Springtime For Edgar Rice Burroughs

May 29, 2007

Springtime For Edgar Rice Burroughs, Part One

Including A Review Of

The Cave Girl


R.E. Prindle

Book I:  The Cave Girl


     In 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs was looking back on nearly forty years of humiliation and failure.  As 1913 dawned, after that lifetime of suppression and depression it must have seemed as though the Millennium had arrived.  Success on his own terms seemed to be within  his grasp.  The Gambler had finally won the gamble.

     As the year turned he finished his fifth novel since he took up his pen in 1911, The Return Of Tarzan.  As of the beginning of 1913 only two had been published and those only in pulp magazine form.  Perhaps such publication was rewarding in the personal sense but the pulps had a very low literary reputation.  Pulp writers were always second class literary citizens.  Both his first publications created a sensation among the pulp readership while the second ‘Tarzan Of The Apes’ was a stunner. 

     His reputation was augmented when Tarzan Of The Apes began to be serially published in various newspapers.  So while he had not established a reputation from the pulp publications the newspapers had spread his fame.  Book publication was still a full year away.

    Thus by 1913 A Princess Of Mars and Tarzan Of The Apes were before the world.  Gods Of Mars would be published later in the year.  His second novel, Outlaw Of Torn, had been met with outright rejection.

     Based on this promising but hardly conclusive beginning, less than 2500.00 had changed hands in two years, Burroughs decided to throw over his day job to became a full time writer.  As he says everyone thought he was crazy; without the benefit of foresight he most surely was.  Burroughs himself even says he thought so.  The Gambling Man was risking his all on a turn of the cards.  His whole life he had seemed driven to take the riskiest and longest of long shots.  His characters would behave in the same way.  Shall we say on the positive side that it was an act of supreme confidence?

page 1.

     Not only did he give up his day job but he set himself the daunting task of writing a story every two months of which he expected every one to sell.  He ultimately wrote seven in 1913 of which all did sell.  In this year of the most daring audacity he did earn over 10,000 dollars and that beat the cost of living and then some.

     Burroughs won that bet, too.

     The first book of the year, At The Earth’s Core began his Inner World series.  It was also the begining of his exploration of prehistoric and evolutionary themes.  The prehistoric novel was already a genre.  Fictional treatments by Jack London and H.G. Wells were certainly known to him while he may have been familiar with the anthropological studies of J.G. Frazer in one form or another.  Frazer made the phrase ‘the thin veneer of civilization’ a household phrase that Burroughs was so frequently to use and mock throughout his work.  He may possibly have picked the phrase up through newspapers and magazines or possibly as David Adams has suggested through Jack London who used it before him and who we can be reasonably certain Burroughs read.

     Frazer was at the height of his influence at this time having written three different versions of his most famous work, The Golden Bough.  In 1910 he published  a four volume study called Totemism and Exogamy that Sigmund Freud cribbed to write his own semi fictional work, Totem And Taboo.

     Personally I would place Totem And Taboo with the prehistoric work of London, Wells and Burroughs.  Read as a novel Totem And Taboo isn’t all that bad.  Unfortunately Freud took himself seriously thinking he had more than he did.  But as fiction Totem And Taboo is OK.

page 2.

     Interestingly for Freud he formed his very speculative theories in the historical blind spot in the place between his intense Jewish Patriarchalism and the discovery of the Matriarchy that preceded Patriarchy.  So his theories are somewhat skewed.  Matriarchal theories were very stoutly resisted gaining any degree of acceptance only after the 1960s.

     It is to Freud’s credit that he didn’t resist the concept.  Even as early as Totem And Taboo he had heard of the discovery of the Matriarchy through the work of the Swiss mythologist, J.J. Bachofen, although he didn’t know how to incorporate the material.  By 1938 he seemed to be conversant with Matriarchalism but still didn’t know how to fit it into his system.  He was still touting the ridiculous theories of Totem And Taboo.

     For some reasons I haven’t yet identified I find similarities between Freud’s and Burroughs’ writing.  After all Freud did get his Nobel prize for literature not science.

