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Sources for and Imitators of the
Edgar Rice Burroughs Classic
by Georges Dodds
Reprinted from The Official Newsletter of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association
Fall 2001 (Volume 15, Number 2)

In July 1911, at age 36, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) had been married for over 10 years, had four children, and was trying to make a living at yet another get-rich scheme, selling pencil sharpeners in his native Chicago. He began writing Under the Moons of Mars while working for his brother Coleman’s stationery business. ERB submitted the first half of the manuscript to the Munsey magazines in New York City, August 11, 1911, under the pseudonym Norman Bean. The story ran from February to July, 1912, in All-Story under the byline Norman Bean and was a rousing success. However, Burroughs had a great deal of difficulty finding a book publisher for the story and it was only in 1917 that A.C. McClurg & Company of Chicago published it as A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This firm also published such early science fiction classics as Ray Cummings’ Tarrano the Conqueror, The Man Who Mastered Time, and Brigands of the Moon, George Allan England’s The Flying Legion, and Otis Adelbert Kline’s Maza of the Moon. For a more detailed biography/bibliography of Burroughs, I refer you to Irwin Porges’ 820-page Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (Brigham Young University Press, 1976; reprinted by Ballantine). 

Burroughs’ Mars series ended up running to 11 titles (all available from Ballantine; a few were reprinted by Ace in the early 1960s): 
1. Under the Moons of Mars, magazine,1912; book, A Princess of Mars, 1917
2. The Gods of Mars, magazine, 1913; book, 1918
3. The Warlord of Mars, magazine, 1913-14; book, 1919
4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars, magazine, 1916; book, 1920
5. The Chessmen of Mars, magazine, 1922; book, 1922
6. The Master Mind of Mars, magazine, 1927; book, 1928
7. A Fighting Man of Mars, magazine, 1930; book, 1931
8. Swords of Mars, magazine, 1934-35; book, 1936
9. Synthetic Men of Mars, magazine, 1939; book, 1940
10.Yellow Men of Mars, magazine, 1941; book, Llana of Gathol, 1948
11. Skeleton Men of Jupiter, magazine, 1943, combined with John Carter and the Giants of Mars, magazine, 1941; book, John Carter of Mars, 1964

The first book in the series tells of ex-Union soldier John Carter, who takes refuge from Apaches in a cave in Arizona. He falls into a trance while staring at the planet Mars and is magically transported there. Captured by green men, he quickly becomes their leader and saves the beautiful human girl, Dejah Thoris, princess of Mars. There are numerous other swashbuckling adventures with a great diversity of reptilian and saurian creatures. As the atmosphere generating system of the planet breaks down, Carter rushes to save Mars but is suddenly pulled back to Earth, only to return in the subsequent books. 

When it comes to what works influenced Burroughs in the writing of A Princess of Mars , he himself said that, except in childhood, he had read very little fiction. Assumptions that the saurians were suggested by Arthur Conan Doyle’s (1859-1930) The Lost World do not hold up since Doyle’s story only appeared one year later (magazine, The Strand, 1912; book, Doran, 1912). Certainly there are a number of older works that place dinosaurs and other strange beasts on other planets. In Percy Greg’s (1836-1889) Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record (Trübner, 1880, Hyperion Press, 1974), various saurians and bizarre monsters are found in remote areas of Mars. The 19th century tycoon John Jacob Astor’s (1864-1912) A Journey in Other Worlds (Longmans, Green & Company, 1894) tells of dinosaurs and mammoths on Jupiter. George Griffith’s (1857-1906) Stories of Other Worlds (Pearson’s Magazine, January-May, 1900; book, A Honeymoon in Space, C. Arthur Pearson, 1901; duplicated in Science Fiction by the Rivals of H.G. Wells, Castle Books, 1979) has saurian creatures attacking the spaceship Astronef during its stay on Saturn. 

There was some suggestion that Burroughs’ work had been influenced by H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds (Harper’s, 1898). Admittedly both deal with Martians, but as Jacques Sadoul put it in his Histoire de la science-fiction moderne—1. Domaine anglo-saxon (J’ai Lu, 1975): 

No Jules Verne-like scientific explanation is given, and no H.G. Wells-like philosophical ideology is developed. It is adventure in pure form. 

