Edgar Rice Burroughs

One of my favorite authors is fantasy/sci-fi master Edgar Rice Burroughs. Although he’s most famous for his Tarzan books, my first encounter with his work was through the deathless Virginian, John Carter, and his incomparable Dejah Thoris. I happened to stumble across A Princess of Mars on Project Gutenberg when I was browsing through their most-downloaded titles. “Well, this one could be interesting,” I thought. “It must be pretty good if it’s this popular and I do love sci-fi.” (Like most if not all of his books, it’s as much or maybe more fantasy than sci-fi, but I didn’t know this at first.) So I put it on my Kindle and started reading. I was instantly hooked. Every other Burroughs book Project Gutenberg had was on my Kindle by the end of the week and it didn’t take me more than 4 weeks to read them. I also started my print collection right away, focusing particularly on the ones I couldn’t get from Gutenberg. But I hope to own a copy of every book he ever wrote eventually.

All of Burroughs’ books have a similar feel. In fact, he’s been criticized for all of his books being “the same plot, just different settings.” I don’t think they’re all the same, but there are certain common denominators. He obviously had a very specific idea of what characteristics a hero must have, as most of his books could swap protagonists and we’d scarcely notice. They’re not identical twins – but they are all brothers. Certain plot devices are common to most of his books, but are always rearranged and twisted into a new narrative. Chases, capture, escapes, villains with no honor who are out to kill our hero and enslave his love, and a hero who inevitably becomes a champion for the oppressed and of course always wins his true love. One would think that his plots would be repetitive and tiresome after the first few, but I never grow tired of them. He always manages to make each one fresh and new.

His strongest point is in the creation of exotic locales, environments, societies, and creatures. His imagination is unsurpassed in that regard; he is the master of creating worlds. From Mars to Venus to Luna to the center of the Earth to a lost continent in the south Pacific, the settings for his stories are always incredible, fantastic, and unbelievable. Each series is set in a new place and each location is fully developed and as radically different from all the others as from the Earth we know. The only one that is not completely his creation is the jungles of Africa where Tarzan lives; he was somewhat bound by actual facts on that one. His science is a little fuzzy, but his fiction is top-notch. It is with good reason that his work has endured as long as it has and that he is considered one of the most influential writers of modern times.