ERB and JRRT: Craftsmen of the Modern Imagination

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JRR Tolkien’s birthday on January 3 elicited a reminder from ERB scholar Jess Terrell about an article I had written for the Fall 2017 edition of the ERB-APA journal.  The article explored how Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tolkien earned their prominent positions in the history of their respective genres of fiction, and how they exerted cultural influence which is felt today and which continues to guide the modern imagination.  I submitted a revised version of the article to Bill Hillman at, which he was kind enough to publish!

Several years ago, an online conversation between myself and another fan of imaginative storytelling turned to the comparison of Edgar Rice Burroughs (a.k.a. ERB, author of Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars) and J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion). We explored the question of whether ERB and Tolkien are brothers in the realm of fiction, or is it simply ludicrous to mention them in the same sentence? Is the comparison necessary, or even useful?

What can be gleaned by contrasting the two? What do their works have in common, and at what points do they diverge? Arguably, each man is the greatest imaginative mind yet seen on his respective side of the pond. By circumstance, each began writing in the same year, 1911 – ERB with the manuscript that would become A Princess of Mars, and Tolkien with the poem The Battle of the Eastern Field. Taking a closer look at their careers can help shed light on the overlapping and exclusive value of each man’s works, and bring into focus the cultural impact each has had and may yet have in the future.

A case can be made that each author achieved the pinnacle of imaginative fiction in the history of his respective nation. In many ways, Tolkien’s work embodies the storied history of the United Kingdom, in contrast to the American wild west which shaped ERB’s imagination-scape. Each man’s style is reflective of his culture and its collective desires. Tolkien sought to fill a cultural void by crafting a myth for his own race, the Anglo-Saxons, who were surrounded by several European societies which boasted of rich heritage deeply rooted in mythology. Borrowing judiciously, and founding his effort on the framework of his love of language, he created the world of Arda, in which the race of Man gradually becomes prominent. In contrast, ERB was, first and foremost, a storyteller of the frontier. His stories take place in the adventurous thick of strange lands on Earth, inside the Earth, on the moon, and on numerous planets in the solar system and beyond. His heroes explore well off the beaten path, liberate the oppressed, guard the autonomy of those who are very different from themselves, and settle in new lands…

Read more at!

Other articles of mine published on include:

Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Legacy of Mars


John Carter of the Round Table: An Exploration of the Differences Between Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Novel and Andrew Stanton’s Film

One thought on “ERB and JRRT: Craftsmen of the Modern Imagination

  • The knowledge of the book and then the tremendous movie JOHN CARTER (of mars) cannot be lost to the back halls of some library.
    The movie in 2012 should have been referencing John Carter of Mars or a Princess of Mars and not just a name.
    Who would have come to see a movie Donald Deutsch (me) but adding OF MARS would have worked.
    Today the Science Fiction/Super Heroes audience have lost “The AVENGERS” via the END GAME and now WHAT???
    X-Men, gone, Superman, Aquaman, Batman, Spiderman, etc.—-gone or re-filmed to death, so what is left.
    RE-BOOT JOHN CARTER OF MARS 2 with the same 2 main players, Taylor Gitsch and Lynn Collins 10 years later going into the 2nd book and pick of the Gods of Mars or so on and DISNEY or whomever will have a sure fire hit.

    I have watched John Carter two dozen times or more and the last screen where Taylor and Lynn say “Basoom” make me and millions of remaining fans ask “is this the end? it can’t be. We know what the literature says that last screen, the feeling, and especially the LOVE cannot end for ever. It cannot.
    Please, if anyone ever reads these thoughts pass onto Disney or whomever to capture the treasure of the John Carter of Mars series. I pray this request is read and believed.
    Regards, Donald Deutsch

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