Similar to Wells’ work, an early utopian novel of Mars by Kurd Lasswitz (1848-1910), Auf zwei Planeten (Verlag B. Elischer Nachfolger, 1897; English  translation as Two Planets, Popular Library, 1978), deals very much with the interactions between the peoples of Earth and Mars but is not interested in rapid-fire adventure, resembling to a certain extent some of the later works of Olaf Stapledon (Star Maker, Last and First Men). The French “pulp” author Gustave LeRouge’s (1867-1938) Le prisonnier de la planète Mars (Méricant, 1908) and it’s sequel, La guerre des vampires (Méricant, 1909; reprinted Union générale d’éditions, 1976, Robert Laffont, 1986), tell of an engineer, Robert Darvel, being transported to Mars by the combined psychic energy of several fakirs assembled in an Indian monastery. There he finds vampire creatures trying to take over Mars from the humans. The novel includes a mysterious giant brain, master of Mars, an entire civilization of sleepers in caves under the surface of the planet, and the inhabitants of an underwater city who remain completely indifferent to the action on the planet surface. These works by Lasswitz and LeRouge, while inaccessible to Burroughs, show that there was certainly a wide variety of literature set on Mars prior to Burroughs’ Under the Moons of Mars.

Two earlier books most closely resemble Burroughs’ work: Journey to Mars, by Gustavus W. Pope, M.D. (G.W. Dillingham, 1894, Hyperion Press, 1974) and Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, by Edwin Lester Arnold (1905; Ace, circa 1965 as Gulliver of Mars, Arno Press, 1975 as Lieut. Gulliver Jones: His Vacation). There is no evidence that ERB ever read either of these titles, but given the similarities it is interesting to speculate on Burroughs’ influences. 

Science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz, in his introduction to  the Hyperion Press edition of Journey to Mars, points to several
elements that recur in Burroughs’ work. Both heroes are officers, John Carter, a captain in the U.S. Army, and Lieutenant Frederick Hamilton of the U.S. Navy. On both versions of Mars there are ancient, declining civilizations with super-technology, however the  weapon of choice remains the sword. Both heroes have greater strength than the native Martians, given the lower gravitation (Burroughs) or the higher oxygen content of the air (Pope). Both men fall for their respective beautiful princess, Dejah Thoris (Burroughs) and Suhlamia (Pope). Both young women are courageous and come from a race of people who live for an indefinite time. The Martians in Pope’s book ride around on gigantic birds instead of the Thoths encountered on Burroughs’ Barsoom. Finally, both books have a cliffhanger ending, Burroughs’ world about to succumb to asphyxiation, Pope’s royal city to be destroyed by a meteorite storm. While there are differences in that Carter is mysteriously transported to Mars while Hamilton reaches it aboard a Martian spacecraft visiting a Martian base at the Earth’s North Pole, and that Pope’s story is much more slowly paced than Burroughs’, the similarities exist. Pope published another SF novel, A Journey to Venus (F. Tennyson Neely, 1895), but this has never been reprinted and is not a sequel to A Journey to Mars. Very little is known of Pope except that he was a medical doctor practicing in Washington, D.C., who also wrote half a dozen juvenile adventure novels, some non-fiction, and some religious pamphlets.

Lieut. Gullivar of Mars is held by most accounts to be the most likely influence on ERB’s Under the Moons of Mars , except that while widely available in England, it was not published in the United States until the 1965 Ace (F-296) edition, with cover art by Frank Frazetta. Edwin Lester Arnold was the son of the famous Sir Edwin Arnold, Orientalist, journalist (chief editor of the London Daily Telegraph), and author of the long narrative poem “The Light of Asia” (1879). E.L. Arnold (1857-1935) was born in Swanscombe, Kent, England, spent his childhood in India, and returned to England to study agriculture and ornithology. After much world travelling with his father he settled down to a job as a journalist in 1883. In 1890 his first novel, Phra the Phoenician, appeared in the prestigious Illustrated London News, in 26 parts each with a full-page illustration (it pays to have a daddy in high places). The first edition (Harper's 1890) had no illustrations since it was likely a pirated edition, but the first British edition (Chatto and Windus, 1891) did include about half the illustrations. The latter edition was reprinted in the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library, Volume XI (1977). 

