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 ERBzine.com, 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 http://www.erbzine.com/mag67/6795.html!
Other articles of mine published on ERBzine.com include: