Pt. 5 Springtime For Edgar Rice Burroughs

August 10, 2007

Springtime For Edgar Rice Burroughs

Part 5

by

R.E. Prindle

 

     In this year of excitement for Burroughs as his success becomes established and he tries to work out his psycho-sexual conflicts it is interesting to follow the development of both.

     Three of his stories expecially concerned with his sexual conflicts were followed by sequels relating to their development.  The first The Cave Girl finished in March as a sort of sequel was followed by the Mad King of October-November and then in November-December of 1913 by The Eternal Lover.  After a fashion these novels may be considered a trilogy.

     Writing approximately a year later – 16 months for Cave Girl, a year for Mad King and eight months for The Eternal Lover- the three sequels rapidly followed each other.  The Cave Man was writtin in July-August of 1914, Sweetheart Primeval (The Eternal Lover) in August-September and Barney Custer of Beatrice (The Mad King) from September to November.  The diptyches were then published as single volumes.  They have been disconcertedly packaged as single stories when they should be considered as different stories with different approaches to the same problem.  Unless I am mistaken with the sequel to the Mad King Emma is written out of the story.

     Following Cave Girl in early 1913 Burroughs wrote The Monster Men in April-May that probably has little to do with his psycho-sexual problems but relates to his long admiration of Frankenstein and probably the more recent H.G. Wells’ novel The Island Of Dr. Moreau.  There will be a number of related stories along this line if not sequels.

     The Warlord of Mars followed in June and July.  John Carter probably relateing to Burroughs’ emasculation concerns thus having little or nothing to do with Emma.  August to October’s The Mucker is a very important book, the first of what I consider a quartet exploring Burroughs psycho-sexual needs.  In The Mucker a low brow hoodlum from Chicago is thrown together with a New York society girl.  The novel brings together the theme of yachts, shipwrecks, cannibalism and the stranding on a South Seas island.

     In this case the low brow realizes that he won’t make it in a high brow world so he renounces his claim on the society woman.

     The first sequel to the Mucker gestated for three years until 1916’s Out There Somewhere (The Return Of The Mucker).  In this novel Burroughs splits his personality into Bily Byrne- the Mucker- and the gentleman hobo, Bridge.  Thus by 1916 it apears that Burroughs sees himself as more polished than his Mucker creation.  Bridge is a voluntary exile from a wealthy Virginia family so that he unites The Prince And The Pauper in his identity while reversing the order of Little Lord Fauntleroy.  It will be noticed however that Bridge combines all three of Burroughs’ most favorite books.

     In the denouement Burroughs gives the society girl to the Mucker while Bridge goes off in search of the ideal ‘mate’ who is Out There Somewhere.

     The second sequel, Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid (The Oakdale Affair), of 1917 continues the story of Bridge in, really, a very good story, in which at the end Bridge is revealed as not a bum, assuming his true identity as a Virginia gentleman.  The Pauper become the Prince, Fauntlroy comes into his own.

     The last of the quartet is 1924’s Marcia Of The Doorstep in which in a wholly fictitious way Burroughs’ Anima and Animus are united in the characters of Chase III and Marcia.  This novel appears to conclude this particular exploration that has lasted for eleven years.

     The Mucker was followed by October-November’s The Mad King.  The Mucker was written in both Chicago and San Diego while the Mad King was written wholly in San Diego.

     The Mad King returns to the theme of the Cave Girl of ERB’s relationship to Emma.  He even names the lead female Emma.  It seems possible that the uprooting from Chicago with all their possessions had an unsettling effect on Emma so that ERB’s difficulties with her probably become more pronounced.  Certainly her discomfort is understandable but the Mad King may have determined her fate.

     The title The Mad King is probably significant in this context.  Once again Burroughs creates doppelgangers so that both characters are split from his own personality.  Once again we have The Prince And The Pauper theme of an interchange of roles.  At this stage ERB may have felt like a king but realized he was acting in a mad way.

