In my (seemingly) never-ending quest to find someone who can articulate the unique and special genius of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I came across this article by R. E. Prindle with the very promising title of “The Treasure Vaults of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Unconsciousness” which was originally published in the Spring 2002 Issue of the Burroughs Bulletin and I stumbled across it at I,Dynamo. I particularly like the way it starts, setting up a context:
The Treasure Vaults of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Unconsciousness
by R. E. Prindle
What makes an immortal writer? One thing and one thing only! Being able to captivate the mind of the reader. One may say that a magnificent use of grammar, vocabulary, syntax and such literary devices are important but only minimally. The greatest users of the language will be forgotten before their books have littered the remainder tables. Great ‘storytellers’ come and go with regularity. Every generation has its dozens. They are mere entertainment; amusing for a day and then forgotten.
An immortal writer may have faults, but with all his faults he is simply a writer who grips the reader’s imagination and won’t let go. Bulldogs. Such writers are in essence mythmakers. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes; D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers of Dumas. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If Walter Scott, the greatest of all novelists is slipping into oblivion it is because no matter how great a storyteller he may have been he has failed to create great mythological characters.
Tarzan himself would be no more than another Conan the Barbarian except that his adventures are placed in the mythical Africa which was dispelled by the advance of the twentieth century. Tarzan in Paris, Wisconsin or Baltimore in a suit of clothes is a mere laugh. In North Africa among the Berbers as a French ‘secret agent’ he begins to assume his true form, still there is something lacking there. Burroughs’ North Africa looks and feels too much like the real North Africa. When Tarzan arrives back in the jungle he assumes proportions that exceed one’s dreams.
The Greek myths are not historical reality; the fairy tales derived from the Greek myths take flight as mere fantasy. The difference between Perseus and Puss In Boots is immense. Yet Greek myths are a true representation of the human psyche while fairy tales are mere flights of fancy.
Read the rest at I,Dynamo
Also, here is a great page at (where else) Erbzine that contains links to dozens of articles and reviews by R. E. Prindle, who, it turns out, is quite a character.
As much as I found this article intriguing — like many others, it teases and makes progress towards an understanding — but doesn’t hit a nerve or produce that “Eureka” moment I’m searching for, and that’s not a criticism because if it was easy to capture what I’m looking for, I would just do it myself. It’s not easy. It’s very slippery.
Coincidentally, one of our readers and an astute observer, Abraham Sherman, offered something in a comment today that I’ll share here because it bears on the question of Burroughs’ genius:
That is the kind of appeal all the great fantasy worlds achieve – there are things about them that we prefer to reality. Pandora, the world of Avatar, is a return to Eden. Middle-earth is the idyllic existence of the Shire, with the ever-present opportunity for great adventures and crucial roles in the battle between good and evil. Barsoom is a dreamscape of exotic discovery and heroic opportunity. If those fantasy worlds are more than mere escape, they also set us back on our feet in better condition than ever to take the fight to our own Smaugs and Saurons and Than Kosises and Matai Shangs.
I like that…..it begins to get at the special nature of Barsoom — “exotic discovery and heroic opportunity”. And also Pandora-as-Eden works for me as well.
So……once again, the bar is open and comments about what makes Burroughs unique are welcome. Still searching for zingers………