September 29, 2012
Edgar Rice Burroughs Wrestles With Time
There are two major themes in Burroughs that present significant difficulties. One is his preoccupation with slavery. Slavery pervades the corpus. I haven’t begun to guess at Burroughs notions on slavery. The second theme is the wrestle Burroughs has with the concept of Time. Time is a major preoccupation of scientific thinkers.
My ideas on Burroughs’ ideas on Time were jelled by the following quote from Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan that I came across while rereading the book recently:
“As a piece of technology, the clock is a machine that produces uniform seconds, minutes and hours, on an assembly-line pattern. Processed in this uniform way, time is separated from the rhythms of human
experience. The mechanical clock, in short, helps to create the image of a numerically quantified and mechanical universe. It was in the world of the medieval monasteries, with their need for a rule and for synchronized order to guide communal life, that the clock started on its modern developments. Time measured not by the uniqueness of private experience, but by abstract uniform units gradually pervading all sense of life, much as does the technology of writing and printing. Not only work, but also eating and sleeping, came to accommodate themselves to the clock rather than to organic needs. As the pattern of arbitrary and uniform measurement of time extended itself across society, even clothing began to undergo annual alteration in a way convenient for industry. At that point, of course, mechanical measurement of time as a principle of applied knowledge joined forces with printing and assembly line as means of uniform fragmentation of processes.”
While Burroughs never states his position as succinctly, McLuhan might have abstracted the above quote from Burroughs’ novels.
The Pellucidar series is centered on the problem of Time while Burroughs persistently dwells on the problem throughout the corpus. Mars, or Barsoom, itself is a contrast between the orbits of Earth and Mars with their two different durations of time, the year of Mars being nearly double that of Earth. The lost cities of Africa are a contrast of time periods as they all exist within the present while products of a distant past, most notably the lost city of Opar that dates back to Atlantis nearly unchanged.
Tied to the concept of Time are Burroughs’ notions on evolution. The most notable novel in that line being The Land That Time Forgot. Time forgot! Time didn’t so much forget as encapsulate a series of time periods that exist side by side.
Usually Burroughs’ ruminations are thoroughly disguised as ‘entertainment.’ If you are merely entertaining yourself by reading Burroughs you probably won’t consciously recognize the underlying examinations but you probably will be affected subconsciously. A hypnotic suggestion so to speak. After all, the stories themselves are fairly slight and yet the attention of readers from teenagers to college professors over a century now are riveted by the author.
I don’t intend to be exhaustive in this essay but I would like to concentrate on two novelistic examinations by Burroughs. The largest examination and most obvious is that of Tarzan At The Earth’s Core and its successor Tarzan The Invincible. The other more hidden example is Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid also known by its published title: The Oakdale Affair. I will begin with the latter.
I’ve written on Bridge And The Kid a couple of times, one major essay being on the ezine ERBzine, Only The Strong Survive. There is a great deal going on in this wonderful story that isn’t so obvious. I didn’t have that good a handle on the story although Lord know I tried.
I was mystified by the course taken by Bridge, the Kid, the Bear, the Gypsy Girl and Hetty Penning from the Squibb Farm to the destination warehouse. There is probably a great deal of symbolism I’m still not getting but as it appears to me now that Burroughs is contrasting more than two different kinds of time.
For instance, the journey between the two points takes a day and a night to complete by which I do not mean to say merely twenty-four hours of mechanical time but an experiential day and night. In other words, according to McLuhan, Time measured by the uniqueness of personal experience in contrast to time measured by abstract uniform units.
Both the origin of the journey and its end are based on experiential time where the sun, not the clock, governs actions. As darkness falls the journey is bisected by the passage through the town. Here experiential time is contrasted by mechanical time. That mechanical time is precisely measured according to the precepts of the efficiency expert Frederick Taylor. Indeed, within a year or so Burroughs would pen a book on the same theme entitled The Efficiency Expert.
In this book, Willie Case, a little farm boy who Gail Prim posing as a hobo had bummed from, came to town. The story involves several criminal acts and a major detective so Willie, an amateur detective, is hot to solve the crimes. Willie comes to town which is run by the clock. Willie has a dollar to spend. ERB accounts for each and every penny as it is spent. In a very humorous scene Willie goes into a restaurant at dinner time by the clock. In a Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford efficient assembly line manner Willie arranges his dinner plates so that he makes the minimum number of moves in a most timely manner, shoveling the food into his mouth in minimum time. Very efficient if ridiculous dining.
He then goes to the movies. Movies are run on a strict time schedule by the clock, so various aspects of rigid mechanical time have been represented. As Willie leaves the theatre he spots the hobo troupe weaving through town on experiential time. No straight lines. Here the two modes of time intersect. Very cleverly done on ERB’s part. The troupe then weave on to their destination while Willie makes a bee line to a phone booth to call the cops.
While one is not conscious of the two modes of time that ERB represents yet subconsciously a deepened interest is added to the story. While mystified by the action I would never have guessed the significance of the Time comparisons if I hadn’t read the McLuhan passage that put things into perspective.
About this time ERB wrote two other investigations of Time: The Efficiency Expert and The Land That Time Forgot.
I think his two most explicit investigations were Tarzan At The Earth’s Core and its successor Tarzan The Invincible.
Burroughs through Tarzan seems to reject Civilization carefully noting what Freud would call its Discontents. He seems to prefer experiential time to mechanical time. In Invincible he says:
Time is the essence of many things to civilized man. He fumes and frets, and reduces his mental and physical efficiency if he is not accomplishing something concrete during the passage of every minute of that medium which seems to him like a flowing river, the waters of which are utterly wasted if they are not utilized as they pass by.
Here Burroughs correctly identifies Time as a medium rather than a Fourth Dimension. In other words mechanical time is a social construct of man for his convenience but has no independent existence.
His Pellucidar series creates a model to investigate the nature of Time. Pellucidar is a model of a reversed Time and Space system. The earth is essentially turned outside in replicating the exterior in a closed rather than open universe. He posits a sun suspended in the interior that is perpetually shining. While the outer Earth rotates on its axis only half the surface is in light facing the sun, while the other half is in darkness facing away. Thus the appearance of change which is time is obvious. In Pellucidar as the Earth turns no portion of the inner world is in darkness, although the perpetual shadow from the interior moon must have described a circular path.
As there is no mechanical time there is no night and day, the beings of Pellucidar have no notion of the passing of mechanical time living in a perpetual NOW. Indeed there is no passing of Time; Time as a Dimension does not exist. Time is not necessary for existence; a person or thing is merely invested with a certain amount of energy. When that energy is expended the person or thing ceases to exist.
Thus, for example, when one winds a top it is invested with a certain amount of energy. At peak energy it rotates rapidly gradually slowing down into a wobble and when its energy is expended it falls over and attains perpetual rest. No time is involved although using man made mechanical tools the duration can be measured.
So, also in the universe at large. It is quite clear that Burroughs has Einstein in mind. In Invincible he says:
‘…but though Time and space go on forever, whether in curves or straight lines…’
One can’t mention curved space without being familiar with Einstein. He is thus offering an alternative to Einstein’s notion of the fabric of Time and Space. There can be no fabric of Time and Space as Time has no objective existence. It is a construct to serve the needs of man. The sun, for instance, came into existence with a definite amount of potential energy. Barring accidents, that energy will be expended at a certain rate just like the top and when that energy is fully expended the sun will follow whatever course the cessation of suns follow. There is no Time involved, hence no Time-Space conitnuum and no fabric of Time and Space.
McLuhan says essentially the same thing.
So, Tarzan At The Earth’s Core is a demonstration of the fallacy of Einstein’s notion.
Moving on to Tarzan The Invincible Burroughs then has Tarzan dealing with the notion of terrestrial time, the world turned rightside out. As McLuhan notes, the notion of a time to eat arose with clocks; Tarzan dispenses with the notion of a time to eat eating only when he is hungry. There are no clocks in Tarzan’s Africa. As Burroughs says an individual has all the time in the world:
Of all the vast resources that Nature had placed at their disposal, she had been most profligate with Time, since she had awarded to each all that he could use during his lifetime, no matter how extravagant of it he might be. So great was the supply of it that it could not be wasted, since there is always more even up to the moment of death, after which it ceased, with all things, to be essential to the individual. Tantor and Tarzan were therefore wasting no time as they communed together in silent meditation.
One has all the time one needs until the day one dies then one no longer has need of time. In other words, the organism’s energy has been expended and the husk falls to earth.
So Tarzan is active when necessary, such as hunting for food or fighting and lazes around when activity is unnecessary. Perfectly balanced and happy according to Burroughs. OK for the jungle, I suppose, but I’ve got things to do such as writing stuff like this, but then that is only how I dispose of the energy left in my organism during the time remaining. With other media such as electric lights, I am not bound by the diurnal cycle being freed from that experiential limitation. One only has to sleep when one is tired. Time means nothing to me either. With stores open around the clock I can even buy groceries when the mood hits me. Other items can be purchased on the internet at any time of day. So, technology has freed us from many of the restraints of what civilization is pleased to call time.
Thus when reading Burroughs one should always bear in mind what time means to him and how various notions of time relate to the story. Obviously in Invincible while Tarzan is attempting to live on experiential time the Revolutionaries are living by Clock and calendar. Thus the story is also a tale of the clock or two time systems.
I know there are reasons I like Burroughs other than interesting stories; complexities like the nature of Time are one of the extras if one can only discover and realize them. Now, I really have to work on the nature of slavery in the corpus.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Accreted Personality
On The Road To Success: 1911-1920
The Porges wrote the most comprehensive biography of Ed: Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. They were allowed to use the archives and to this date they are the only researchers who have. Although give the freedom of the archives they were apparently denied the freedom to write as they chose. There were others who were selected to write the biography but as they found information that it was considered inappropriate to disclose they were dismissed. The Porges were willing to write hagiography.
As Ed’s work reflects his life both before and as the books were written one can compare Porges’ biography with the novels to get some idea about the banned material. Some portions of this piece then will be guesswork from the biography and the novels. Bill Hillman at ERBzine has also unearthed details not in Porges on his ERBzine site. ERBzine is one of the great internet sites not only as concerns Burroughs but as a site. It is worthwhile to check out Bill’s work if you’re not familiar with it.
By 1911 then Ed’s psychology, his memories that he would use in writing his novels was in place. He already had a multi-faceted personality and he would add facets to that personality. He was quite extraordinary in being able to incorporate, seemingly, the whole of his memory banks. The question is were his references more obvious to his readers at the time than they are today. For instance the Dreyfus Affair in France of the 1890s gets a fairly comprehensive treatment in The Return Of Tarzan although today it would go unnoticed unless one were historically aware and then recognized what he was talking about.
The same goes with the Sky Pilot/Big Bill Haywood episode of The Oakdale Affair. Of course Sky Pilot/ Haywood merger
into John the Bully. (See my http://idynamo.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/pt-i-only-the-strong-survive/ , http://www.erbzine.com/mag14/1483a.html ) With the proper historical background what he’s talking about becomes clear if you read between the lines.
The novels of 1912-1914 directly refer to events and reading, questions and cultural problems, surrounding his pre-1900 reading and his reading of current writers after 1900. So far I have able to trace the contents of the novels back to that reading and those cultural questions. Other references I have picked up from other writers but may not have read the volumes themselves. I’m working at it.
In 1910 Ed was thirty-five years old. He had had a life of, shall we say, limited success so that he was becoming anxious about his possibilities for the future. As he approached the mid-life crisis that every man faces at forty the fear of failing self-realization gripped his soul. His was now a do or die situation. His only chance of success that he could see was to succeed as a writer and that was a million to one chance. Ed was an inveterate gambler.
By the time Ed began to write he was dealing with the problems of a world gone by. Since his youth from 1875 to 1900 and young manhood of 1900-1912 worlds had slipped away beneath his feet. There was a great difference between the world of his psychological and intellectual understanding of the world that had just passed away and the emerging world that would affect his future reputation.
Immigration had brought millions of Jews from Eastern Europe and millions of Italians from Southern Europe while the Negro revolt against Jim Crow would quickly gain momentum with the great Negro emigration North during the Great
War the resistance to White rule was beginning organization by the Negro chief, Marcus Garvey.
Ed’s activities in those matters were rooted in a pre-1900 milieu. While he himself was no bigot in any way, the mere accurate reporting of existing attitudes would be interpreted after 1950 as endorsement of them. Thus in merely participating in the attitude of his day Ed has been interpreted as a bigot by the various members of the Liberal Coalition. They have caused his books to be excised of any term or passage they deem offensive to their sensibilities. In doing so, of course, they have destroyed any evidence while there is nothing today in his published book that could offend the most Liberal. Hence, it never happened and Liberals can’t prove it did.
In addition as an avowed anti-Communist his successors have to fight the obliteration of his reputation from that quarter. The main threat is the TV and movie reformulation of Tarzan and John Carter into a Communist mold.
While Ed’s problems with accusations of anti-Semitism wouldn’t surface until 1919 after the success of the Bolshevik Revolution, the groundwork was being laid as the second decade opened. But a survey of that situation can wait to Book II and the years from 1920 to his death.
It may be sufficient for the present to note that the texts have been bowlderized to meet the prejudices of the current age. Thus any references that Jews and Negroes might find ‘offensive’ have been excised from the texts with the full compliance of ERB, Inc. since the sixties.
In the year or so before the acceptance of the Princess Of Mars Ed appears to have accepted the inevitable taking a job with Systems Magazine where he dispensed advice to readers on how to be a successful businessman. Interesting occupation for a guy who failed at selling pencil sharpeners.
During this period Ed pleads extreme poverty even to the extent of pawning Emma’s jewelry. I think the claim can be significantly discounted. As Ed had thrown over a promising career at Sears then such poverty if it existed was self chosen. In the second, his income at Systems, which seems to have been a profitable firm, must have been somewhere in the neighborhood of $3000 a year, well above the destitution level. And then he had no sooner sold Tarzan Of The Apes to Munsey’s than he quit Systems to assume a fulltime career as a writer.
One admires his boldness but one is appalled at the huge risk he took. As Emma, his friends and relations were shocked at the leap of faith Ed must have been thought of as foolish. Now, not only did he quit his day job but he immediately made plans to take a nine month long vacation to San Diego. This is without any money in the bank and no source of income other than the hope that whatever he wrote would sell. His only source of income being from the relatively low paying pulps as compared to the slicks such as the Saturday Evening Post.
I doubt that there was anyone who didn’t think he was out of his mind. If I’d been there I would have had to agree. The act was at the very least premature. Ed didn’t do anything on the cheap so he bought first class rail tickets including the freight for his second hand car and, I repeat, this is with only current cash in hand. Any expenses in San Diego would have to be met by receipts from the sale of his stories. This blows my mind whenever I think about it.
As it turned out he got along by the skin of his teeth leaving San Diego with about as much pocket money as he had when he arrived nine months earlier. Now, this goes further: his income for 1913 was ten thousand dollars- a handsome income for the time- which he blew as fast as it came in. One can only imagine the strain this placed on his marriage. While Ed Undoubtedly thought the money would come rolling in forever, in which as it turned out he wasn’t wrong, Emma must have been distracted to the point of her endurance.
Why would Ed do this? He obviously had a compelling psychological need: His desire to reclaim the lost kingdom of his youth, the repressed life since then, found release in the merest glimmer of success. He expressed his self-realization in the most extreme acts of the nouveau riche.
Once back in Chicago in the Spring of 1914 with the first efflorescence of repressed self-expression over Ed now had to settle down into continued production.
A Writer’s Life
He still had no other outlet for his stories than Munsey’s and other pulp magazines. While Tarzan had had a blockbuster effect within the small and despised universe of pulp readers, that smash was a mere ripple in the rest of the literary world. Besides in realistic terms Ed’s stories were obviously derivative as well as preposterous.
As he himself later acknowledged his career was really jump started when the New York Evening World began the serialization of Tarzan Of The Apes in newspapers. From the World the story was picked up by several other newspapers so that he earned another thousand dollars from that source while having the fame of the Tarzan story broadcast to a much larger audience than the pulps.
However, it was essential that Ed find a book publisher. His writing was so outre that there was no publisher that would touch him regardless of the obvious popularity of Tarzan. He was turned down by all the major houses. Ed was a literary pioneer. To be a success in the pulps at that time was not a respectable achievement. It would take another ten to fifteen years for publishers to recognize the market and that only after the phenomenal success of Bernarr Macfadden’s True Romance pulps that began after the War. Ed had the proverbial million dollar idea with no way to get it to realization.
Ed was forced to attempt to get local publisher McClurg’s to publish his wildly successful novel in pulps and newspapers. McClurg’s who after all had published Zane Grey’s The Short Stop who now in 1914 after The Riders Of The Purple Sage was wildly successful, would soon go on to publish some astoundingly stupid titles, stoutly rejected Tarzan Of The Apes.
It was only when Ed was making arrangements with a Cincinnati publisher that McClurg’s had a sudden change of mind. Thus a very small press run was published in 1914.
This is where the elation of success ended and the drudgery of management began. I haven’t seen the contract but I’m sure it’s interesting. Apparently Ed gave the publishing rights to McClurg’s for everything for fifteen years. Now, the prevailing opinion was that Ed was writing indescribable trash that for some miraculous reason sold. Even then Tarzan Of The Apes was received by the reprint house, A.L. Burt, with some trepidation. They required McClurg’s to guarantee the run by agreeing to buy all unsold copies. McClurg’s must have forced the book on them.
Contrary to reports of millions of copies having been sold when AL Burt turned the volume over to Grosset and Dunlap they reported somewhat less than seven hundred thousand copies sold. Of course Burt may have fudged selling perhaps twice as many but reporting the lesser figure but we can’t know.
As the Burt figures covered the first rush and G&D discontinued publication of Tarzan Of The Apes within a few years it is perhaps doubtful that the first of the series even sold a million copies. McClurg’s themselves contracted to print only 15,000 copies of the first edition of which there is doubt that they printed even that many copies.
So, by 1915 Ed had a pretty good backlog of titles available for publication of which McClurg’s published only one Tarzan title a year although later that decade they began to release the Mars books.
During all the decade Ed was hot in the pulp market. His work was eagerly received by the pulp readership. At the same time it wasn’t unusual for the popular writers at this time to issue two, three or even four books a year. Why then as there was a proven market for Burroughs’ name McClurg’s policy was not to market a hot author aggressively requires some explanation. Unfortunately that isn’t likely to be forthcoming. All the principals are dead while the successor company to McClurg’s advised me that all those files were lost while seeming reluctant to even discuss the issue.
Even though sales were good McClurg’s refused to print much more than ten or fifteen thousand copies of new titles, turning the volumes immediately over to the reprint publisher who put a fifty cent price on the books refusing Ed’s pleas to sell them for at least a dollar. This they steadfastly refused to do until 1948. The appearance is that they even refused to satisfy the market finally allowing their titles to go out of print for a couple years after WWII. When Ed published the titles under his control in 1948 at a dollar apiece G&D followed suit with theirs finally getting the price above fifty cents. There’s a story there that needs to be investigated.
Late in second decade of the century Ed was pleading with McClurg’s to print at least forty thousand copies of the first edition which they stoutly refused to do. This was important to Ed who received ten percent of the $1.30 retail price on the first edition and only 2 ½ cents on the reprint edition.
There was an ongoing struggle with McClurg’s for the length of the contract. At the same time the movie industry was developing by leaps and bounds. Merely a collection of one reelers at the beginning of the decade what were called seven and eight reel photo plays that actually told a story were being made. Hollywood was about to become the movie making capitol of the country but there were still companies in New York and Chicago. Ed hooked up with a Chicago company where he learned the woes of the fast and loose manner of the flickers. Boy, you really had to read those contracts and even that didn’t help. When I was in the record business in the seventies a major firm told me that a verbal contract was worthless and even if I had a written contract it wouldn’t be honored. If I wanted to sue it would take me decades and big money and then I still wouldn’t win and if I did win they still wouldn’t pay. Of course, by the seventies they had really developed their system.
Ed had an early success when The Oakdale Affair was filmed and a blockbuster when Tarzan Of The Apes was released. Collecting your money from the producers then and now was and is no easy task. I have other stories but this isn’t the place. But, the movies were essentially out of Ed’s hands so they don’t particularly pertain to Ed’s writing.
However, having devoted his time more or less fully to his writing through mid-1914 Ed began to squander his attention into less productive areas than his writing. I think this was a major mistake.
After the first gush was over in 1914 Ed had to search for his stories a little more. Rather than blasting them out one after the other in writings of thirty to sixty days Ed settled down to two or three a year.
When Ed incorporated himself in 1923 many think this was an innovation but in fact writing factories existed that issued titles under the same name although written by various writers, hence all those series like The Motor Boys and Tom Swift. Some writers were so prolific they wrote several stories a year using many different names. Baum himself published under both male and female pseudonyms.
Rather than settling down and attending to his writing Ed began to try to write movie scenarios that weren’t successful thus being a total waste of time. Perhaps antsy about getting his money Ed was a querulous presence on the movie lots making such a nuisance of himself that he was ultimately banned.
This was the beginning of a heady time for writers who could collect from several media: magazines, newspapers, books movies and even radio. As O. Henry explained it to Ed’s editor, Bob Davis:
Under the influence O. Henry turned to philosophizing until finally his thoughts led him to the salability of the printed word.
“For example, here is a notebook,” he said, taking the sheaf from his coat pocket. “It contains a dozen sheets of blank, white paper. With a lead pencil on these several sheets I write a tale three or four thousand words in length. You buy the story and print it in one of the magazines you edit. If it is a good story it gets into a book, or perhaps is dramatized and put on the stage. Very well; that’s a beginning that has to do with its earning power. I begin to get royalties on the volume, the serial rights, the drama and maybe some day a motion picture. It goes on and on reaping profit and yet it is never anything put the figment of my imagination converted into words. Is that clear.”
The term intellectual property began to have real cash value. Even the writing style began to conform to a scenario format. If one were fortunate to create a stellar character like Tarzan your fortune was made. While Ed’s personality prevented the success he should have enjoyed others profited greatly. With the advent of sound movies the Charlie Chan series released three and four movies a year for a decade or more. The series made the phrase ‘Number One Son’ a household term but Ed languished at the rate of a movie every two or three years. But, more on that later.
If ever someone’s past rose up to nip them from behind it was Ed’s. In psychological terms Ed was severely emasculated while being hysterical in nature. Just as memory constellates around its fixations so a type of writer constellates readers of the same type as himself. It may not be pleasant to realize it but if you are a Burroughs reader you are hysterical and emasculated to some degree.
Thus in writing his stories Ed constellated around his fixations. Having created his original characters, Tarzan, John Carter, and associated them with his mental fixations Ed then ransacked the literature he had read for incident and plot lines. This was partly done because Ed really admired the books he ‘quoted’ and wanted to write stories like them. If one is familiar with his reading then one can easily find the framework for his novels.
After 1912 when Ed quit his job to rely on his writing for an income he was confronted by new realities and temptations. One key reality was that he had a wife he didn’t want. Quite possibly he had never wanted Emma as a wife merely marrying her to spite Frank Martin. When he told this to his long time friend Bert Weston, Weston scoffed but I believe it is true.
Ed said that he walked out on Emma three times. While those times are not glaringly obvious one may have been somewhere between 1908-10 when he is reported calling her on the phone from East Bend, Indiana and a second may have been in 1918 before leaving Chicago. Certainly Ed’s success created great turmoil in his mind.
Having been put down most of his life while knowing he had a great talent, the realization of that talent caused a great sense of elation and self-confidence. However, because of his emasculation he still retained, at least for the time, a semi-dependent personality. He was easily influenced. Thus, after the publication of A Princess Of Mars when I believe he had the Carter Trilogy blocked out in his mind, while having formed the Tarzan conception in his head, he allowed his editor, Metcalf, to persuade him to write a medieval Men In Iron type story that was popular at the time in stories such as those of Howard Pyle.
Ed complied writing The Outlaw Of Torn that might have been well received by the readership but would also have presented Ed as a conventional writer rather continuing the sensationalist departure of Princess. In any event Metcalf rejected the story and rather than spend god knows how long tampering with the story for Metcalf’s satisfaction Ed wisely chose to shelve it and move on to Tarzan Of The Apes confirming his innovative status.
Metcalf accepted the story while running the entire novel in one issue. But remember you’re only talking about a potential hundred thousand readers in a despised literature. While Ed’s success was immediate it was like summer lightening, all flash and no thunder. Still he was a flash in the pulp sky that caught the attention of other publishers.
Ed followed Tarzan Of The Apes with The Return Of Tarzan that Metcalf also rejected. Enraged Ed shopped the story around to other pulps where it was accepted. In the pulp world Ed was already a commodity so Metcalf, who let the story and possibly the author, get away was axed as Ed’s editor and replaced by the irascible Bob Davis who remained his editor until 1920 when Davis departed for what he hoped were greener pastures.
Thus as 1914 closed Ed had a guaranteed income from Munsey’s , a more or less guaranteed income from book publishing and a soon to be realized erratic but potentially long term movie income. As the decade closed he earned peak income of a hundred thousand dollars, equivalent to several million today while with the addition of post-war global royalties life for that brief moment might have been viewed with quiet satisfaction. He had seemingly regained his princely status as prognosticated by his three favorite books. In addition John Carter was Warlord Of Mars and Tarzan was King of the Jungle. One big thorn on the rose bush appeared in far off Russia where the communistic Bolshevik Revolution had succeeded. But, that’s for later.
Back in 1912 when Ed’s old problems disappeared new ones arose to replace them. Ever since 1899 Ed had had problems with those excruciating headaches which still plagued him. Back in 1893 at the Columbian Expo Ed had seen the proto-body builder, The Great Sandow. Sandow was a legend in his own time and for some thereafter, at least into my childhood. Even today the top prize in body building is called the Sandow.
If Tarzan had a beginning the seed was surely planted in Ed’s mind by Sandow. Ed was awed by Sandow but objected to the bunchy muscles preferring those, as he put it, that flowed like molten metal beneath the skin. Ed mentions one of Sandow’s feats in Tarzan Of The Apes and in Tarzan And The City Of Gold a few years after Sandow’s death models a character on him. (see my review http://idynamo.wordpress.com/2008/08/16/a-review-tarzan-and-the-city-of-gold-pt-1/ . In that story Tarzan defeats the Sandow clone thereby settling the issue of which muscles were best.
Also a nonentity in the Exposition audience was Bernie McFadden. Bernie was not long to remain a non-entity. He was soon to become the Father of American Body Building under the name of Bernarr Macfadden. Within six years he had founded Physical Culture magazine and become active in the American pursuit of the perfect food of the gods.
He originally set up in the center of the health food fadists, Battle Creek, Michigan, home of that perfect food Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Along about 1908 Bernarr recognized the limited commercial possibilities of Battle Creek, removing to Chicago. Here he began a highly successful chain of health food restaurants while developing his concept of the Juice Bar. You cold go in and get a nice big glass of carrot juice for instance. The discovery of vitamins in the 1920s was a ways in the future so while Bernarr didn’t know he was providing essential vitamins such as A and C he knew the juice did something for you. Of course he was thought of as nut cake and was lucky to escape the asylum,
It hadn’t been too many years earlier that that fate had overtaken the discoverer of antisepsis Ignaz Semelweiss. That poor guy after discovering that a simple washing of the hands could save the lives of several thousands of women lost in childbirth, and demonstrated it, was rejected by the medical community who refused to believe the facts before their eyes. Poor old Ignaz campaigned so violently for those lives that he was thrown in the loony bin where he died. When Lister discovered germs giving the doctors a handle for belief Ignaz was of course exonerated but…dead.
A lot of water goes under the bridge in a few decades so that what would get you killed in ancient Athens, committed in nineteenth century Germany was dismissed as mere eccentricity in 1900 as Bernarr went on to a fortune. That’s what’s called social progress.
So Bernie, pardon me, Bernarr like or not was a benefactor of the people. If you followed his program of exercises and diet he would make you big and tough. What he did for Charles Atlas he could do for you and me. If we had the determination. I never did.