     The Mad King is followed immediately in November-December actually a matter of only twenty days by The Eternal Lover-  Nu Of The Niocene.  The two stories must be closely related in Burroughs’ mind.  Indeed the sequel to Nu Of The Niocene, Sweetheart Primeval includes several characters from The Mad King.  So one would have to ask how does Barney Custer’s sister Victoria relate to Emma.

     I intend to devote a few pages to the The Eternal Lover which I consider perhaps the most imaginative and interesting of Burroughs’ stories.  The inspiration for the story can be related to two of Burroughs significant influences, Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling.  Among others of Haggard’s work She stands out most prominently while Kpling’s very interesting ‘The Finest Story In The World’ bears directly on the theme of reincarnation and close encounters in time.

     From further reading that I am doing all the time it is also becoming apparent that Burroughs is part of a very large intellectual and literary background activity.  In reading a volume: H.G. Wells’ Literary Criticism I came across this entry:  (p. 62, note 2.)

     Quote:  At the end of (Grant) Allen’s novel, Frida Monteith, now a Liberated Woman, hoping that suicide will enable her to join her lover in the twenty-fifth century, ‘walked on by herself…across the open moor and purple heath, towards black despair and the trout-ponds of Broughton.’

     Unquote.

     I don’t suggest that ERB read Grant Allen’s novel but as ERB himself said ‘plots are in the air.’  So that ERB is working within an intellectual milieu.  His notion of time travel in 1913 is not unreminiscent of Mark Twain’s posthumous 1916 novel Operator 44.  While I would not suggest that Twain received any inspiration from Burroughs certainly conceptions of time and time travel were ‘in the air.’  I merely suggest that there is a milieu from which all are drawing inspiration.   Burroughs also seems to have in mind H.G. Wells’ When The Sleeper Wakes although he claimed virtually to have never heard of ‘Mr. Wells.’  In Wells’ story his hero had fallen asleep awaking several centuries in the future to find his investments had accrued making him the richest man in the world, the object of a religious cult and an impediment to its continuation.

     In The Eternal Lover Nu has been asleep for a hundred thousand years.  Burroughs’ title for Chap. III is ‘Nu The Sleeper Awakes.’  No chance of a coincidence.  Instead of monetary rewards Nu will find that which makes life worthwhile- the perfect mate he had left behind in the Niocene.  Burroughs make an unbelievably subtle comment on Wells.  Wells did read Burroughs but whether he caught this is open to conjecture at this time.

     In fact, Burroughs setting up Nu’s return to consciousness and his relationship to Victoria, Barney’s sister, is extremely well handled by ERB.  I doubt if there is anything in genre literature that surpasses it.

     Victoria and Barney have just passed the rock structure within which Nu lies sleeping.  The Once And Future King motif is also suggested here as well as possibly Vivien’s enchantment of Merlin.

     Speaking of her sensations she says to Barney:  p. 14

     Quote:

     “Barney, there is something about these hills back there that fills me with the strongest sensation of terror imaginable.  Today I passed an outcropping of volcanic rock that gave evidence of a frightful convulsion of nature is some bygone age.  At sight of it I commenced to tremble from head to foot, a cold perspiration breaking out all  over me.  But that part is not so strange- you know I have always been subject to these same silly attacks of unreasoning terror at the sight of any evidence of the mighty forces that have wrought changes in the earth’s crust, or the slightest tremor of an earthquake; but today the feeling of unalterable loss which overwhelmed me was almost unbearable- it is though one whom I loved above all others had been taken from me.’ 

     “And yet,” she continued, “through all my inexplicable sorrow there shone a ray of brilliant hope as remarkable as the deeper and depressing emotion which still stirred me.”

     Unquote.

     That sets the premonition of what is coming as discreetly as anything I’ve read.  The psychology of Victoria’s emotions is as succinctly and accurately expressed as possible.  It is very difficult to imagine the scene bettered by any writer.  Haggard and Kipling who may have recognized their own work as a source of inspiration must have shook their heads in awe.

     Barney is sympathetic:  p. 16

     Quote:

     “Oh, Barney.” she cried, “You are such a dear never to have laughed at my silly dreams.  I’m sure I should go quite mad did I not have you in whom to confide; but lately I have hesitated to speak of it even to you- he has been coming so often!  Every night since we first hunted in the vicinity of the hills I have walked hand in hand with him beneath a great equatorial moon beside a restless sea, and more clearly than ever in the past have I seen his form and features.  He is very handsome, Barney, and very tall and strong, and clean limbed- I wish that I might meet such a man in real life.  I know it is ridiculous, but I can never love any of the pusillanimous weaklings who are forever falling in love with me- not after having walked hand in hand with such as he and read the love in his clear eyes.  And yet, Barney, I am afraid of him.  Is it not odd?”

     Unquote:

     So in a few pages Burroughs has created a mystery of instense interest that will be explained in the next few pages to stunning effect, certainly in 1913 if not today.  Since 1913 the topic has been explared in a number of ways not least of which was the very interesting movie Somewhere In Time.

     Victoria is afraid of earthquakes.  As might be expected a major quake hits.  The rock facing of the cave in which Nu has been sleeping for the last hundred thousand years sheers away releasing the gas and allowing fresh air to awaken the sleeper, much as in H.G. Wells excellent story.

     Burroughs’ treatment of Nu’s experiencing the new world is exceedingly well done.  Through a series of well wrought adventures Nu and Victoria/Nat-Ul are reunited then split asunder again as the Arabs capture Victoria carrying her to the well known fate worse than death in the hands of a Northern Sheik.

     Barney and his crew find Nu taking him back to Tarzan’s house.  Here Burroughs tells a story before Nu leaves to recover Natu-Ul that seems strange.

     The story is told by an unnamed narrator who happens to be a guest of Lord Greystoke at the time.

     As the whole scenario is taking place in the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs we may be forgiven for assuming that the anonymous I is he.

     ERB has a strange attitude toward his creation Tarzan here, almost demeaning.  When Nu escapes with the wolf hound Greystoke just off handedly asserts that Nu had killed the missing dog.  When this proves wrong ERB allows the others to verbally abuse their host.  Rather strange, I thought.

     It appears that this story that follows Mad King I can be construed as a continuation of that story as when Barney shows up at John Clayton’s ranch, the man formerly known as Tarzan, he is fresh from Lutha and there to forget.  As he lost Emma in Lutha one assumes that she is what he’s trying to forget.

     An American named Curtiss shows up.  Victoria says:

     Quote:

     “Mr. Curtiss!…and Lieutenant Butzow!  Where in the world did you come from?”

     “The world left us,” replied the officer, smiling, “and we have followed her to the wilds of Equatorial Africa.”

     Unquote.

     A charming compliment to Victoria.  Indeed, Curtiss is there to propose to her.  Curtiss begins very charming then slowly turns vicious.  Reminds one of Robert Canler or perhaps Frank Martin in real life.   At one point Victoria was about to consent to marry Curtiss (Frank Martin?)  but then demurred.

     But then she made contact with her dream lover, Nu.  the interchange of time sequences is extrememly well handled as Burroughs manages the hundred thousand year gap betwen Nu and Victoria in inventive and satisfying ways.  Once again he has mingled prehistory and the present in what is definitely his most virtuoso performance.  His depiction of Victoria/Nat-Ul’s blending of dream states and waking states is handled flawlessly and convincingly.

     As Curtiss realizes that Nu is  his competitor for Victoria/Nat-Ul he derides Nu calling him a ‘white nigger.’  I found the use of the term strange within the context.

     When Nu had recovered Victoria from the Arabs Curtiss comes upon the two in the jungle unawares.  He is about to shoot Nu in the back (Martin’s arranged bashing of ERB in Toronto?) when the wolf hound who has been protecting Nu and Natu-Ul leaps on him ripping out his throat and chest.

