Essay: It’s Always the Story

Tarzan, The Tarzan Files

Yesterday, while chasing down an image, I came across this essay at ERBGraphics and thought I would share. If you haven’t discovered Erbgraphics yet — take some time and visit.

It’s Always the Story

by Charlie Madison at Erbgraphis
No one of the modern age seriously believes, as most people, including Edgar Rice Burroughs, once did, that Venus is a swampy sauna, defined by its rain forests and vast wetlands. Today, we know that if there is a real analog to biblical Hell, Venus is probably it—800°F, air pressures 92 times Earth normal, and a runaway greenhouse effect.
However, when you read a Burroughs Venus-series adventure, none of that matters. Because, Burroughs knew what all good authors know—the story is everything. If the story is well done the reader will enter a state of belief-suspension that for a while allows him or her to put aside known fact to accept the fictional “reality” described.

When setting, plot, and character work together in a great story, to the reader, fact just doesn’t matter. Robert Heinlein, when writing his classic Red Planet, knew full well that Mars was not the place described by astronomers Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell with their defunct notions of Martian Canals. Heinlein knew the science of his day, but knew also that reality wouldn’t serve his tale of survival and interspecies cooperation nearly as well as the Schiaparelli/Lowell fantasy in which this very popular novel is set. Since Red Planet was first published in 1949, millions of readers know he was right.

Read the rest at Erbgraphics.


  • Science Fiction and Fantasy are the improbable made plausible. Mr. Burroughs was among the best at doing this.

  • “When setting, plot, and character work together in a great story, to the reader, fact just doesn’t matter.
    …(Readers) don’t care if the real Africa isn’t the place about which they read in the Tarzan stories or that Barsoom could never have existed. To them, Carson Napier and Duare are still seeking a home on a wet, lush Amtor. Tarzan is alive and living on his estate somewhere on the dark continent, and John Carter is still fighting for honor, friendship, and the love of an incomparable woman in a Mars real only in their hearts and souls.”

    Wonderful essay! Burroughs’ worlds will always work, due to their internal consistency and the fact that we come to prefer them to their comparatively mundane real-world counterparts.

  • So true!

    I also found on this site a very interesting piece on Robert E. Howard’s Almuric, another favorite of mine, where it is hinted that a Otto Binder finished the novel.

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