Now, Ed had been everywhere trying to find a cure for those headaches. There are indications that he found his way to Bernarr’s door. Whether or not Bernarr’s remedies were helpful by the mid-teens Ed’s headaches lessened or disappeared over the decade while if this picture isn’t a body building pose I don’t know what it.
Macfadden didn’t limit his activities to physical culture; he was a real game changer. From Physical Culture Magazine he moved into pulps creating the Romance genre. Among his many pulps were True Detective, True Story, True Romances, and moving into the paranormal, Dream World and Ghost Stories. Dealing with the more mundane he founded the great movie magazine, Photo Play, that had a very long run.
Bernarr entered the newspaper field with the sensationalist New York Graphic. It featured the despised journalistic innovation, the Composograph, in which actors enacted crime scenes and whatever. Macfadden was a sensation for over thirty years. Of course like Dr. Semmelweiss, his innovations far exceeded the imaginations of his peers and while escaping the gallows or the asylum his competitors worked very hard to destroy his success in which they ultimately succeeded. Fabulous story though.
Thus while probably not having the influence on the creation of Tarzan that the Great Sandow had, I’m sure that Physical Culture Magazine and the Juice Bars figured in there somewhere. That magic food has yet to be discovered though. Henry Ford thought maybe soybeans…
Along with his improving health in the decade Ed’s financial status, of course, bloomed like the fabled Century plant, it only blooms once in a hundred years but with spectacular result. Unfortunately as Bob Dylan, who should know, says: There’s no success like failure and failure is no success at all. Everyone wants success but success is frequently the greatest challenge of all.
After imagining himself a slighted genius for thirty-five years Ed had his wildest fantasies realized in his fabulous year of 1913. He had pulled the Big Carrot up by the root. One imagines he was delirious with the sense of achievement and power.
If anything he would have been able to show his father that he was a good man, that he had amounted to something. Unfortunately for his ego his father died in March of 1913 before he had plucked the big fruit from the tree. He had sold Princess and Tarzan but an unforgiving father might easily have considered those flukes while being dismayed that Ed would give up his day job in the wild hope of continued literary success.
Ed himself had no misgivings. Having pawned Emma’s jewelry a couple years earlier to buy coal he was in a position to turn those chunks of coal into diamonds as big as the Ritz. He believed he had money to do all those things he’d always wanted to do and he went out and did them even before he had the check in the bank. God almighty, he even bought himself a set of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall Of The Roman Empire and read it as one of his first acts. How long had he been yearning for that wonderful history, I wonder.
Naturally an auto was top priority. Ed was in such a rush for that that he bought a used car, a Vellie, possibly from the proceeds of Tarzan. After he sold that car in 1913 in San Diego he bought a new car every year of the decade. Despising the poor man’s wheels, the Ford, he bought more expensive marques until he ended up with the royal Packard from the twenties till his death.
Ed just bought and bought and bought. Old memories rose up and bit him.
The memory of the trip to NYC in Frank Martin’s private railroad car left the old indelible impression on him quite apart from Toronto. It was the only way to travel, he said. Thus at the first glimmer of future, not present, earnings Ed packed up wife and kids, dog and used Vellie and left for California a couple months after his father died. They traveled first class, that is, Pullman. It would have been possible to book a whole car for himself. It would be interesting to know if he did which then would have been a simulation of a private car thus rectifying that memory. As the private car was related to Emma the question would be was Ed showing Emma he could do anything that Martin could do? The trip would also probably refer back to the guilt fixation Ed incurred when he gambled away their last forty dollars in Idaho. While the couple was essentially traveling on empty pockets yet a substantial sum would be spent thus correcting the forty dollars while rather than taking Emma to the wilderness, to which she must have objected, he showed her the luxury of San Diego.
In his mind this probably wiped the slate clean making up to Emma his previous feelings. The psychodynamic didn’t work quite that way. One can only guess the humiliation and fear Emma felt when Ed announced he’d lost their stake. Emma had put a lot of faith in Ed when she married him electing him over a suitable rich man. To then learn the man she married was an irresponsible fool may have embittered her a great deal.
Now when she could hope for security here Ed is out spending extravagant sums before he earned them. One can only guess at her mental state but I’m sure Ed’s success, that might very well be fleeting, alone could not restore her confidence without some demonstration of stability and responsibility from Ed. Forget that; Ed would never live with both feet on the ground.
Thus Ed wrote his two pleas in the two stories of The Mad King. Barney and the Mad King are twins just as Tarzan and Esteban Miranda will be twins in Ant Men. Barney is the new competent breadwinner Ed while the Mad King is the old ‘inefficient’ Ed. In this story the new Ed switches places with the old Ed with the Princess Emma as the prize. But Emma was still too hurt by the past to forgive and forget. It would take more wooing, more abasement but here Ed through in the sponge.
One can only guess at her mental state in San Diego but I’m sure Ed’s success, not yet confirmed, which might very well be fleeting, alone could not restore her confidence without some stability and responsibility from Ed. Forget that. Ed would live with both feet on the ground.
Thus Ed wrote his pleas to Emma in the two stories of The Mad King. The implication there is that the two lookalike men, Barney and the King were both Ed in the guise of The Prince And The Pauper. Ed felt restored to his lost kingdom but as this would have been while they were living hand to mouth in San Diego, albeit luxuriously, Emma was belieing and rejecting Ed’s fantasy.
Thus in the succeeding The Eternal Lover, Emma the faithless is replaced by Barney’s sister, Victoria. The memory fixation remained unexorcised leaving Ed now greatly embittered as in his eyes he had done his part and made himself a man. Soon as the Happy Hobo of the Return Of The Mucker he would be on the road looking for the perfect lover by the sea. The seeds of divorce had been sown. The path would now lead to Florence.
Back in Chicago in the Spring of ‘14 Ed had to deal with some problems. He still had to find a book publisher. When a Cincinatti publisher showed interest McClurg’s suddenly buckled and signed Ed to their disastrous contract.
Ed had every reason to expect the books to be a best seller. By 1914 Tarzan was close to a household word, virtually the wonder of the age. I have no doubt Ed built castles in air, yachts on the sea, based on his expectations. These were cruelly dashed when McClurg’s failed to promote the book leaving him with virtual peanuts.
Ed was still at a different transitional point that even if he had realized it he was too inexperienced to take the appropriate actions. One soon reaches a point having achieved success in which one finds oneself the key point in a broader enterprise. As the artist one should concentrate on one’s art and begin to organize a corporate entity to handle the more mundane details.
One needs agents and managers. It is necessary to entrust your earnings to these people to a very large extent. History has shown that with rare exceptions these agents are dishonest men or women who fleece their clients.
H.G. Wells solved this problem by entrusting these details to his wife, Jane. She was both competent and honest serving Wells’ interests ably. Emma might certainly have been able to perform these functions for Ed if she had been willing and he had been so minded. Ed however considered himself or wanted to be a businessman. Repeated failures didn’t convince him he should remain an artist.
The artist and the businessman are two different roles. Mark Twain to his chagrin learned that he should have stuck to his pen and let businessmen run businesses when he managed to bankrupt himself. Ed very nearly bankrupted himself when he tried to run Tarzana as a business. You may be sure Emma would never have done that although she might not have been able to maximize the finances, at least they wouldn’t have been broke.
Thus, Ed dissipated his talent in unfruitful endeavors. His McClurg’s contract was a done deal however his movie contracts absorbed a great deal of his time and attention that might better have been handled by professionals. It can be said for Ed that the relationship between authors and studios was a new phenomenon. It was not clear to him that movies and novels were two different things with different requirements. The complexities possible in a novel have to be simplified into a few scenes in movies.
Against Ed it may be said that while he hadn’t figured it out other authors had. They were more successful in exploiting the movies.
The coming of the Great War disrupted the world and the country. Ed’s European royalties were non-existent until the post war realities set in. This included the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the rise of the Jews as a semi-autonomous power in the US in conflict with the mores of the Aryans while they were in control of the movies as a culture forming medium. They could determine what would be filmed and how.
The worlds that Ed had known before 1919 then just slipped away and were seen no more. Just as 1900 had been a transition into a new world of a larger scale so was 1919. The scale of operations increased enormously. But, that’s for the next installment.
Ed had barely settled down on return from the 1913-14 California adventure when he determined on another in 1916. This began as a trip to New England possibly to show his success to the Phillips Academy from which he had been ejected but having gotten as far of Emma’s mother’s summer home in Coldwater, Michigan the cavalcade turned around heading West for Los Angeles, California.
By this time Ed had achieved a certain level of prosperity so that his road show included his car and a Republic truck, a drive and a couple tons of possessions and a large blue striped tent. While these expeditions shine in one’s imagination before leaving the reality is often too tedious to be endured. This was one of the latter for Ed and Emma. See my essay http://www.erbzine.com/mag23/2316.html After a good start on pavement the trip turned into a nightmare on the dirt and mud roads. The marriage did survive the trip though; the kids had a great time.
Upon the return from California within a very short time the US was embroiled in the world war. This too took up Ed’s time as he tried to get a job as a war correspondent. Failing that he secured an appointment as a Major in the Illinois National Guard. He engaged in some embarrassing street antics that I am sure did his reputation no good. By January of 1919 when he fled Chicago for LA I am sure that he was considered a bit more than eccentric. Whether other scandals were concealed I can only speculate. As that involves Ed’s sexual attitudes it is necessary to return to 1912.
An Author Searching For Love
While Ed’s writing is highly autobiographical, still it was necessary for him to keep his eye on the tastes of his pulp readership. As Woodrow Nichols, writing in the ERBzine, has emphasized, that audience appreciated titillating soft porn or at least a significant part of them did. There is also a line where a certain type of reader’s tastes are emphasized by an author so that he expands that audience, creating it so to speak. Nevertheless Ed’s writing is highly sexually charged although in a repressed way. As a young boy reading Ed any sexual innuendo passed over my head although in a vaguely comprehending way it may have struck a response in my subconscious. Nichols’ mother, however, got it and forbade Tarzan to him. Still, Ed rather embarrassingly confessed that he was a ‘dirty’ writer.
At the same time his opinions were of the sexually tolerant sort. He didn’t feel the need of marriage for sex; that was a minority opinion at that time. He adopted a more libertine life style as time went on while after his divorce he seems to have adopted a more carefree sexual attitude. The little book he did for the flapper Colleen Moore was quite a production of coy pornography.
I think it’s fair then to try to understand his sexual life in the times before he really began to spread his wings.
Now, Ed was sexually repressed. That repression began on the street corner on the way to Brown School. When John shamed Ed he emasculated him to a high degree, while actually destroying Ed’s Anima. Ed’s Anima became male in female clothing. It apparently took him several years to assimilate the psychic changes. When he had assumed his new personality at ages 12-14 he immediately began proposing to Emma who symbolically was the clothing John assumed. Thus Emma was essential for Ed’s mental balance.
From that time forward Emma saved herself for Ed not even forsaking him when he had disappeared to Arizona without notice. Indeed, she sent him a forget me not letter in September of ‘96. So Ed needed her but didn’t necessarily want to marry her or anyone. As he was knowledgeable in all the philosophical arguments of his day he probably always tended to the free love, free spirit side.
He was forced to change sides in 1900 in order to prevent Martin from possibly taking Emma. He then destroyed Emma’s confidence in him in 1904 when he gambled away their last forty dollars. The marriage road was rocky from that point on especially given Ed’s employment record.
The key question is what happened to Frank Martin after Ed’s marriage?
I don’t know about your hometown but in my hometown and, indeed, any town I’ve ever lived in if you have competition for a woman that competition doesn’t go away just because you married the woman. We know that Martin watched the couple closely because when they divorced Patchin showed up to question Ed for the details while on Ed’s death he sent a condolence letter to son John Coleman Burroughs reminding him of the Toronto bashing. If it is to be believed John Coleman said he and his father had been talking about it just before Ed died. If so, it was still green in Ed’s mind.
It seems probable then that Martin would have been interfering in the marriage to the best of his abilities. Ed’s near pathological fixation on cars very likely was the result of not being able to compete with the millionaire Martin who probably tried to impress Emma with his own. Parking out by the curb, whatever. This does show up in Tarzan Of The Apes, the very first of the Tarzan novels begun in 1911 where Robert Canler/Martin, a competitor for Jane/Emma, using his money as a tool, has a large automobile. Significantly Jane rejects Canler. For whatever reason McClurg’s/G&D suppressed the novel after 1920 when it was never printed again until the revival in the sixties.
Lacking further evidence of Martin’s interference I, myself, accept that the man was unrelenting.
That very real external threat was added to Ed’s internal memory conflicts that he was desperate to resolve. Like many another author he attempted to write them out.
The early struggle between he and Emma was worked out in the early burst of stories and completed in the Mucker Trilogy with its supplement of Marcia Of The Doorstep.
Ed intended Billy Byrne, the Mucker, to be a continuing series like Tarzan but centered around the ‘three musketeers’ Bridge, Byrne and Burke but his memories arose to abort that plan.
Byrne was intended as another Tarzan figure that represented the more uncouth, low brow aspect of Ed’s personality. While he had no aspirations to be high brow yet he wished to become more sophisticated. Thus, his alter ego Byrne begins as a hoodlum boxer from the amazing slum of Maxwell Street.
Implicated in a murder Byrne has to get out of town. In a rather amazing series of adventures beginning with his shanghai in San Francisco he ended up on a Pacific Island with a crew of murderers and ‘Lady’ Barbara, reminiscent of Stevenson’s Treasure Island of Long John Silver and the Wooded Island with the Japanese Pavilion of the Chicago Exposition.
The relationship between the low brow Byrne and the high brow Barbara seems to reflect that of Ed and Emma. In the first novel of the trilogy Byrne and Barbara part as Byrne realizes the cultural gap between them is something he can’t surmount. By the way, notice all those Bs. Bridge, Byrne, Burke, Barbara. What does that mean?
Between the 1913 novel and its 1915 sequel, The Return Of The Mucker, Ed seems to have acquired some polish. He no longer thinks of himself as Byrne thus splitting off the character of The Happy Hobo, Bridge as his new alter ego. So by 1915 he is multiplying his personalities at a pretty good rate as he seeks to realize his own ultimate vision of himself. Thus the name Bridge symbolically represents the transition from Byrne to a return to his original identity as the child Prince.
At story’s end Ed surrenders Barbara/Emma to Byrne while going in search of his ideal woman. At that point then Ed rejected Emma seeking solace in other quarters. Of course he does have three children so it is not as easy as walking away although he did say that he had walked out on Emma three times. The first time was circa 1908 and the next might have been 1918 when he began Tarzan the Untamed followed by Tarzan The Terrible and Tarzan And The Golden Lion with Tarzan And The Ant Men for a quartet.
The first novel tells of the separation, the second the effort to reconcile, and the reconciliation while the fourth, the ultimate rejection.
The third novel of The Mucker Trilogy, The Oakdale Affair has Bridge on the road where he hooks up with the boy/girl Gail Prim. That story may signify an actual extra-marital romance that in turn led to the 1916 trip to California and something similar to the exit from Chicago in 1919.
The question here then, is did Ed have an affair or more between 1913 and 1919? Ed did have libertine tendencies. He and Emma appear to have been living a sort of Bohemian existence in the first decade of the century. Ed stated he didn’t feel marriage necessary for sexual relations while when he created his subdivision of Tarzan in the twenties he advertised that he wanted to appeal to Bohemian tastes. Somewhat of a social scandal actually.
As a down and outer before the teens Ed may have had difficulties in attracting women but certainly by 1915 his reputation would have attracted literary groupies and the woman looking for the main chance. The groupie is usually associated with rock and roll but there are sports groupies, literary groupies, and woman attracted to men of any well paying profession. So one has to assume that sexual conquests were easier for Ed as his reputation grew. Any woman reading the Tarzan books would have had to have seen the sexual longing evident on nearly every page and realized the possibilities.
Let us assume then that long before Florence turned up Ed was searching, a la Bridge, for the woman who wasn’t Emma.
ERBzine contributor Woodrow Nichols who is very sensitive to the sexual implications of the novels, probably because his mother denied them to him because of their sexual implications, has extrapolated advanced conclusions from the stories and Ed’s biography. While I’m not sure Ed, Florence and Ashton Dearholt where as sexually abandoned as Woodrow represents, I’m positive Ed would have like to have been.
Woodrow posits some possibilities that Ed knew Florence long before their putative first meeting in 1927. I can find no clear evidence that this is so yet I can’t dismiss the possibility out of hand without further research.
Woodrow thinks it possible that Ed knew Florence as early as 1918 in Chicago. Florence was a Chicago native born in 1904, who would have been fourteen in 1918. At first glance one dismisses the possibility out of hand. It seems incredible, yet…. Ed makes three references in the Tarzan series to fourteen year girls while the last experience in 1930’s Tarzan the Invincible can be directly associated with Florence. I have always found the references to fourteen year olds puzzling dismissing them as appeals to the prurient interests of his readership. But if one relates the incidents to one another they tell a story.
If Ed fixated on Emma at fourteen then he was likely open to a relationship with a fourteen year old girl. Just as Emma stopped his sexual development at fourteen in reaction to John the Bully, a relationship with a fourteen year old girl would free him from the past and allow him to go forward as though beginning a new life.
The problem is how would Ed meet a fourteen year old Florence in Chicago. Probably a lot of possible ways but Woodrow feels that The Girl From Hollywood holds the key. I consider Woodrow an acute analyst so I seldom wish to contradict him outright, in that novel Shannon Burke and her mother move in up the road from Rancho Ganado. Her mother dies shortly thereafter. In this scenario the mother is the key. She was a stage mother eager to get her daughter in the movies. A great many of these early movie heroines began careers at the putative age of sixteen or possibly younger. It will be remembered that Ed became associated with the movies in 1917 or ‘18 while being the author of a household word. Tarzan was a rage before the first movie was released and a phenomenon after. Who better to choose to get her daughter into the movies?
To cite an example: The mother of Natalie Wood also wished to get her daughter in the movies. She thought Frank Sinatra could be of assistance. The mother then gave the sixteen year old Natalie to Frank as a sex toy. Frank and Natalie then had a sexual relationship that was broken up because it would have been so dangerous for his career if discovered.
Now, Shannon’s mother in Girl From Hollywood is treated very tenderly by Ed in the story as if he had something to be grateful for. This is fairly obvious.
I don’t say it is so but it is possible that Florence’s mother offered Ed Florence in the same manner. If so this would have been sometime in 1918 when Ed was particularly vulnerable. Florence and her mother left Chicago for Hollywood late in 1918 followed by Ed at the beginning of 1919. It is possible that his departure was necessitated while somewhere in this period Ed and Emma were separated requiring three novels to reconcile them. Also the trip to Opar in Tarzan and the Golden Lion was the longest of the oeuvre while Tarzan and La leave Opar together to spend some time in one of the beehive houses in the Valley of Diamonds. Diamonds being a sex symbol for Ed also associated with Balza/Florence in Tarzan And The Lion Man as Ed and Emma divorced.
In Tarzan And The Ant Men Esteban Miranda takes up with a fourteen year old Negro girl with whom he sleeps but like Tarzan and La in Jewels of Opar no sex is involved. In this case Miranda is the weak pre-success Ed while the ‘real’ Tarzan is post-success Ed.
And then in 1930’s Tarzan The Invincible Wayne Colt, the pre-success Burroughs is imprisoned in Opar from which the fourteen year old Oah releases him. Burroughs, the author, casts her to her fate with the Oparians without a backward look. This reinforces the transition from 14 year old Emma to 14 year Florence with whom he had reconnected in 1927. The connection would have been reestablished now that she was twenty-six and the fourteen year old would no longer be needed. Bear in mind this is speculation but Ed lived vicariously through Tarzan as The-Man-Who-Would-Be-Tarzan melding his own activities into his Tarzan surrogate.
Florence left Chicago in 1918 at fourteen which means that in 1920 she was sixteen and eighteen in 1922 when she was in a Western film with Ashton Dearholt. She and he married four years later in 1926. Thus, also immediately after bearing her own little Eddie she insinuated herself into Joan Burroughs’ good graces bringing about her supposed first introduction to Ed when he ‘fell in love at first sight.’
After Tarzan The Magnificent both La and Opar disappear from the oeuvre while a few years hence La/Florence and Ed would be married. Opar and La first appeared in 1913’s Return Of Tarzan when Ed was feeling rejected and ended in 1930 when Ed effectively rejected Emma. So in 1913 he must have created his dream girl in La thinking he had found her in 1918 while not realizing his desires until 1927-34.
In the interim Florence at sixteen in 1920 would still have been too young for Ed to have exchanged Emma for her. At eighteen in 1922 Florence met Ashton Dearholt marrying him in 1926 while somewhen between 1920 and 1926 marrying and divorcing this fellow named Smith of whom apparently nothing is known.
Ed then would have referred to Florence as being in the arms of Esteban Miranda in 1923’s Tarzan And The Ant Men and possibly he also referred to her in 1922’s The Girl From Hollywood.
I’ve always had difficulty understanding why a young mother would have set her sights on a sixty year old author to the extent that she insinuated herself into daughter Joan’s company in order to meet and seduce this perfect stranger.
While there is no definite proof that Ed knew Florence before 1927 the literary evidence and the improbability of Florence hoping to catch Ed through Joan lends credibility to the possibility.
Certainly the dismissed biographers before Porges agreed to censor his findings must have come up with something that was thought better to conceal.
Well, no matter, I do think Woodrow Nichols is on to something although he has his own analysis.
With nineteen-nineteen Ed’s life as well as the course of world civilization takes a turn. Book II, Part VII then will commence The New Era, as it was known.
April 3, 2012
Only The Strong Survive
An Examination Of Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid
As Created By Edgar Rice Burroughs
(Alternate Title: The Oakdale Affair)
Into The Mysteries
(Some capitalization appears in the text that has no significance. For some reason it just showed up. I didn’t do it)
Burroughs does a good job in the Holmesian sense in this book enclosing mysteries within mysteries. The central mystery is who is committing the crime wave in Oakdale. Having learned from his mentor, Conan Doyle, Burroughs skillfully withholds details to enhance the suspense then disclosing them to reveal the mysteries. The organization of the scheme of crimes gradually unfolds to show that the real Oskaloosa Kid is one of the perpetrators. So we have a clever doubling of a sweet girl posing as the vicious criminal The Oskaloosa Kid. This is obviously a transfer of his Anima identity from the male De Vac/Oskaloosa Kid to the resumption of a female identity for his Anima through the fake Oskaloosa Kid/Gail Prim.
The girl who was seen with the criminals could have been Gail since she had disappeared without a trace never having arrived at her destination. Gail was not the girl seen with Reginald Paynter, who was robbed and murdered, and the crooks. That person was Hettie Penning who was ejected from the car speeding past the abandoned Squibbs place by the real Oskaloosa Kid. Thus symbolically De Vac/Oskaloosa Kid returns his Anima to Bridge/Burroughs.
As indicated Hettie Pening represents the dead early Anima of Burroughs who has here been resurrected. As in all cases of Burroughs representation of his failed Anima she appears to be a ‘bad’ girl but in reality is merely misunderstood. He compensates for himself.
Bridge himself is a mystery man and double. He is a hobo but with great manners and an excellent education. He is definitely a member of the Might Have Seen Better Days Club. The real club was organized by Burroughs when he served as an enlisted man in the Army in 1896.
In this case Bridge is in actuality the son of a wealthy Virginia aristocrat who has left home because he prefers a life on the road. In the framing story of a Princess of Mars Burroughs portrays himself in his own name as a Virginian. In reality Burroughs was declassed at eight or nine by John the Bully and by his father’s subsequent shuffling of him from school to school finally sending him to a bad boy school that Burroughs describes as little more than a reformatory for rich kids.
If one looks at his career he was on the move quite a bit. During his marriage he seldom lived in one house for more than a year or two then moved on.
Just as Bridge will assume his proper identity at the end of the novel so through his writing Burroughs has abandoned the shame of his hard scrabble years from 1905-13. In a sense he is assuming his proper identity with this novel.
Bridge and the Kid joining together at the fork in the road, one is reminded of Yogi Berra’s quip: When you come to a fork in the road, take it, in this case the less traveled dirt road.
I read word for word frequently dwelling on the scenes created. Burroughs is a very visual writer. Standing at the fork in a driving Midwest summer lightning, thunder and deluge storm they can hear the pursuing hoboes shouting down the road. Ahead of them is a dark unknown and a house haunted by the victims of a sextuple murder.
Indeed, Burroughs describes almost a descent into hell, or at least, the hell of the subconscious.
Over a low hill they followed the muddy road and down into a dark and gloom ravine. In a little open space to the right of the road a flash of lightning, followed one imagines by either the crash of deep loud rumbling of the thunder of perhaps if over head the sonic boom of the air splitting and closing, revealed the outline of a building a hundred yards (that’s three hundred feet, a very large front yard) from the rickety and decaying fence which bordered the Squibb farm and separated it from the road.
There are those who say Burroughs doesn’t write well but in a short paragraph he has economically drawn a verbal picture which is quite astonishing in its detail. The house is a hundred yards from the road. In the rain and muck that might be a walk or two or three minutes or more.
A clump of trees surrounded the house, their shade adding to the utter blackness of the night.
That’s what one calls inspissating gloom. One might well ask how any shade can add to utter blackness but one gets the idea. There is some intense writing thoroughly reminiscent of Poe but nothing like him.
The two had reached the verandah when Bridge, turning, saw a brilliant light glaring through the night above the crest of the hill they had just topped in their descent into the ravine, or, to be more explicit, the small valley, where stood the crumbling house of the Squibbs. The purr of a rapidly moving motor car rose above the rain, the light rose, fell, swerved to the right and left.
“Someone must be in a hurry.” commented Bridge.
There isn’t any better writing than that. Another writer can say it differently but he can’t say it better. Just imagine the movie Frankenstein or Wolf Man when you’re reading it. Burroughs did as well in less than the time it takes to show it.
A body is thrown from the speeding car a shot following after it. Bridge goes to pick up the body.
Thus the mystery and horror and terror of the dark and stormy night has been building. Bridge carrying the body which may or may not be alive asks the Kid to open the door.
Behind him came Bridge as the youth entered the dark interior. A half dozen steps he took when his foot struck against a soft yielding mass. Stumbling he tried to regain his equilibrium only to drop fully upon the thing beneath him. One open palm extended to ease his fall, it fell upon the uplifted features of a cold and clammy face.
Yipes! What more do you need? Cold and dripping, half crazed from fear, overwhelmed by the thought he might be a murderer the Kid’s hand falls on cold and clammy dead flesh. Bridge is standing there with maybe another dead person in his arms. The Kid is also aware that the murderous hoboes are hot on his trail.
If that doesn’t get you then somehow I think you can’t be got.
Not yet finished Burroughs builds up the tension. Striking a match from the specially lined water proof pocket of Bridge’s coat they find a dead man wearing golden earrings. Obviously a gypsy but while staring in unsimulated horror they hear from the base of the stairs of a dark dank cellar the clank of a slowly drawn chain as a heavy weight makes the stairs creak.
This is too much for the nerves of the Kid. Burroughs brilliantly contrasts the terror of the unknown in the basement with the fear of the dark at the top of the stairs. You know where that’s at, I’m sure, I sure do. In a flash the Kid chooses the unknown at the top of the stairs to the horror in the cellar.
What do you want?
The hoboes are still slipping and sliding down the descent into the ravine of the subconscious. Horror in front, terror behind. There is absolutely no place to hide. Nightmare City, don’t you think? How could anyone do it better? What do you mean he can’t write? Put the scenes in a movie and everyone in the theatre would be covering their eyes. Itd\ would be that Beast With Five Fingers all over again. Maybe worse. Never saw that one? Check it out. Peter Lorre. Terrifying. Of course I was a kid.
The clanking of the chain recreates an incident in Burroughs’ own life when he had a job collecting for an ice company. He called on a house and while he was waiting he heard the clanking of a chain coming slowly up the driveway. Waiting with a fair amount of trepidation he saw a huge dog dragging the chain appear. ERB backing slowly away forgot about the delinquent bill.