     Burroughs seems to gloat over this gruesome death so that one must ask who Curtiss could represent in Burroughs’ real life.

     That means, who are Nu and Nat-Ul?

     Once again we have to go back to the period 1896-1900 and the subsequent years.  It seems likely that Curtiss must represent Frank Martin who courted Emma during those crucial four years in ERB’s life.  In ERB/Nu’s absence Curtiss/Martin courted Emma/Victoria/Nat-ul.  We may assume that Emma was about to say yes to Martin/Curtiss’ proposal when Burroughs/Nu returned from the Niocene/Idaho thus foiling Curtiss/Martin’s hopes.

     Now, when Nu rescued Victoria/Nat-Ul from the lion Curtiss shot him in the dark creasing his skull.  This is a theme seldom or never absent from any of Burroughs’ books, therefore  it follows that as Martin was responsible for Burroughs’ bashing in Toronto that Martin/Curtiss are the same.

     Curtiss becomes abusive of Nu after he recovers from the effects of the near miss revealing his ‘true’ or mean side.  So Martin may have, or probably did, become abusive of ERB upon their return from Toronto.  It is not to be believed that he just disappeared from the couple’s life without some demonstration of anger.  As we know that Martin paid close attention to Burroughs and Emma from 1900 to at least the divorce when he sent his friend Butzow/Patchin to LA to talk to Burroughs it is very likely that he interfered in their marriage through the whole Chicago period.  This would explain the gruesomeness of Curtiss/Martins’ killing and ERB’s seeming to revel in it.  So the whole Narrator, Barney Custer, Lord Greystoke and Curtiss story is somehow related.  The missing piece of the puzzle is Burroughs’ seeming hostility to Tarzan/Greystoke.  I haven’t got that yet.

     Having rescued Victoria/Nat-Ul from the Arab abductor in one of the most satisfying fight sequences in the corpus Nu tries to claim Nat-ul as his own.  He is still confused as to how Victoria can be of two minds as both Victoria and Nat-ul.  Before we consider Burroughs’ masterful handling of the fictional situation let us consider the relation of the sequence to Burroughs’ and Emma’s real life situation.  This story was written in San Diego not Chicago.

     The prehisoric aspect of the story may represent the early days of their marriage before ERB lost Emma’s trust in Idaho.  Thus Victoria/Emma remembers the old days but she isn’t necessarily willing as yet to replace her trust in ERB.  Nu/ERB having now the two tusks of Oo the saber toothed tiger on him as proof of his devotion, possibly once again representing  his John Carter and Tarzan successes, insists that Victoria/Emma return to the past with him.  i.e. the early days of the marriage.  In other words Burroughs wants to start all over again.  The name Nu- New- may mean that ERB thinks himself a new man but the same old guy he used to be. 

My hair is still curly,

My eyes are still blue,

Why don’t you love me

Like you used to do.

Hank Williams

As this half of the story ends somewhat in a quandary regarding the relationship, Victoria nevertheless agrees to return to the past with Nu.

     As ERB tells the story in the novel he creates a most extraordinary scene.

     Quote.

     “You do not love me Nat-Ul?”  He asked.  “Have the strangers turned you against me?  What one of them could have fetched you the head of Oo, the man hunter?  See!”  He tapped the two great tusks that hung from his loin cloth.  “Nu slew the mightest of beasts for his Nat-ul- the head is buried in the cave of Oo- yet now I come to take you as my mate I see fear in your eyes and something else which never was there before.  What is it Natu-ul- have the strangers stolen your love from Nu?

     The man spoke in a tongue so ancient that in all the world there lived no man who spoke or knew a word of it, yet to Victoria Custer it was as intelligible as her own English, nor did it seem strange to her that she answered Nu in his own language.

