Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kaor, Earthlings!

You may have seen the ads for an upcoming movie, JOHN CARTER OF MARS. It's based on a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was an extremely prolific and imaginative author of pulp adventure fiction in the early 20th century. The first book in the Mars series was published in 1912 - one hundred years ago! (and it was titled A PRINCESS OF MARS - that's right, girls - the 11th and last book was the one actually called JOHN CARTER OF MARS)

Most people don't recognize the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs these days, although I'll bet you know about his most famous creation - Tarzan. (Jane, too!) Cheeseball movies aside (which he probably had no control over anyway), ERB wrote so much more than Tarzan. Mars, Venus, a whole 'nother country inside the Earth called Pellucidar... and these were series of novels. He wrote multiple series of highly successful commercial novels. Sure, it was pretty darn pulpy, but it was fun, too. (Also a little racist and misogynist and otherwise now wince-inducing, but it was 1912. You think the people in 2112 (if there are any left) won't think we were boneheads?) Mr. Burroughs also wrote many one-offs that ranged from ancient Rome to the post-apocalyptic future. In all, he wrote 91 books. 91, people. Wow. The books are very fast-paced, full of adventure, full of Amazing Coincidences and Unbelievable Occurrences, but that's pulp. (John Carter is constantly hiding behind a rock or a curtain at the exact moment his enemies decide to take a break and verbally review their evil plan one more time.) There's also quite a bit of intentional humor in them. They are a fun read if you like that sort of thing.

In my youth, my older brother discovered the ERB books. Since I read whatever he read (which annoyed the crap out of him), I read ERB, too. And while I was enjoying the exciting adventures, exotic locales and heaving bosoms, I was also learning about pacing, plot, efficient and economical writing and the fact that some guy who had never written a book before sat down one day, wrote his first novel (the aforementioned A PRINCESS OF MARS) and started a lifelong career of incredible success. You go, ERB.

I don't know if I'll see the new JOHN CARTER movie. Those Tharks look jacked up to me... hmmph.

But as I continue to work on my current manuscript - my own post-apocalyptic adventure tale which is nothing like what Edgar ever wrote - I tip my hat across the century which divides us to a great storyteller who simultaneously entertained and educated me in the craft of commercial fiction writing. (along with many other authors) And as I near the end of my tale, I've been struggling to find a name for a minor, yet pivotal, character who has one all-important scene in the final chapter.

You know what? I'm going to call him Burroughs.

Thanks again, Edgar!

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