In this case the chain is attached to Beppo the dancing bear but Bridge and the Kid won’t know that until the next day.
They retreat into an upstairs bedroom. Here what Burroughs describes in capital letters as THE THING and IT pursues them. I remember two movies one called The Thing and the other It.
Just when the thing retreats the murderous gang of hoboes enters the house. Wow! Out of the frying pan and into the fire in this night of terrors as the lightning continues to flash and the thunder crash.
Discovering the dead man and as the bear begins moving again four of the hoboes flee while two who were on the staircase being trapped in the house flee into the same bedroom as Bridge, the Kid and the girl, Hettie. Shortly thereafter a woman’s scream pierces the lightning and the thunder then silences as the storm settles into a steady drizzle.
The rest of the night is one tense affair between the murderous hoboes and the Bridge and the girls. Not a moment to catch your breath.
In the morning when they go downstairs the mystery increases when they find the dead man gone and nothing in the cellar. If they’d had Tarzan along he would have not only been able to smell the bear but to tell whether if was black or brown.
After a brief confrontation Dopey Charlie and the General are driven off. Bridge’s relationship with the Kid is then deepened. Even though all the Kid’s reactions are repulsive to the manhood of Bridge he feels his attraction to the seeming boy growing stronger.
Not since he had followed the open road with Byrne, had Bridge met one with whom he might care to “pal” before.
This brings up an interesting hint of latent homosexuality. My fellow writer, David Adams has objected that in my analysis of Emasculation as applied to ERB is that he should have been a homosexual but wasn’t.
There are degrees of emasculation and there are various degrees of psychotic reaction to it. I don’t say and I don’t believe that ERB was a homosexual but there was a degree of ambiguity introduced into his personality by his emasculation. I have touched on this in my ‘Emasculation, Hermaphroditism and Excretion.’
Here we have another example of it as Bridge is experiencing some homoerotic emotion which is very confusing to him as he has never wanted a ‘pal’ before. In hobo lingo I believe a ‘pal’ has a homosexual connotation.
If Burroughs took his ‘inside’ information on hoboes from Jack London’s The Road then Bridge is the sort of hobo London describes as the ‘profesh’, the hobo highest in the hierarchy of hobodom. London always thought of himself as a quick learner, so one doesn’t have to award his statement too much credibility but Burroughs apparently took him at face value.
As London describes the ‘profesh’ he has been on the road so long he knows all the ropes. Unlike the unkempt bums he realizes the importance of a good front and always dresses neatly. But he is hardened and capable of committing any crime.
While Bridge is obviously intended to be a ‘profesh’ he is neither criminal nor does he dress to put up a good front.
Another category of hobo London lists is the ‘road kid.’ These are young people just starting on the life of the road. The ‘profesh’ would often take one of more of these road kids under his wing as his fag, as the British would say, or in Americanese, a ‘pal.’ In other words a homosexual relationship. Thus this displays ERB’s sexual ambiguity which David couldn’t locate in my psychological analysis of ERB’s emasculation. In this case the ambiguity will be resolved and explained when we learn that the Kid is the beautiful young woman, Abigail Prim, and both Bridge and Burroughs heave a sigh of relief.
Nevertheless ERB is discussing homosexuality in an open and natural way that couldn’t be missed by the knowing and which may be unique for its time. But then, remember that one of ERB’s hats in this story is that of the Alienist, so that in these pages we are deep into the psychological abstractions and Doyle’s mystery stories as influences.
Now comes the time for breakfast. Someone has to ‘rustle’ grub. We have already learned in ‘Out There Somewhere’ that Bridge doesn’t rustle food, he rustles rhyme. Nothing has changed. The Kid goes out to get breakfast and when she comes back with the goods, true to form Bridge bursts forth with several snatches from H.H. Knibbs which surprisingly the demure Miss Prim recognizes. What has she been reading?
How might this apply to Burroughs’ own life. Let’s look at it. Burroughs was enamored of How to books but in his heart he must have considered them a fraud. Willie Case will soon pick up his copy of How To Be A Detective which he finds completely inapplicable to his circumstances. He also has the good sense to throw the book away reverting to his native intelligence which may be a subtle comment on How To books by Burroughs.
ERB always considered himself of the executive class. After his humiliating experience trying to sell door to door he never attempted it again. Instead as a master salesman he preferred to write how to sales manuals for others to use as they went door to door selling his line of pencil sharpeners or whatever while he sat in the office waiting for orders. Hence in his own life he was the ‘rustler of poetry’ or manuals while others rustled grub in the door to door humiliation of the actual selling. Here the Kid will do the door to door gig. ERB always makes me smile.
In this case in what may be a joke the Kid just buys the goods from the homeowner reversing the roles.
There are those who insist Burroughs can’t write but I find his stuff wonderfully condensed getting more mileage out of each word than anyone else I’ve ever read. Just see how he describes breakfast.
Shortly after, the water coming to a boil, Bridge lowered three eggs into it, glanced at his watch (an affluent hobo) greased one of the new cleaned stove lids with a piece of bacon rind and laid out as many strips of bacon as the lid would accommodate. Instantly the room was filled with the delicious odor of frying bacon.
“M-m-m-m!” gloated the Oskaloosa Kid. “I wish I had bo- asked for more. My! But I never smelled anything so good in all my life. Are you going to boil only three eggs? I could eat a dozen”
“The can’ll only hold three at a time,” explained Bridge. “we’ll have some boiling while we are eating these.” He borrowed the knife from the girl, who was slicing and buttering bread with it, and turned the bacon swiftly and deftly with the point, then he glanced at his watch. “Three minutes are up.” He announced and, with a couple small flat sticks saved for the purpose from the kindling wood, withdrew the eggs one at a time from the can.
“But we have no cups!” exclaimed the Oskaloosa Kid, in sudden despair.
Bridge laughed. “Knock an end off your egg and the shell will answer in place of a cup. Got a knife?”
The Kid didn’t. Bridge eyed him quizzically. “You must have done most of your burgling near home,” he commented.
The description of the breakfast between the time Bridge looked at his watch and when the three minutes were up was delightfully done. I could smell the bacon myself while I especially like the detail of swiftly and deftly turning the bacon with the knife point. The knife seemed to have disappeared between the bacon and knocking the end off the egg.
Nice details aren’t they? You’d almost think Burroughs had actually done things like this for years. There’s enough blank spots in his life that he may have had more experiences of this sort than we know about. Take for instance the three days in Michigan between the writing of Out There Somewhere and Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid. He says it took him twelve hours by train on four different lines to return to Coldwater from Alma. It is not impossible that he was hoboing back for the experience. He knew that he was going to write Bridge And The Kid next; might he not have been picking up local color?
Likewise in Bridge And The Kid he mentions the road from Berdoo to Barstow with seeming familiarity. Had he met Knibbs and the two embarked on a few days road trip as the expert Knibbs showed him some of the ropes?
I don’t know but there is something happening in his life which has not been explained.
Perhaps also the hoboism which appears in 1915-17 in his work when by all rights his success should have permitted him entry into more exalted social circles symbolized a rejection by so-called polite society. If so, why? Certainly the serialization of Tarzan Of The Apes in the Chicago paper must have raised eyebrows when people said something like: Is that the same Edgar Rice Burroughs who’s been tramping around town for the last several years?
After all people live in a town where a reputation is attached to them whether earned or not. In reviewing the jobs Burroughs had after he left Sears, Roebuck there is a certain unsavory character to them. Indeed, one employer, a patent medicine purveyor was shut down by the authorities while ERB then formed a partnership with this disgraced person. Where was Burroughs when the authorities showed up to shut the business down? I make no moral judgments. I’m of the Pretty Boy Floyd school of morality: Some will rob you with a six gun, some use a fountain pen. Emasculation is the name of the game.
It is certainly true that many, perhaps most, of the patent medicines of the time were based on alcohol and drugs therefore either addictive or harmful to the health. Samuel Hopkins Adams was commissioned by Norman Hapgood of Collier’s magazine to write a series of articles exposing the patent medicine business in 1906.
http://www.mtn.org/quack/ephemera/oct7.htm . A consequence of the articles may very well have been the shutting down of Dr. Stace. I think it remarkable that Burroughs didn’t distance himself from Stace at that time.
Even as Adams was presenting his research on patent medicines Upton Sinclair was exposing the hazards of the Chicago meat packing industry whose products were no less hazardous to the public health than patent medicines. Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, as well as perhaps Adams’ articles resulted in the Pure Food And Drug Act of 1906.
The products of meatpackers were so bad the British wouldn’t even feed them to their Tommies. That’s pretty bad.
So, if the Staces of the world were criminal and ought to be put out of business then by logic so should have the Armours and Swifts but what in our day would be multi-billion dollar industries don’t get shut down for the minor offence of damaging the health of millions.
One can’t be sure of Burroughs’ reasoning but his writing indicates that he was keenly aware of the hypocrisy of legalities. Perhaps for that reason he stuck by Dr. Stace.
However Stace was put out of business and the Armours and Swifts weren’t. While I applaud ERB’s steadfastness I deplore his lack of judgment for surely his reputation was tarred with the same brush as Dr. Stace.
When society figures may have asked who this Edgar Rice Burroughs was they were given, perhaps, a rundown on Dr. Stace and patent medicines as well as other employments that seem a little murky to us at present. I’m sure the ERB was seen as socially unacceptable. Thus Bridge who has lived among the hoboes has never partaken of their crimes so there is no reason for society to reject him especially as he is the son of a millionaire.
In any event ERB left Chicago for the Coast returning in 1917 then leaving for good at the beginning of 1919. Life ain’t easy. Ask me.
As Bridge, the Kid and the putative Abigail Prim were finishing breakfast the great detective Burton pulls up in front of the Squibbs place. Burton is obviously a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Allan Pinkerton. We have been advised of the Holmes connection in the opening paragraphs of this book. ERB describes Burton thusly:
Burton made no reply. He was not a man to jump to conclusions. His success was largely due to the fact that he assumed nothing; but merely ran down each clew quickly yet painstakingly until he had a foundation of fact upon which to operate. His theory was that the simplest way is always the best way. And so he never befogged the main issue with any elaborate system of deductive reasoning based on guesswork. Burton never guessed. He assumed that it was his business to know; nor was he on any case long before he did know. He was employed now to find Abigail Prim. Each of the several crimes committed the previous night might or might not prove a clew to her whereabouts; but each must be run down in the process of elimination before Burton could feel safe in abandoning it.
That’s a pretty good understanding of Doyle’s presentation of Holmes. ERB did learn Holmes’ dictum that it was necessary to read all the literature on the subject to understand the mentality of one’s subjects. Burton did demonstrate some acumen in his arrest of Dopey Charlie and the General. He deployed an agent fifty yards below and fifty yards above to converge on the two criminals while he approached from the front. Either Burroughs had been doing some reading of his own or he picked up some experience or information from elsewhere.
Another keen point was when Burton went back to where the hoboes had been hiding to dig up the evidence they had concealed that would lead to their conviction for the Baggs murder.
It’s little details like these that always make me wonder where Burroughs picked up this stuff. He does it all so naturally but one can’t write what one doesn’t know. He must have been a curious man, good memory.
So Burroughs has a a pretty good understanding of the methods of Sherlock Holmes. It must be remembered that ERB was reading these stories as they first appeared not as we do as part of literature. Holmes, O.Henry, Jack London, E.W. Hornung, these were all fresh new and extremely stimulating with a great many references and inferences which are undoubtedly lost on us. Even in Bridge And The Kid ERB’s reference to the Kid’s bringing home the bacon is a direct reference to a quip the mother of the ex-heavyweight champion of the world Jack Johnson made just after he won the championship from Jim Jeffries: He said he’d bring home the bacon and he’s done it. I don’t doubt if many caught it then but I’m sure the phrase has become such a commonplace today that only a very few catch the reference and share the laugh.
Doyle’s stories such as A Study In Scarlet dealing with the Mormons and The Valley Of Fear dealing with the Molly Maguires would have had much more thrilling immediacy for ERB than they do for us. Also Burroughs has caught the essence of Holmes which was not so much the stories as the method of Holmes.
I have read the canon four times and while I could not reconstruct any of the stories without difficulty, if at all, maxims like- When you eliminate the impossible whatever remains no matter how improbable must be the truth. – have lodged in my mind since I was fourteen guiding my intellect to much advantage. So also the dictum to read all the literature. Not easy or even possible, but the more one has read the or read again the more things just fall in place without any real effort. You have to be able to remember, remembrance being the basis of all mind, of course. Holmes has been like a god to me.
If you wish to learn a source of Burroughs’ stories then all you have to do is apply the above methods; it will all become clear.
Burton moves the story forward as his appearance causes Bridge who isn’t sure what the status of the Kid and the putative Gail Prim is, elects to avoid the great detective even though they are friends.
The trio slip out the back into the woods following a track leading to ‘Anywhere’. Burroughs in a masterful telling catches the feel of a Spring day on a recently wetted trail littered with the leaves of yesteryear. Ou sont les neiges d’antan?
They come upon a clearing where a gypsy woman is burying a body. By this time Bridge has solved the mysteries of the previous evening.
The girls make noises upon hearing the clank of a chain in a hovel causing the gypsy woman to look around. Rather than spotting the trio she spots Willie Case hiding in the bushes who she drags out.
The gypsy woman, Giova, is as good a character as Bridge, the Kid, Burton and the hoboes, but my favorite of the story is Willie Case, the fourteen year old detective. While to my mind ERB presents Willie as a thoroughly admirable character, he nevertheless vents a suppressed mean streak not only on Willie but on the whole Case family.
ERB doesn’t let his mean streak show very often, it lurks in the background, but he lets it loose in this book. He must have been under personal stress.
He describes Willie as having no forehead and no chin, imbecilic traits, literally beginning with the eyebrows and ending with the lips. A freak of nature, a real grotesque. That means that Willie was a real ‘low brow’ as Emma accused ERB of being, even a no brow. Is it a coincidence that Emma called ERB a low brow or that the literati thought ERB wrote ‘low brow’ literature?