Phra is a novel of reincarnation in which the title character, a Phoenician merchant, sails to Britain. There he meets a beautiful barbarian druid princess, Blodwen. When Julius Caesar invades Britain, he dies after having been betrayed by a jealous druid. He wakes up 400 years later, not having aged, and, courtesy of Blodwen, with his entire past history tattooed on his body. After more swashbuckling adventures, he dies again to reawake another 400 years later, and so on. Finally, in Elizabethan times, hoping he will truly die and rejoin Blodwen in Eternity, he writes his memoirs.

The story was very popular and even reprinted by popular demand as late as 1945 (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, September 1945). Phra also spawned a number of imitations, the best known of which is George Griffith’s Valdar the Oft-Born: A Saga of Seven Ages (Pearson’s Weekly, 1910; FAX Collector’s Editions, 1972). Another excellent variation on the theme is Arthur D. Howden-Smith’s Grey Maiden (magazine, Adventure, 1926; book, Longmans, 1929, abridged version, Centaur, 1974), about an imperishable sword which is discovered and used at intervals through history. Arnold himself  reused the theme in the novelette Rutherford the Twice-Born (The Idler, 1892; in book form, The Story of Ulla, 1895), and in the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Lepidus the Centurion: A Roman of Today (1901; reprinted Arno Press). Unfortunately the latter novel’s comedic style didn’t go over well with the reading public and Lepidus was a bomb. 

It was not until 1905 that Arnold published his great Martian novel. When it received only a lukewarm welcome, he stopped writing altogether. He died 30 years later, largely forgotten. The resemblances with Burroughs’ Under the Moons of Mars are remarkable. Both Carter and Jones reach Mars by unscientific means, the former by astral projection, the latter on a magic carpet!  Both versions of Mars have very similar civilizations, down to the absence of old people and small children. Jones’ princess is Heru, and he meets the Hither People, a group remarkably similar to Burroughs’ Heliumites. John Carter’s rescue of Dejah is duplicated, as is his journey down the river Iss (in The Gods of Mars ). The return to Earth under dire circumstances at the end of the story is also common to both books. Richard A. Lupoff, in his introduction to the first American edition of the novel (Gulliver of Mars), having outlined these similarities, points out that while John Carter is a great, fearless, swashbuckling hero, Gullivar Jones is pretty much a wimp in comparison. Lupoff suggests that Carter was perhaps patterned on Phra, as these two characters are very much alike.

Who best to imitate Burroughs than Burroughs himself. In 1932 he began his Carson Napier on Venus series (reprinted by Ace): 
1. Pirates of Venus, magazine, 1932; book, 1934
2. Lost on Venus, magazine, 1933; book, 1934 
3. Carson of Venus, magazine, 1938; book, 1939 
4. Captured on Venus, The Fire Goddess, The Living Dead, War on Venus, magazine, 1941-42; book, Escape on Venus, 1946 
5. Wizard of Venus, book, 1964

In this series, astronaut Carson Napier misses Mars and ends up crash-landing on Venus. From there on “only the names are changed” from the Mars series (the beautiful Dejah Thoris is replaced by the equally gorgeous Duare, princess of Vepaja).

Finally, in his last years, Burroughs began another series with Tangor on Poloda, this being a planet 450,000 light years from Earth, and including Princess Yamoda. The first installment, Beyond the Farthest Star, appeared in Blue Book, January, 1942. The second, Tangor Returns, remained unpublished at Burroughs’ death. They were reprinted together by Ace as Beyond the Farthest Star, and along with other short stories and novellas in Tales of Three Planets (Canaveral Press, 1964).

One of the first imitations of Burroughs’ Under the Moons of Mars was James Ullrich Giesy’s trilogy Palos of the Dog Star Pack (All-Story, July 1918), Mouthpiece of Zitu (All-Story, July1919), and Jason, Son of Jason (All-Story, 1921). The hero, Dr. Jason Croft, is able to send forth his astral body to the planet Palos, in the Dog Star Pack, where he eventually enters the body of a man literally dying of love for the beautiful Princess Naia. After numerous adventures he returns to Earth. In the second novel he returns to Palos as the mouthpiece of the god Zitu, interpreting the god’s pronouncements for the people. In the last novel he has become dictator over Palos, and has introduced railways and electricity. He marries Naia and has a son, Jason, Jr. To my knowledge these have never been reprinted.