     “My heart tells me that I am yours, Nu,” she said, “but my judgement  and training warn me against the step that my heart prompts.  I love you; but I could not be happy to wander, half naked through the jungle for the balance of my life, and if I go with you now, even for a day, I may never return to my people.  Nor would you be happy in the life that I lead- it would stifle and kill you.  I think I see now something of the miracle that has overwhelmed us.  To you it has been but a few days since you left your Nat-ul to hunt down the ferocious Oo; but in reality countless ages have rolled by.  By some strange freak of fate you have remained unchanged during all these ages until now you step forth from your long sleep an unspoiled cave man of the stone age into the midst of the twentieth century, while I doubtless, have been born and reborn a thousand times, merging form one incarnation to another until in this we are again united.  Had you, too, died and been born again during all  these weary years no gap of ages would intervene between us now and we should meet again upon a common footing as do other souls, and mate and we to be born again to a new mating and new life with its inevitable death- you have refused to die and now that we meet again at least a hundred thousand years lie between us- an unbridgeable gulf across which I may not return and over which you may not come other than by the same route I have followed- through death and new life thereafter.”

     Unquote.

     Wow!  I don’t know that that can be topped in fantasy or other fiction.  And there are people who say that Burroughs has no occult background.  The passage fairly drips of Haggard and Kipling.  Novels and stories that he’d read perhaps twenty years or more before had been working away in his mind to surface in this magnificent speech and wonderful story.

     The unbridgeable gulf clearly refers to Haggard’s Allan Quatermain.  The influence of the story of She is unmistakeable while Kipling’s The Finest Story In The World is clear.  yet Burroughs has built an entirely new edifice that rises magnificently above the old foundations.

     Haggard and Kipling read the story too, I’m sure with their mouths hanging open.  It inspired them four years later to collaborate on Haggard’s own Love Eternal.  While inspired by his masters Burroughs also inspired them.  It’s a pity they didn’t all three sit down to smoke a cigar and have a brandy together.

     That this story has gone unrecognized seems incredible.  With this half of the story ERB capped his incredible year of 1913.

     The tone of the corpus changes after Nu of the Niocene.

—–

      As he worked his stories were being published elsewhere.  It would not be before mid 1914 that Tarzan Of The Apes would see book form but perhaps more importantly his work was recognized and serialized in the newspapers.  We have to thank Bibliophile Robert R. Barrett for collating the newspaper publications that George McWhorter published in the Winter 2005 NS #61 of the BB.  My information is gratis Mr. Barrett’s collation.

     The New York Evening World kicked off Burroughs career when it serialized Tarzan Of The Apes beginning in January of 1913.  The paper also published many subsequent novels.  Following the Evening World Tarzan Of The Apes was published by the Los Angeles Record, Chicago Record, the Bowman ND Citizen.

     The Return Of Tarzan was syndicated by the Scripp’s Howard papers and The Cave Girl by the NY Evening World.  After 1913-14 the number of papers publishing Tarzan Of The Apes increased greatly so by the time the book was published in June of 1914 Tarzan was much more widely disseminated than the mere publication in the All Story Magazine would warrant.

     Burroughs’ book publishing history is difficult to understand.  the reports of untold millions of copies cannot be substantiated.  Indeed it appears that in 1914 fewer than fifteen thousand copies were sold.  There is no record that his publishers, McClurg’s even printed the full fifteen thousand copes of the contract.  When they leased the reprint rights to A.L.Burt in 1915 there had been no record of sales success.  Indeed Burt would only take the title if McClurg’s would indemnify them for the first twenty thousand copies if unsold.

     The cheap edition did well well but Burt reported less than seven hundred thousand copies ehen they turned the rights over to Grossett & Dunlap.  So Burroughs while having a success never realized the substantial royalties on which he had been counting and would have bought him his yacht.

     The springtime of ERB was nearly over.  By the time he wrote the sequels to The Mad King, Cave Girl and The Eternal Lover in 1914 he was already entering Summer.

     Let us now examine the year 1914.

 End Of Part V

  

    

    

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