In point of fact Willie strikes me as an intelligent boy. He analyzes the situation always being in the right place at the right moment. Burton himself pays him a high but sneering compliment then cheats him out of the promised reward of a hundred dollars but in the manner McClurg’s published his books Burroughs was cheated out of a large part of his reward.
I don’t say that’s the case but if so it fits the facts.
In any event ERB treats the Case family meanly; they might almost be prototypes of Ma and Pa Kettle of the Egg and I or the meanly portrayed characters of Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road. Jeb Case behaves very reprehensively at the lynching although once again he merely reported the facts that the Kid gave Willie. The Kid did tell Willie that he had burgled a house and killed a man. So, perhaps ERB created some characters that he could kick around as he felt himself being kicked.
And then we have the gypsy woman, Giova. She and her father are not only pariahs in general society as gypsies but because of her father they even have been cast out by the gypsies. Her father was a thief from both general and gypsy society. The former may have been laudable in gypsy terms but the latter wasn’t. They make, or made their living by thieving and cadging coins with Beppo, their dancing bear. Beppo of the evil eye.
Burroughs presents Giova as being sexually attractive with lips that were made for kissing, in echo of the refrain from Out There Somewhere. Here we may have a first inference that Emma was in trouble; the kind of trouble that would have ERB leaving her for another woman a decade or so hence. There are numerous rumblings indicating the trend not least of which was ERB’s fascination with Samuel Hopkin Adams’ novel, Flaming Youth of a few years hence and the subsequent movie starring Colleen Moore.
Bridge is now on the run with three women and a bear and he hasn’t done anything wrong to get into such hot water. One woman his emergent Anima, one, his rejected Anima, and the last a longing for a woman whose lips were made for kissing. Wow! This is all taking place in a ravine that opens into a small valley too.
All this has been accomplished in a compact one hundred pages. One third of the book is left for the denouement that Burroughs scamps as he usually does.
Giova decks them all out as gypsies which must have been an amusing sight to the Paysonites as this troop of madcaps complete with dancing bear in tow troop inconspicuously through town. Surprised they didn’t call out the national guard just for that.
As the story draws to a close ERB contributes a wonderful vignette of low brow Willie dining out at a ‘high brow’ restaurant called the Elite in Payson. The idea of Willie being conspicuous in a burg like Payson which we big city people would refer to as a hick town good only for laughs is amusing in itself. You know, it all depends on one’s perspective:
Willie Case had been taken to Payson to testify before the coroner’s jury investigating the death of Giova’s father, and with the dollar which the Osklaloosa Kid had given him in the morning burning in his pocket had proceeded to indulge in an orgy of dissipation the moment that he had been freed from the inquest. Ice cream, red pop, peanuts, candy, and soda water may have diminished his appetite but not his pride, and self-satisfaction as he sat down and by night for the first time in a public eatery place Willie was now a man of the world, a bon vivant, as he ordered ham and eggs from the pretty waitress of The Elite Restaurant on Broadway; but at heart he was not happy for never before had he realized what a great proportion of his anatomy was made up of hands and feet. As he glanced fearfully at the former, silhouetted against the white of the table cloth, he flushed scarlet, assured as he was that the waitress who had just turned away toward the kitchen with his order was convulsed with laughter and that every other eye in the establishment was glued upon him. To assume an air of nonchalance and thereby impress and disarm his critics Willie reached for a toothpick in the little glass holder near the center of the table and upset the sugar bowl. Immediately Willie snatched back the offending hand and glared ferociously at the ceiling. He could feel the roots of his hair being consumed in the heat of his skin. A quick side glance that required all his will power to consummate showed him that no one appeared to have noticed his faux pas and Willie was again slowly returning to normal when the proprietor of the restaurant came up from behind and asked him to remove his hat.
Never had Willie Case spent so frightful a half hour as that within the brilliant interior of the Elite Restaurant. Twenty-three minutes of this eternity was consumed in waiting for his order to be served and seven minutes in disposing of the meal and paying his check. Willie’s method of eating was in itself a sermon on efficiency- there was no waste motion- no waste of time. He placed his mouth within two inches of his plate after cutting his ham and eggs into pieces of a size that would permit each mouthful to enter without wedging; then he mixed his mashed potatoes in with the result and working his knife and fork alternatively with bewildering rapidity shot a continuous stream of food into his gaping maw.
In addition to the meat and potatoes there was one vegetable side dish on the empty plate, seized a spoon in lieu or a knife and fork and – presto! The side dish was empty. Where upon the prune dish was set in the empty side-dish- four deft motions and there were no prunes in the dish. The entire feat had been accomplished in 6:34 ½ , setting a new world’s record for red headed farm boys with one splay foot.
In the remaining twenty-five and one half seconds Willie walked what seemed to him a mile from his seat to the cashier’s desk and at the last instant bumped into a waitress with a trayful of dishes. Clutched tightly in Willie’s hand was thirty-five cents and his check with a like amount written upon it. Amid the crash of crockery which followed the collision Willie slammed check and money upon the cashier’s desk and fled. Nor did he pause until in the reassuring seclusion of a dark side street. There Willie sank upon the curb alternately cold with fear and hot with shame, weak and panting, and into his heart entered the iron of class hatred, searing it to the core.
The above passage has many charms. First, it is an excellent piece of nostalgia now, although at the time it represented the actuality, thus, as a period piece it is an accurate picture of the times. And then it is excellent comedy as well as a a parody as I will attempt to show.
One has to wonder if ERB really thought the Elite was a pretty fine restaurant. If so, one wonders where he took Emma and kids for a night out. Not too many gourmet Chicago restaurants served breakfast for dinner. Ham and eggs with mashed potatoes? Reminds me of the Galt House Hotel in Louisville where a ‘starch’ is served as a side dish. What exactly was this side-dish Willie wolfed- stewed tomatoes? The dessert prunes- dessert prunes?- was a nice touch too. Dessert for breakfast? Another nice quality touch at the Elite was the cup of toothpicks. Of course, those were the days cuspidors were de riguer so what do I know, maybe the Palmer House had a cup of toothpicks on the table too. I know they had cuspidors.
It does seem clear that little Willie was far down the social scale of little rural Payson. They had electric street lights, though. I’m not even from New York City but I would find the Elite, how shall I say, quaint and charming? Of course, New York City is not what it used to be either. Can’t fool me in either case; I’ve dined out in Hannibal. Good prices. Bountiful. Plenty of side dishes something that I’d never seen before.
I’m sure I’ve been in Willie’s shoes, or would have been if he’d chosen to wear them, too, so I have a great deal of sympathy for the lad. A man with a dollar has the right to spend where and as he chooses. Damn social hypocrisy!
In addition to the charm and light comedy ERB interjects a little parody of Taylorism and mass production into the mix.
For those not familiar with Frederick W. Taylor and his methods I quote from
Taylor wrote “The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911. These principles became known as Taylorism. Some of the principles of Taylorism include (Management for Productivity, John R. Schermerhorn, Jr. (1991)):
Develop a ‘science’ for every job, including rules of motion, standardized work implements, and proper working conditions.
Carefully select workers with the right abilities for the job.
Carefully train these workers to do the job, and give them proper incentives to cooperate with the job science.
Support these workers by planning their work and by smoothing the way as they go about their jobs.
Taylorism which led to maximum efficiency also give the lie to the unconscious of Sigmund Freud, or at least puts it into perspective. If the twentieth century has been the history of the devil of Freud’s unconscious it has also been the century of the triumph of the god of conscious intelligence. The question only remains which will triumph.
One of the recurring themes in ERB’s writing of the period is efficiency. Indeed, a couple years hence he will write a book entitled The Efficiency Expert.
It was the age of efficient mass production which required standardized motions and produced terrific results where applied as at Henry Ford’s marvelously efficient factories. Ford brought the task to the worker in well lighted clean factory spaces at a level which required no time consuming, fatiguing and unnecessary lifting or bending. Plus Henry Ford blew the industrial world away by doubling the going wage for unskilled labor. He changed the course of economic history singlehanded. He achieved more than the Communists or IWW could have accomplished in a million years earning their undying enmity. He may in one fell swoop have defeated the Reds. They sure thought so.
But, go back and review how Willie organizes his repast for consumption. Taylor-like he eliminated all non-essential motions then with maximum assembly line speed-up he gets production into one continuous stream.
A comic effect to be sure but there is even more comedy in the parody of the assembly line and Taylorism. I’m sure ERB intended it just that way.
Willie may be a joke but there is a certain flavor to be obtained by filling a continuum of food, mouth and time. Such an opportunity for enjoyment may present itself once in ten years or so. Willie saw his opportunity and seized it which he does throughout the story. Willie is OK with me.
I have eaten that way but I now reserve the method for ice cream and highly recommend it. My last opportunity, they present themselves but rarely and can’t be forced, was several years ago when I was insultingly offered a half melted Cherries Jubilee. The dish was of a perfect consistency for assembly line consumption. I saw my chance and like Willie, I took it. I kind of distributed cherries and ice cream chunks in the creamy stew, got mouth in the right position and cleaned the bowl in sixty seconds flat, reared back gripping the bridge of my nose, honked a couple times as the freeze seized my brain and then took a few minutes for consciousness to return. One of the great natural highs in this drug infested time. I tell ya‘, fellas, they was all lookin’ at me but I am much beyond the iron of class hatred. If they can’t take a joke…well, you know the finish. So I think Willie Case did the right thing.
Clumsy waitress to get in his way anyway. Fourteen hours on the job was no excuse.
Willie didn’t feel guilt for too long though, for what ERB calls a faux pas, it put him in the right place at the right time to see Giova and her dancing bear fresh from Beppo’s own slops. How could ERB be so cruel to a dumb animal- the bear, not Willie-, one that was going to save the heroine’s life- both the bear and Willie.
After having had dinner and refreshments Willie still had 20 cents left from a dollar of which he spent 10 cents for a detective movie and had ten cents left over for a long distance phone call to Burton in Oakdale after he spotted Giova and her dancing bear when he came out of the movie theatre.
He followed Giova to Bridge and the girls, fixed their location then called Burton. Not only did Willie spot the fugitives but so did the four leftover bums. Dopey Charlie and the General were impounded for the Baggs murder while we will learn that the real Oskaloosa Kid and the putative Gail Prim remain as well perhaps as the true identity of L. Bridge.
Burroughs is full of interesting details. The hoboes are gathered in an abandoned electrical generating plant which had formerly served Payson but had been discontinued for a larger plant servicing Payson from a hundred miles away. We don’t know when that might have happened but electrical generation and distribution was relatively new. The consolidation into larger generating units was even newer. Samuel Insull, whose electrical empire collapsed about1938 had begun organizing distribution in 1912 when he formed the Mid-West Utilities in Chicago absorbing all the smaller companies such as this one in Payson obviously.
I find details like this the exiting part of reading Burroughs.
The murderous hoboes set out to rob and kill Bridge and the Kid while Sky Pilot and Dirty Eddie elect themselves to return the putative Gail Prim who we will learn is actually Hettie Penning, thus doubling ERB’s Anima figure and connecting the latter to the former.
One is put in mind of the Hettie of H.G. Wells’ novel In The Days Of The Comet. Both Hetties exhibit the same traits. While it may seem a slender connection, still, ERB has so many references to other authors and their works that the connection is not improbable. For obvious reasons ERB always insisted he had never read H.G. Wells. Wells? Wells, who?, but how could he not have?
Bridge and the girls would have met their end except that Willie Case’s call brought Burton on the run who arrives in time to save their lives. Unfortunately Beppo of the evil eye meets his end after having done Burton’s job for him much as Willie always did.
In between the girls, the ‘boes, Bridge and the coppers Burton has a full load so he drops Bridge and Kid at the Payson jail. Willie Case had not only solved the case for the ingrate Burton but saved the life of Gail Prim posing as the Oskaloosa Kid. In a heart wrenching scene little Willie seeking his just reward is cruelly rejected and cheated by the Great Detective. I don’t know, maybe I read too closely and get too involved. Or, just maybe, ERB is a great writer.
It’s all over but the shouting and along comes the mob howling from Oakdale for the blood of Bridge and the Kid. I tell ya, boys, it wuz close. Burton arrived in time but not before Bridge with a well aimed blow broke Jeb Case’s jaw. What did those Cases ever do to ERB I wonder?
In the end Hettie Penning is identified, clearing up that mystery. Burton is able to tell Bridge’s dad who has spent $20,000 looking for him that he is found. It may even have cost less for Stanley to find Livingston. Of course there was a lousy rail system in the Congo in Livingston’s time. Bridge is united with Gail obviously prepared to renounce the roving life. Thus the promise of Out There Somewhere is redeemed. Bridge has found his woman.
Thus on paper, at least, Burroughs is reunited with his Animus in gorgeous female attire. No more men in women’s clothes or women in men’s clothes.
Bridge And The Kid is a very short book, only 152 pages in my Charter paperback edition of 1979 (Septimius Favonius BB #24. Charter didn’t see fit to include a date.) Although first issued in book form so late as 1937, it was reprinted in 1938 and 1940 so there must have been some early readers however when reprinted in 1974 there could have been few who remembered it.
My fellow writer, David Adams wrote a short review in the same issue #24 of the Burroughs Bulletin, October 1995, in which he also recognized the importance of this book to the corpus:
It may come as a surprise that anyone could possibly think of calling the novelette, THE OAKDALE AFFAIR, a major work of such a prolific writer as Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I found it to be such an animal…
I am unaware that any other than Mr. Adams and myself have reviewed the book. To sum up:
There seems to be an obvious connection to Jack London in the Bridge Trilogy (I prefer Bridge to Mucker because the latter draws reproving stares and no one today knows what a mucker is. It sounds slightly obscene.)
Mr. Adams, who is more of an authority on Jack London than myself, I’ve only begun to read London as a result of Bill Hillman’s series of articles in ERBzine, which posits a strong connection between Burroughs and London, and not the other way around, feels the novels have a great deal to do with London. The connection seems to be there but I have only begun to read London’s relevant or major works.
