing, Burroughs' invented the "continuity crossover", without it the comic book industry would languish today.
For what it is worth, irregardless of his nonsensical science, Burroughs may be the real founder of Modern Science Fiction, simply because he looked out into the universe and assumed Anything Could Happen and that made for sterling adventure.
Stuff like "Avatar" and a lot of the modern canonical SF owes so much to Burroughs it isn't funny.
The Superman? Check, John Carter was leaping the Minarets of Mars in a single bound long before Clark Kent hitch hiked to Metropolis.
The Stranger in a Strange Land? Check, David Innes of Pellucidar is Valentine Michael Smith's messianic Daddy.
The Man of two species? Check Tarzan, Both Ape and Man, in both worlds and of neither att he same time.
Hell "Tarzan and the Lion Man" features talking super intelligent apes a good twenty years before Pierre Boulle's "Planet of the Apes".
And Burroughs was an early exponent of the sturdy notion that the inclusion of dinosaurs improve all drama by an order of magnitude.
Alas, For all his props, other than Tarzan, Burroughs has never cast a giant shadow in the movies, (I mean have you seen "At the Earth's Core"??), his fantasies are almost too robust even for today's Hollywood.
As I write this, the word on the street is the latest attempt Disney's "John Carter" laid an egg at the Box Office.
That should upset me, it does not. It does however reinforces the sheer scope and power of ERB's imagination.
Godspeed Mister Burroughs 2012 marks the onset of your second century as American Fantasist of the First Rank....

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