Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2005 Issue

A Flair For the Dramatic -- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan and the lost Empire by Edgar Rice Burroughs.


By Carl Burnham

As a kid in the 1960s, I became immersed in reading of his fantastic tales of John Carter of Mars, Venus, the land of Pellucidar, and of course the jungle adventures of Tarzan. I still get a kick out of reading them as an adult today.

Burroughs began writing in 1911, submitting stories to pulp fiction magazines while briefly employed as a pencil sharpener wholesaler. He is quoted as saying "When I started I was 35 and had failed in every enterprise I had ever attempted...Every well-known publisher in the United States turned down "Tarzan of the Apes", including A.C. McClurg & Co., who finally issued it, my first story in book form. It's popularity and its final appearance as a book was due to the vision of J. H. Tennant, editor of the New York Evening World. He saw its possibilities as a newspaper serial and ran it in the Evening World, and the result was that other papers followed suit. This made the story widely known, and resulted in a demand from readers for the story in book form, which was so insistent that A.C. McClurg & Co. finally came to me after they rejected it and asked to be allowed to publish it. And that's how I became a writer!"

By 1923, he had organized his own company to market his works. Burroughs was also quite skilled in marketing, bringing his popular Tarzan character to the movie screen, radio, and to comics. In his latter years, ERB continued to write prolifically, and is said to have written an average of 20,000 words a week while living in Hawaii.

Although not widely known except by fans, Burroughs actually witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor while it was taking place, and served as the oldest war correspondent during WWII. Quotes Burroughs in a letter to his daughter noting how unprepared our American forces were at the time, "A navy man told me that every gun on every ship in Pearl Harbor was firing at one lone Jap who was flying low while bombing, and every shot missed him. One soldier is credited with bringing down one Jap with an automatic rifle. The Jap was flying low straight toward him, machine gunning as he came. The soldier said that he was scared stiff, but he kept firing and had the thrill of seeing the Jap crash just beyond him. During all of this, we continued to play tennis at the hotel. There was nothing else that we could do as orders were constantly being broadcast to civilians to keep off the streets, to stay home, and not to use the telephone; also to remain calm."

Rare Book Monthly

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