What ERB’s attitude towards London may have been which seems ambiguous isn’t clear. Burroughs never wrote about London and never mentions him explicitly. There are many points of disagreement between the two politically and socially. Burroughs does seem to have liked London and his work although what he read or when he read it isn’t clear. There are no London titles in his library.
The second major influence in the novel is the problem of hoboism connected with the IWW and labor unrest.
In the background Burroughs is working out his Anima/Animus problem.
The whole is framed in the form of a rather magnificent detective story patterned after Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories with a dash, perhaps a soupcon, of E.W. Hornung thrown in.
Attention should be paid to the psychological aspects.
Many of ERB’s favorite themes such as the efficiency expert are also thrown in. Nifty historical details like Samuel Insull’s electrical empire are added to the mix as well as Taylorism.
If anything ERB was too efficient, too economical in his use of words. The Book could easily have been fleshed out another sixty or hundred pages with no loss in the marvelous immediacy of the telling. If anything the story is too condensed. I found myself pausing over each description to recreate a mental image of the depiction. I was willing to do so and the personal reward was great. How much ERB was the creator of my vision of the story and how much my own as collaborator isn’t clear to me. Perhaps ERB just outlined the story ‘suggesting’ the scenario, expecting the reader to ‘customize’ the story as he reads along. This may be the first ‘inter-active’ novel. If so, Burroughs may be an even more innovative and greater writer than he is commonly thought to be.
March 30, 2012
Only The Strong Survive
An Examination Of Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid
(The Oakdale Affair)
As Created By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Background And Sources
E.R. Burroughs: Out There Somewhere (The Return Of The Mucker), 1916
Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid (The Oakdale Affair) 1917
David A. Adams: ERB/London Connection, ERBzine #1298, 2005
Philip R. Burger: Whatever It Is, Gets You And Me, ERBzine 1412, 2005
R.E. Prindle: Only A Hobo, ERBzine #1329-34, 2004
Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid, published as The Oakdale Affair was written shortly after Burroughs posed for the famous picture of himself standing on the rock above the sea in Santa Monica in 1916.
Let’s take a moment to put these titles into perspective with Burroughs’ career. Let’s try to identify some of the changes he’s going through. It is safe to assume that in 1911 at 36 years of age when he sat down to write A Princess Of Mars he was in a state of terror that life had passed him by, that he had failed the big test from which there is no recovering. If he says that he considered writing to be an unmanly occupation then he was desperately grasping at the last straw. If he failed as a writer then he would have had an excuse as it was a sissy occupation but he still would have been psychologically destroyed.
But Princess sold and then too did Tarzan Of The Apes. Buoyed by these successes he continued to write achieving during the year 1913 a pinnacle of success achieved by few writers. Most importantly Burroughs could for the first time in his adult live perceive himself as a somebody, as the man he always thought he was or should be.
The miracle of 1913 continued and with the confidence of a seemingly inexhaustible pen promised to continue. Burroughs indulged his whims during those fantastic years between 1913 and 1916. He apparently bought everything that he had ever wanted. When he left on that fabled drive from Chicago to L.A. in addition to a car, a truck and a driver he had 2 1/2 tons of, pardon the expression, junk.
He was living in a dream. I envision the surreal picture of this caravan pulling to the side of the road away out there on the road to anywhere with Burroughs pitching his white and blue striped circus tent while the kids aged about eight, seven and three cranked up the record player. They didn’t need electricity in those days, you would wind the record player up. Then as the horn blared out ‘Are You From Dixie’ singing lustily the family danced in the moonlight. Place the picture against a rising full moon.
Imagine a country rube happening along on Old Dobbin to see such a scene. It’s just like Toad and his caravan from Wind In The Willows, isn’t it? What Memories the children must have had.
And all the time Burroughs’ personality was unraveling as he metamorphosed into a new persona.
Let’s take a look at that picture by the seashore closely. It is revealing. There is no reason not to believe that this picture was carefully thought out and posed by ERB. The photo is frequently cropped so as to put Burroughs in the center but in its uncropped state the sea stretches far to the left making the subjects of the photo both ERB and the feminine sea. Burroughs is standing on the right on a rock high above the water. Let us believe that was his intent. In his novel Somewhere Out There written from January to March 1916 the theme is the poem by H.H. Knibbs also titled Out There Somewhere in which the dream lover is waiting in the South by the sea. Obviously ERB has an idea fixed in his mind.
As he finished the novel he began his tramp South to San Diego and the sea. Thus the sea, the waters of the subconscious, the fructifying water of the female represents both the destructive and constructive aspects of the female. Standing on the rock, as opposed to the shifting sands, high above the waters represents Burroughs’ hopeful reunion with and dominance of the Anima.
Burroughs’ persona itself, his Animus is equally interesting. He is very expensively dressed. That overcoat is a very new one, either a Kuppenheimer or a Hart, Shaffner and Marx, as Burroughs combines the two names in a reference in Bridge And The Kid. It is also unnecessary in California at any time of the year. His shoes are shined, top quality also, probably Florsheim. His hat is pulled low over his face as he stands above the photographer looking down on him or her with a wry, bemused hint of a smile with which he endows his creations. His hands are in his pockets with the thumbs, the sexual symbol exposed. Thumbs are a sexual symbol of potency, as in ‘under my thumb’ so he is feeling confident in his success if not cocky. He is the Mysterious Stranger. The Shadow. The lurker in every mind. He is at the very height of his success and yet facing the problems his success has brought. This photo represents the high summer of his life. It is never going to be this good again.
Out There Somewhere pointed to a resolution of his psychological problems while Bridge And The Kid apparently resolved them, at least, for the moment.
There is an interesting numerical relationship in Burroughs’ visits to the coast. His first was in 1913, the second visit was in 1916 and he would move permanently to California in 1919- three year intervals, and each time he stayed about nine months- time to be born again. These are stress points. One wonders at what time in his life he began his California dreaming.
Thus Burroughs began Bridge And The Kid in a state of exhilaration. It took him nearly six months to finish it which for him was a long time.
His period of extreme fecundity was also over. In the future he would be driven to work because he needed the money but his psychological release was finished with these two novels.
Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid is one of Burroughs most finely crafted novels. It is extremely rich in content. Because of the apparent ease with which Burroughs writes one disregards the components of the tale and there are many in what I consider the most detailed and intriguing novel.
ERB began the hobo theme in vol. 1 of this trilogy, The Mucker, developed it in the sequel Out There Somewhere (The
Return Of The Mucker) and continues it not only in the character of Bridge and the Kid but in the criminal gang and throughout the novel. The hobo obviously intrigued ERB and why not? Rather than just discuss the hobo theme as elements of the story let’s look more closely at the subject.
Just as today the so-called homeless occupy an amazing amount of social attention so in Burroughs’ time the hobo was an inescapable phenomenon. He was ubiquitous, he was everywhere as a reading of Out there Somewhere and Bridge and The Kid indicate. Burroughs found the hobo fascinating and even to a degree identified with him.
Every town of any size had a Main Stem on which the Hoboes congregated. Chicago itself with most rail lines converging on it from all directions was the Main Stem of hoboing while Madison was the Main Stem of Chicago. As it chances the offices of the American Battery Company were on Madison Street thus the young Burroughs would have had plenty of opportunity to observe and study the hobo.
As a yard policeman in Salt Lake City in 1904 he would have had further opportunity to familiarize himself with the species. His first writing effort- Minidoka- in 1908 or so gives the Hobo a prominent place actually siting Chicago as the Hobo capital of the country.
In both these novels he give a very unflattering picture of the Hobo. In both novels the Hoboes figure as criminals, even murderous criminals. In Bridge And The Kid they are responsible for the crime wave in normally placid Oakdale.
When the Kid stumbles upon a lair of six hoboes all are willing to rob her while an actual cold blooded attempt on her life was made by Dopey Charlie.
Burroughs associates one, the General, with Coxey’s Army of 1894. Eighteen-ninety-three was the beginning of a severe depression perhaps equal to the depression of the thirties. In 1994 Jacob Coxey organized a march on Washington of the unemployed seeking relief. The host was known as Coxey’s Army.
Burroughs who was frequently unemployed and hard up yet always found jobs to scrape by, exhibited all the pride of the resourceful by condemning the ‘soldiers’ of Coxey’s Army as bums who wouldn’t work, hence the General had never held a job and never would. He preferred to rob and kill rather than work.
One of the more memorable episodes of the book is when morning dawns on Jeb Case’s farm and the hoboes come streaming out of the barn and haystacks as Case takes up a shotgun to make sure they move on.
Burroughs who had no use for the IWW- the Industrial Workers Of The World- or Wobblies, introduces them also in the character of Sky Pilot. As the Wobblies were composed almost entirely of the hobo class they might easily have been classed as hoboes pure and simple. The Sky Pilot is I believe based on Big Bill Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners, the WFM, and then when he was expelled from that organization for being too aggressive, of the IWW where you couldn’t be too aggressive.
Big Bill is one of the great figures of the era, he has a great autobiography, and he figures indirectly in the history of the Burroughs Boys so ERB would have concentrated on his career. The battles of the hard rock miners in Colorado, Idaho and the West in general with the mine owners were ferocious. The resistance to their just demands by the mine owners forms one of the most disgraceful chapters in American history.
Big Bill was at the center of the dispute. In Idaho the governor who resisted the WFM was Frank Steunenberg. He had appointed Harry and George Burroughs as delegates to a mining conference so the Burroughs had an association with him.
When Steunenberg left the governor’s chair in 1905 he was blown to bits by a bomb placed in his mailbox. Big Bill didn’t place the bomb but it does seem likely that he planned the bombing. ERB thought so. In one of the most famous trials of the era Haywood was defended by Clarence Darrow who got him off with lamest defense ever.
Thus Burroughs describes the Sky Pilot as the man who planned the crimes but was always somewhere else when they were committed. He made people ‘disappear’ in the manner in which Steunenberg disappeared.
From the WFM Big Bill went on to be the leader of the Wobblies. There can be no doubt that Burroughs was opposed to the Wobblies. In book after book in this period he denounces the outfit. After the Great War broke out in 1914 the IWW became especially active leading to the speculation that their activities were funded by the Kaiser’s gold. This was never proven at the time but it seems very probable as the Germans wanted to disrupt American productivity while Big Bill and the Wobblies wanted to take over industry and the government on behalf of the ‘working’ man, who had nothing to do with them. The crime wave of Oakdale caused by the hoboes may have been a fictionalization of a wave of IWW activity which resulted in a large number of violent strikes in 1916 shortly before this book was written. Thus Burroughs wove Big Bill Haywood, Coxey’s Army, The Western Federation of Miners and the ‘16 Wobbly actions into the story in ‘a highly fictionized’ manner.
If fact Burroughs may have been recapitulating several decades of labor history as he introduces the great Chicago
detective Burton. Obviously based on one level on Allan Pinkerton of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency which was employed to control labor unrest. In fact the Pinkertons had kidnapped Big Bill as operatives against the WFM turning him over to Idaho after Steunenberg was murdered. One of their operatives, Charlie Siringo, was instrumental in breaking up the miners in the Coeur D’Alene area. Wonderful story he tells in his A Cowboy Detective.
Not only does Burton represent the Pinkertons but after withholding his first name throughout the story, as an inside joke, Bridge who knows Burton hails him as Dick. Of course slang for detective was a ‘dick’ as in Dick Tracy but also Dick is short for Richard. So Burton was Richard Burton. Richard Francis Burton was the famous African explorer so Burroughs weaves in another historical reference.
By the time the book was finished on 6/12/17 the United States was involved in the war with Germany so at that point the activities of the IWW were treasonous.
Burroughs’s novels are always more complex than they seem on the surface. Like any novelist he has to have a story to tell but that story arises from conscious and subconscious motives. Some of the conscious motives are in the relation of his disguised feelings about unskilled labor, the hoboes and the IWW. The subconscious motives emerge in his depiction of his heroine, Abigail Prim and the hero, the Happy Hobo, Bridge. As this is an Anima/Animus story it should be clear that Abigail Prim represent ERB’s Anima and Bridge represents his Animus. The two characters are not original to this story but a variation on all his heroines and heroes whose adventures are a variation of the adventures of all his heroes and heroines.
Burroughs entered the hobo theme in the first novel of this trilogy, The Mucker, then developed the theme in the middle volume, Out There Somewhere, which introduces his stellar character Bridge, the Happy Hobo.
As it chances one of Burroughs’ literary heroes was Jack London. London (1876-1918) was an exact contemporary, Burroughs being born in September, London in the following January. He was actually born eleven days after Emma.
It has been suggested that the death of London in 1916 influenced Burroughs’ writing of Out There Somewhere. As the book was written between January and March and London died in November of that year the connection seems unlikely.
It does seem likely that Burroughs read everything he came across of London’s. He seems to have thought he knew enough about London’s life to write a biography of him. If he was that familiar with London that is an interesting detail. It is impossible to know for certain what he read of London’s as there are no London titles in the Library as published on the ERBzine. While ERB seems to have made little attempt to fill in his library with titles that he read before he came into money it would seem likely that between 1913 and 1916 he would have picked up some London titles.
London was a very prolific writer penning dozens of novels, some few volumes of non-fiction and hundreds of short stories that appeared in dozens of magazines. It would seem highly probable that Burroughs would have read as much as he could find.
While London made a circuit of the United States and Canada in 1894 as a knight of the road not a great deal of his hobo writing had made it to print by 1916. The most significant of his hobo writing was a volume titled The Road of 1908. It would seem probable that Burroughs read at least this if he associated London with the road.
Perhaps more importantly London was uppermost in his mind in 1916 since W.R. Hearst had hired London to cover the Mexican Revolution in 1914. Bridge is introduced in Out There Somewhere on his way to Mexico. So that if Bridge is to be associated with London his despatches from Mexico were probably the immediate reason.
Even though Burroughs admired London as a writer they were at opposite poles politically. London claimed to be a confirmed socialist although he doesn’t write like one. As a revolutionist which he claimed to be he was in opposition to ERB.
Their views of the hobo were also in opposition so one wonders exactly what Burroughs was thinking. Burroughs makes Bridge the only honest hobo on the road while all others are depicted as violent criminals. In the first hobo scene in Out There Somewhere Bridge and Byrne are accosted by murderous hoboes who are defeated by the pugilist Byrne. The whole cast of hoboes in Bridge And The Kid are hardened criminals of the first water.