     Freud was in many ways a speculative and wild writer and so in fact was Burroughs.  While the others wrote interesting but conventional prehistoric stories Burroughs discovered ways to link the various evolutionary stages with the present.  While it is overlooked, at the time it was very innovative.  The approach may have been suggested to him by his Prince and Pauper mentality in which he believed a clean break between his past and present had been made when he was sent to the Michigan Military Academy. 

     There is no clearer link for this possibility than the story of Tarzan.  In Tarzan Of The Apes Tarzan was born a ‘Prince’ to an aristocratic British family but became a ‘Pauper’ when his parents died and he was adopted by the great she ape, Kala.  Thus he was raised in a prehistoric environment before the advent of man.  Tarzan then evolves into the fully human right before our eyes eventually becoming the very epitome of civilization.  A thin veneer perhaps but a veneer.

     So ERB devises all sorts of clever ways to somehow get his contemporary characters into prehistoric environments.  In his fifth book, The Return Of Tarzan, he invents the lost land of Opar.  Opar is a fossil city dating back to prehistoric Atlantis.  The Oparians have never advanced beyond the culture of Atlantis and lost most of that.  Behind Opar is an even earlier stage of culture called The Valley Of The Diamonds.  This place is ruled by a highly developed form of gorillas.

page 3.

     In Tarzan The Terrible Tarzan crosses a great swamp to arrive in prehistoric Pal-ul-Don.  In the Inner World series he employs two methods of entering.  In the first David Innes invents an earth borer that drills through the crust to discover a hollow core containing the Inner World.  In Tarzan At The Earth’s Core Burroughs employs the notion of a North Pole entry using the dirigible O-220 to enter in that manner.

     In the most wild of all the stories, The Eternal Lover, his hero Nu is gassed in what Burroughs calls the Neocene to wake up in the twentieth century.  He acquires a lover with whom he successfully travels back to the Neocene.  On the return journey to the present he failed to keep his grip on the strap and didn’t make it.  Wonderful story concept.  Certainly as fine as anything Burroughs ever did.

     Then in the trilogy The Land That Time Forgot the crew of the submarine discover a submarine entrance to the lagoon of a large island that is prehistoric but covers the whole range of evolution from amoeba to full fledged humans.  Quite daring actually and Burroughs is able to make these impossible stories work.  If one compares The Land That Time Forgot with Freud’s Totem And Taboo I think it possible to find many similarities.  Of the two Burroughs was by far the most successful writer in their time although he received no Nobel prize.  Both writers have weathered the vicissitudes of fortune quite well.  One hundred years from those days both men are top sellers although Burroughs has the edge.

page 4.

     The novel under consideration, The Cave Girl has a terrifically interesting scenario.  In this story Burroughs anticipates The Land That Time Forgot by creating a large prehistoric island off the shipping lanes that is ‘seldom visited’ although it seems that no one has trouble finding it.

      In this story Burroughs reverses Tarzan Of The Apes.  Instead of an infant boy being abandoned he has the infant girl, Nadara, survive her parents.  Instead of a female ape rescuing Tarzan he has a cave man rescue and nurture the girl.  The Cave Man retains a little leather bag containing the emblems of Nadara’s origins, while Tarzan has his father’s cabin and books.

     In this instance Nadara having been left on the island, just as Jane and her party are landed on the spot of Tarzan’s father’s cabin so the civilized castaway, Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones is washed from the deck of the steamer by a big wave during a storm landing on the siland where as Tarzan watched Jane’s party arriving Nadara observes the arrival of Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones.

     It isn’t stated how old she was when she and the civilized Waldo got together but I should think twenty on the analogy of Tarzan.

     Burroughs’ two favored terrestrial locations for his stories are Africa and the South Seas.  Both locations occupy legendary possibilities in the imagination of the West.  They were thought to be locations where the White man was freed from the restraints and limitations of civilization.

page 5.

Go to Springtime For Edgar Rice Burroughs Part II

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