The author closest to the spirit of Burroughs’ Mars novels is  Otis Adelbert Kline (1891-1946). Camille Cazedessus, Jr., editor of ERB-dom Magazine, called him “one who came so close (to Burroughs) that many consider him to have equalled the old master himself.” Vernell Coriell, founder of the Burroughs Bibliophiles, called him “the only author to be compared with Edgar Rice Burroughs, but whose work is as original as Burroughs’ own!” 

In The Outlaws of Mars (1933), Jerry Morgan is transported to Mars through a time-space transporter and saves the world, and Princess Junia. In The Swordsmen of Mars (1933), Harry Thorne is transported to Mars by the Martian scientist Lal Vak so that Thorne can sort out the rather dicey political situation there. As Borgen Takkor, he falls for the princess, Neva, and after numerous adventures, marries her. But his job is not done and he ends up on Venus in Prince of Peril (1930). Kline, in his foreword to Prince of Peril, explains that Borgen Takkor was born on Mars, transferred to Earth for a decade, and finally found his career and place on Venus with Princess Loralie. In a parallel series, Planet of Peril (1930) and Port of Peril (1932), Robert Grandon, an ex-military man, transfers bodies with a Venusian, fights off numerous nasty beasts, and, naturally, saves a princess, Vernia. Finally, in Maza of the Moon (1930), Ted Dustin is swept off to the moon in an experimental plane. There he fights alongside the beautiful Maza, queen of the moon people. While this novel tends a little more towards space opera, it follows pretty much in the same vein as the others. 

All these titles were reprinted by Ace between 1960 and 1962. A short story, “A Vision of Venus” (1933), is reprinted in Swordsmen in the Sky (Ace, 1964). Kline’s novels, though not as well known as Burroughs’, certainly match Burroughs in pace and action. 

Another interesting series is Ralph Milne Farley’s Radio Man series. Born in Massachusetts, Roger Sherman Hoar (1887-1963) was the son of a senator, and later state senator. He was also the inventor of a system for aiming big guns by the stars, which in 1918 was revolutionary. The series began in 1924 with The Radio Man (Fantasy Company, 1948), followed by The Radio Beasts (magazine, 1925; Ace, 1960s), The Radio Planet (magazine 1926; Ace, 1960s), The Radio Man Returns (magazine, 1939), and a posthumously published work, The Radio Minds of Mars (magazine, 1955). 

These books include the ubiquitous princess (Lilla) and swordplay. The main character is Myles S. Cabot, a radio engineer, who gets mysteriously teleported to Venus when tinkering with an experimental radio set. The inhabitants of Venus are ant-men, and winged and antennaed humans. With materials on hand, Cabot produces a radio headset which can capture and amplify both ant and humanoid language. Through succeeding novels he is embroiled in wars between monsters, dinosaurs, and the intelligent ant-men.

Farley also wrote a center-of-the-Earth lost race novel, The Radio Flyers (Argosy, 1929; reprinted in Famous Fantastic Classics #2 , Fax Collector’s Editions, 1975) which is somewhat reminiscent of Burroughs’ Pellucidar series. 

Of course there were also some absolutely horrible John Carter-like characters, leading to the Flash Gordon school of interplanetary heroes. For a sample of this fare I suggest Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante (complete with sex-crazed Camian goat-women!) in Sensuous Science Fiction from the Weird and Spicy Pulps (Bowling Green University Popular Press). 

A slight variant on Burroughs’ Mars stories is William Gray Beyer’s Minions of the Moon (magazine, 1939; Gnome Press, 1950), where the hero is put into a state of suspended animation and wakes up in the far future. Unlike Burroughs’ story, he is transported in time not space, however his adventures as the eventual leader of neo-Vikings, the beautiful princess, Nona, and his destruction of the evil “dangerous brains” are all clearly in the Burroughs tradition.

Another excellent novel in the style is Festus Pragnell’s (1905-?) The Green Man of Graypec (magazine,1935; book, Greenberg, 1950), of which H.G. Wells said: “I think it’s a very good story, indeed, of the fantastic scientific type and I was much amused and pleased to find myself…in it.”

Learoy Spofford, American tennis champion, is suddenly transported to Graypec on the planet Kilsona. There, in another man’s body, he saves a beautiful blonde woman, Issa, and helps her caveman tribe fight off strange crustacean life forms, reminiscent of Burroughs’ insectoid Martians. Just when all the fighting is over and he is about to marry Issa, the former owner of his body shows up and he returns to Earth. 