London on the other hand apologizes for his hoboes. When not victims of society they are philosophers who can astonish college professors with their learning. Thus London tends to whitewash the criminal aspects of the hobo. So, the question might arise as to whether Burroughs was correcting the image presented by his hero attempting to give him his take on the tribe. Remember London was still alive when Out There Somewhere was written and published in magazine form. It could have been meant for his eyes.
London was only eighteen when he made his tour of the country. He had already shipped out on a tour of the orient when seventeen. His moniker was Sailor Jack. He enlisted as a recruit in a clone of Coxey’s Army known as Kelly’s Army which left for DC from California.
As Burroughs mentions Coxey’s Army in Bridge And The Kid while he associates the Army with the IWW, then Wobbly activities may have called to mind London’s hobo experience. Obviously all these elements are interconnected.
If George Mc Whorter of the BB and Philip Berger are right and the L. in Bridge’s name refers to London Bridge that would be in keeping with the punning on the name Dick Burton.
London could be an element in the character of Bridge but not necessarily the dominant one while Byrne would also represent Jack London. It seems clear that Burroughs had been fascinated by the character of the hobo from an early age. As noted, the hobo appears as a significant character in his very first attempt at writing, Minidoka.
Burroughs may have affectionately joined his persona with that of London as Bridge is a declassed aristocrat which is almost a necessity for a Burroughs hero. In this case Bridge is a ‘Virginian’, a natural gentleman as well as a cultivated one. The Virginian in American history is the antithesis of the Puritan.
The Virginian was thought to be an innate gentleman, one of the ‘quality’ as opposed to the ‘equality’. The prototype of the manly man. Nearly all of Burroughs’ heroes are Virginians. Jack London didn’t have that distinction so in my opinion he represented Burroughs in his declassed state.
As a Virginian gentleman Bridge, apparently an unconventional sort, ‘volunteered’ to be a hobo because he rejected the settled life but he can reenter the aristocracy at will as he does at the end of the book. Hence while all other ‘boes are criminals or at least suspect Bridge is honest and above board. He’s known far and wide to the authorities as the only honest hobo. He’s the hobo who has Burton’s confidence.
In Out There Somewhere he is in search of the woman of his dreams. In Bridge And The Kid he finds her.
‘She’ is obviously Abigail Prim. Gail is a Cinderella figure. Her mother died. Jonas Prim, her father, remarried. Her stepmother, Pudgy Prim, while not conventionally wicked nevertheless does not wish the best for her step-daughter.
As the story opens, this is kind of hard to follow, Pudgy has sent her daughter to live with the man she has chosen as Gail’s future husband to see if she couldn’t learn to like him a little better. I’m sure I must have missed a connection somewhere but that is how I read it.
The man Pudgy has chosen for her is more than twice Gail’s nineteen years with the attendant infirmities. They used to age rapidly in those bygone days. ERB doesn’t tell us how old Gail was when her mother died but it seems strange that her father wouldn’t do more than grumble about this odd plan of his second wife.
While Gail appears to accept her step-mother’s decision to the extent of getting on a train bound for her suitor’s town she gets off early returning to Oakdale where she disguises herself as a boy then burgles her own property to take up a life on the road as a hobo. Of course ERB conceals from us that the girl Gail and boy burglar are one and the same.
Having looted herself of a fairly good sized fortune, a necklace alone was appraised by the General, a hobo, at fifty thousand dollars while she was carrying at least two thick wads of bills worth thousands as mixed in with the greenbacks, few of which were ones, were many yellow backs. There’s some currency information for you. Researching currency on the web it appears that yellow backs were hundred dollar bills while other denominations were all greenbacks. Completing the burglary she heads on down the road as night falls. After a couple misadventures with a dog and a bull Gail falls in with six criminal ‘boes in an abandoned shed.
A true innocent she flashes her fortune in front of the startled eyes of the ‘boes, hardened criminals every one. Mocking her naiveté one of the ’boes claims to know her as the Oskaloosa Kid who is out robbing and murdering at that very moment. Gail doesn’t know this, misses the joke and assumes the character of the Oskaloosa Kid.
After a failed robbery attempt by the ’boes Gail runs down the road in a gathering storm with the hoboes in pursuit. As she comes to a fork in the road she encounters the Happy Hobo, Bridge, who is apparently oblivious of the coming storm. He is merrily tramping along reciting some of his favorite poetry- out loud. The meter comes through better that way although the practice might raise comment from casual observers.
Bridge and the Kid join destinies.
So what is Burroughs talking about here in the psychological sense? He is following the same scheme he follows in all his Anima stories. Usually a sudden storm takes place on a yacht at sea and the survivors find themselves on a desert island. The plot develops that ERB used in the Outlaw Of Torn also. In that plot the little Prince’s nurse was murdered by a fencing instructor who then dressed as a woman to serve as the little Prince’s Anima. The Prince in Outlaw Of Torn was torn from his secure position in the world as Burroughs was in his.
In this story Gail has a wicked step-mother who wants to marry her off to an undesirable man. Gail voluntarily dresses and poses as a boy so that fencing master and boy serve the same function with the sexes reversed so that Gail is prepared to reveal herself and assume the role of Burroughs’ Anima returned to female form.
In Outlaw the Prince who becomes an outlaw, or outcast, Norman, is torn from his high station where he is declassed as an outlaw. In this story Bridge voluntarily declasses himself because he ’prefers’ life on the road among the criminals.
This book was written four years after Outlaw so Burroughs psychology has evolved. The emotional problem centers on Burroughs’ confrontation when he was eight or nine years old with a bully on the way to Brown school. ERB was so terrorized by the incident that his Animus was emasculated and his Anima was nearly annihilated. (The fencing master kills the nurse Maud and assumes the identity of the Anima.) As I have pointed out this means that Burroughs in his terror was hypnotized into accepting certain beliefs about himself. These are prime psychological facts which control one’s behavior. While under the influence of the hypnotist (John the Bully in this case) certain suggestions (Burroughs subconscious interpretation of the terror, his psychotic response) were fixated in his subconscious. These suggestions then influence or control the actions of the subject so long as they are active. They may be exorcised in the course of time, resolved in some manner, or they may control one’s actions for life as improbable as that seems to some people.
The purpose of analysis should be to locate these suggestions and resolve them. Freud called this ’the talking cure.’ Burroughs is doing the same thing in his writing, discussing the fixation (embedded suggestion) from many angles in an attempt to resolve it thus freeing himself from its control. All of his writings from 1911 to this novel contributed to its solution. In the Bridge Trilogy ERB succeeded in understanding his fixation but apparently lacked the follow through to eliminate it as a spirit of malaise followed him throughout his life.
In meeting his reconstituted Anima in boy’s disguise at the fork in the road or street corner, the crossroads in Outlaw, the original scene of hypnosis, he has recreated the original hypnotic incident. The hoboes pursuing Gail represent the bully. Symbolically they will all be joined in the haunted house during the storm. In this case the house takes the place of the desert island.
Thus Bridge leaves the broad, well-traveled road of happiness, (the yacht sinks) to join his destiny with the Kid on the less traveled hazardous road.
They enter the abandoned farm house which represents Burroughs’ self after the confrontation with John the Bully. Thus ERB’s Animus and Anima are once again together in his self or house although his Anima is disguised as a male and he doesn’t recognize her.
In this unresolved state the real Oskaloosa Kid drives by. He throws a woman from an open tonneau in a driving rain storm no less, firing a shot after her. The shot misses, the girl is stunned but otherwise uninjured. Thus ERB’s previous Anima is returned to him but unlike Maud she is unconscious but alive. The three are joined by the dual aspects of the bully spending the night together with them in a room of the farmhouse. So that is the set and setting.
ERB is accused of being unduly influenced by his readings. This may be true. As a dependent personality as a result of his encounter he is highly influenced by those he admires. He has a high level of suggestibility as a result of his hypnosis. He seems to have been very willing to accept suggestions from his publishers such as Metcalf at All Story who suggested a medieval story which ERB undertook against his better judgment as Outlaw Of Torn.
However imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. ERB was a very flattering sort of guy. In this book he mentions several influences whose manner he imitates to some degree. But he always has a very original story.
The first issue is that of why a hobo hero. The hobo was an unacceptable topic for literature at that time, still is. In fact Burroughs’ two hobo novels are rather daring departures from tradition. There may be a genre of hobo novels, if so these two stories are bedrock of the genre. They may have been the first hobo novels published.
They were certainly intended as a tribute to Jack London. Although Burroughs acknowledges deep respect for London none of his volumes are found in Burroughs’ existing library. The library seems to consist of childhood books and volumes Burroughs purchased after he came into money. He doesn’t seem to have gone back and picked up old favorites. In such case we can’t know for sure how much of London’s Burroughs actually read.
London was prolific writing dozens of novels and collections of short stories along with some few non-fiction titles. Among the last was a record of his hoboing experience entitled: The Road. Published in 1908 there is a good chance Burroughs may have read it. An indirect proof might possibly be found in the sobriquet the Oskaloosa Kid. There is an Oskaloosa in both Kansas and Iowa. When London took his hobo trip from Oakland across the US and back by way of Canada in 1894 as part of Kelly’s Industrial Army he makes mention of incidents in Oskaloosa Iowa. If Burroughs read The Road the name Oskaloosa may have stuck in him memory.
London himself had difficulty getting The Road published as his publishers didn’t believe the hobo a suitable subject for treatment. If London ever intended a hobo novel he never wrote it. He did author several hobo related short stories. One can’t be certain which of the short stories, if any, Burroughs read. Certainly he couldn’t have read them all.
London was also sent to Mexico by the Hearst papers to cover the Mexican Revolution in 1914 so it is very possible that Out There Somewhere deals with the Mexican Revolution. Burroughs may have been more directly inspired by London’s Mexican dispatches.
In any event these two volumes are generally agreed to have a direct reference to Jack London with which conclusion I agree.
I did discuss the Bridge Trilogy in my Only A Hobo which elicited the response from fellow writer David Adams that I should have read Martin Eden if I wanted to understand Burroughs’ The Mucker. I had read it. I read it again. Unfortunately David failed to refer to the passages that would have enlightened me.
Reinforcing the hobo image of the two books is Burroughs use of hobo poetry throughout Out There Somewhere and the first half of Bridge And The Kid. Central to the first volume is HH Knibbs poem Out There Somewhere after which ERB’s story is named. The theme of that poem most important to Burroughs is that his dream woman or Anima awaits him in the South down by the sea. Weaving through these images and through Bridge And The Kid is Robert Service’s The Road To Anywhere. It doesn’t hurt to be familiar with these two poems.
If writing a hobo novel was avant garde, building one work around the work of another writer was no less daring. One can only say that ERB was fearless.
There is a possibility that Burroughs may have intended Out There Somewhere as an introduction to both Knibbs and London. He left for an extended stay in California shortly after completing the novel during which he may possibly have intended a trip North to Sonoma to visit London but his favorite author chose this unpropitious moment to cash in. November 22 is also the death date of John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley although forty-seven years later. If Jack hadn’t been in such a hurry he might easily have made it a three way termination.
It is noteworthy that Burroughs did extend an invitation to HH Knibbs who wrote the poem around which the novel was built and who did accept the invitation.
The hobo theme may also have been suggested by an increasing feeling of restlessness which resulted in the familial hoboing across the country after Out There Somewhere was completed in 1916.
Assuming the hobo influences of the IWW, London, Knibbs and Service, it would not seem necessary to look for others but Burroughs was able to cram more into a hundred fifty pages than any author I have read. On page one of Bridge And The Kid he mentions Sherlockian which refers to Conan Doyle, Raffleian which refers to the Raffles of Doyle’s son-in-law E.W. Hornung and the Alienist which refers to psychologists of some type.
Doyle was an ever present influence on Burroughs. His admiration for Doyle’s detective, Sherlock Holmes, permeates his work. He is forever trying to write a good detective story of which Bridge And The Kid is an excellent example if not the most perfect example of his Holmsian stories. A great many of his other novels have detective stories concealed within them.
Bridge And The Kid is one of the best. I’m sure everyone is able to guess that the Kid is a girl in disguise before the story ends but the question is how early? I don’t know exactly when I did but by the time the Kid went out to ‘rustle grub’ his relationship with Willie Case gave it away for sure. Still, even knowing did not diminish enjoyment of the rest of the story. Both Bridge and the Kid are excellent characters as was Burroughs’ detective Burton. Loved all three. Actually I loved all the characters including Beppo which were all drawn vividly.
One wonders if Burroughs knew that Hornung was Doyle’s son-in-law. If so the union of the two in one story is clever and piquant. Hornung and Raffles are probably not so well known now but Raffles was a very popular character for a long time. Whereas Doyle created the master detective his son-in-law created a mirror image master thief. Doyle didn’t take kindly to Hornung’s character, Arthur J. Raffles, for that was his name. Raffles was a gentleman thief or ‘amateur cracksman’ who stole from his hosts on country weekends. His sidekick was named ‘Bunny’. The Kid, Gail in disguise, is of course a counterpart to Holmes’ Watson and Raffle’s Bunny.
As a further inspiration then we have Holmes and Watson and Raffles and Bunny for Bridge and the Kid. Pretty amazing, huh? You can see why Philip Farmer got carried away in Tarzan Alive.
Then later in the book in a fit of exuberance Burroughs mentions H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne although I can’t find references to their work in this story. Just ERB liked their stuff.
Finally we have to mention the Alienist. This certainly implies that Burroughs took more than a passing interest in psychology. As wide ranging as his interests were one is forced to believe that he knew who Freud and Jung were by 1917. What he knew of their work is open to conjecture although the story Tarzan’s First Nightmare of this period follows Freud’s dream theory pretty closely.
I would imagine he knew something of William James and I am convinced of FWH Myers. Beyond that I can’t say. It seems clear to me that Burroughs is attempting some careful psychological portrayals in this book.
Having discussed the preliminaries let’s see how Burroughs develops set and setting in this very delightful story of times, places and landscapes that will never be seen again.