A very similar body-switch story is Edmond Hamilton’s (1904-1977) The Star Kings (magazine, 1949; Paperback Library, 1967), in which John Gordon becomes Zarth Arn (where do they get these names?), prince of the Mid-Galactic Empire, two million years in the future. While smooching it up with the beautiful Lianna, he manages to save the democratic Empire World from the fascist dictatorship of the Black Cloud Regime (gee, I wonder who they represent?). In the end of course, he gets the heave-ho back to Earth at the most inopportune moment, romantically speaking.

Hamilton’s wife, Leigh Brackett  1915-1978), also wrote a series of John Carter-like stories set on Mars. As a matter of fact she readily admitted that her novels of Eric John Stark on Mars were directly inspired by Burroughs, but she did add her own touches, such as Celtic mythology and legend. A series of three John Stark novels were published by Ballantine in the 1970s, and some novellas were published by Ace, circa 1970 (The People of the Talisman, The Secret of Sinharat). Besides writing science fiction, Brackett did a lot screenplay work in Hollywood, including with William Faulkner on the Bogart movie The Big Sleep, and the John Wayne movies Rio Bravo and Hatari.

Even Robert E. Howard (1906-1936), the creator of Conan, tried his hand at the genre in his Almuric (Weird Tales, 1939; book, Berkley, 1975). Unfortunately it has been 15 years since I read it, so, besides telling you that the hero, Esau Cairn, ends up on the planet Almuric and helps it’s human population fight off the evil Winged Ones from Yugga, city of the Yagas (oh, those names!), I cannot give you too many details.

In the 1960s and ’70s, when most of Burroughs’ and Howard’s novels were reprinted in cheap paperback editions, there was a boom of imitators. One amusing example is Andrew J. Offutt’s (1934- ) Ardor on Aros (Dell, 1973), an avowed satire on Burroughs’ Mars, with chapter titles like “The Girl Who Was Not Dejah Thoris” and “The Man Who Was Not Tordos Mors.”

It follows the basic arrival to the alien planet routine, but then the hero turns out to be a relative wimp who watches while a princess is raped (and enjoys it) by a bunch of barbarians. He has the usual adventures, but isn’t yanked back to Earth. Rather, he figures out that the world of Ardor is actually his old girlfriend’s dream. It is a very humourous novel if you have read the endless platonic relationships in Burroughs’ stories and those of his contemporaries. 

Offutt also has written a trilogy of Cormac MacArt (a Robert E. Howard character) novels (The Sword of the Gael, The Undying Wizard, The Sign of the Moonbow; Zebra, 1975-77), and some historical adult novels under the pen name John Cleve (the Crusader series; Grove Press, 1980). 

Perhaps the best modern books in the Burroughs tradition are Lin Carter’s series set on the Jovian moon Callisto, and dedicated to Burroughs. Jonathan Andrew Dark is a Vietnam vet who is transported to Callisto, where begin his adventures under the name  Jandar. The princess’ name is Darloona and there is the usual cast of strange creatures and evil aliens. The series includes Jandar of Callisto, Black Legion of Callisto, Sky Pirates of Callisto, Mad Empress of Callisto, Mind Wizards of Callisto, Lankar of Callisto, Ylana of Callisto, and Renegade of Callisto (Dell, 1972-1976). Interestingly, the title characters of the penultimate book in each series are Llana and Ylana. Altogether these novels are entertaining in their genre, if you aren’t already saturated with the same old plot. 

Linwood Vrooman Carter (1930-198?) is perhaps best remembered as the editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, which reprinted many fantasy classics between 1969 and 1974. He also wrote numerous other science fiction and sword and sorcery novels, as well the non-fiction works Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy (Ballantine, 1973), and Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos (Ballantine, 1972).

Finally, no less than Michael Moorcock wrote a trilogy of Barsoomian pastiches under the pen name Edward P. Bradbury. Originally titled Warriors of Mars (1964; reprinted as City of the Beast, New English Library), Blades of Mars (1968, reprinted as Lord of the Spiders, New English Library), and Masters of the Pit (1969, reprinted New English Library). Michael Kane, a physicist, creates a matter transmitter and ends up on Mars. Princess Shizala is saved from a fate worse than death and adventures pile on adventures.It just goes to show how Burroughs’ influence has been extended to even modern writers.


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