Somewhere Over The Rainbow: Zenda, Graustark, Lutha And Other Improbable Places

November 11, 2012

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Zenda, Graustark, Lutha, Barsoom, Jasoom

And Other Parallel Universes

Not Found On Any Map

An Analysis Of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Novel

The Mad King


R.E. Prindle

Parrish's Dream

Somewhere my love

There will be songs to sing.

Even though snow now enshrouds

Our hope of Spring.

Somewhere there’s a hill

That blossoms in gold and green,

And there are the dreams

Of all this world can mean.

We’ll meet there someday,


As Spring springs for you and me.

–Maurice Jarre

Adapted by R.E. Prindle

Forever Blowing Bubbles- Maxfield Parrish

Unchained melodies sweep over the rainbow telling dreams that somewhere must come true.  Floating lightly as soap bubbles they pass through air castles caught in an ecstasy captured so achingly by the artist Maxfield Parrish into his visions of gardens of delight. Where can these gardens of delight exist?  What parallel universe?  What phantom vision of contentment?  What utopias straddle the dividing line between this universe and that where all our dreams come true?  Not in real countries but as the fairy tales tell, East of the Sun and West of the Moon.  Only in Ruritarian paradises where lives of high adventure can be lived without fear and we always win and never lose.  We recover from devastating wounds and smashing blows to the head to walk whole again within minutes.  Where?  The Zenda of Anthony Hope, the Graustark of Gearge Barr McCutcheon, The Barsoom and Jasoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs as well as the Lutha of his novel The Mad King.

Maxfield Parrish

As the youngest of the aforementioned writers Burroughs learned much about the creation of utopias and parallel universes.  Graustark was in ERB’s library but the Prisoner of Zenda was not.  Graustark made an indelible impression on the young Burroughs that did not fade during his lifetime.  Just before the advent of the second world war in his lifetime, faced with frustrated hopes for a better world, ERB wrote his friend Bert Weston lamenting the passing of Graustark.

George Barr McCutcheon

ERB had over a dozen novels of McCutcheon in his library but, by my reckoning, only two Graustarks.  McCutcheon wrote several, his locale being as important to his career as the imaginary Africa of Tarzan was to Burroughs.  The two books were the first of the series published in 1901, Graustark- The Story Of A Love Behind A Throne and A Prince  Of Graustark.  The latter was published in 1914 too late to be an influence on Burroughs’ Lutha of  The Mad King written at the end of 1913.

If he read others of the series between 1901 and 1913 we have no sure record. In what year ERB read the original isn’t known but I suspect sometime between 1905 when he returned to Chicago from Idaho and say 1910 before he began to write.  Graustark and Zenda made quite an impression on him but while those who believe that ERB cribbed his sources too closely find evidence of plagiarism I can find only an inspiration or influence.

By the time Burroughs wrote The Mad King the Ruritanian romance had already become a genre.  The very nature of genre writing is to explore the possibilities of the genre which requires the writer to have read at least the major texts as well as current efforts.  The author then tries to write as original a story within the limits of the genre as possible; failing that a good derivative story will do.  Writers like Philip Jose Farmer carry it one step farther by making the characters of genre an intellectual reality parallel with physical reality and then write about the fictional characters as though they were historical figures.  Of course, that was a later development in genre writing.

Life Could Be A Dream, Sweetheart

Graustark develops the genre created by Zenda.  Just as Haggard, Burroughs and others filled Africa with lost cities, the concept of Ruritanias where everything went right in face of apparent misfortunes began to change the face of mythical Europe.  And why not?  Scientific discoveries were changing the shape of the intellect, psychological discoveries were changing ideas of the mind.  Something’s gained and something’s lost.  It’s that lost something that people want to find again.  If it doesn’t exist in reality then it can easily be made to exist in the imagination.

You see the little additional leap taken by the Farmers of literature. Do you imagine that in the face of major shifts of populations into Europe and America that the HSII & III minorities won’t retreat into dreams of a golden age when their culture reigned supreme?  You’re unrealistic if you believe it isn’t true.  It is precisely this era from c. 1820 to 1920 which will be seen as the current version of the Golden Age just as McCutcheon’s and Burroughs’ generation looked to a some what earlier age when things were as they should be.



In that letter to his friend Bert Weston about 1940 looking back to their youths Burroughs lamented that the possibility of Graustark was a thing of the past. In his youth Graustark was East of the Sun and West of the Moon but in his later years Burroughs could no longer even imagine it. It was easy to assimilate Graustark to Maxfield Parrish’s painting of a dreamland resembling these paradises of the imagination.  From there it is equally easy to include L. Frank Baum’s Oz series as yet another such paradise.  These wonderful fantasies revolve around in your mind enhanced by living colors and magnificent sound systems where unchained melodies fill your conscious and subconscious minds.  Indeed the MGM movie of The Wizard Of Oz filmed about the time Burroughs was lamenting the passing of Graustark may have been the tombstone of his era.

Where did it start?  Very difficult to put a precise date on this sort of thing but is it a coincidence that saving Anthony Hope all these artists were influenced by the Great White City of 1893’s Columbian Exposition of Chicago?  I have heard it said that the Emerald City of Baum’s imagination was a virtual replica of the White City in green.  Bill Hillman’s series of articles on the Expo in the ERBzine capture some, a great deal, of the glamour but I fear Bill held himself in too much.

The Fair inspired a massive five volume eulogy by Hubert Howe Bancroft, a major historical writer of the day, in which he described the Fair in detail exhibit by exhibit, it was so mind blowing.  What dreams of perfection did this marvel on the very edge of civilization in Chicago unleash? The Wizard Of Oz and Graustark were issued one after the other in 1900-01.  Both books as well as the Expo had a tremendous effect on Edgar Rice Burroughs entering the first years of his maturity. Baum’s influence is most notably seen in Burroughs’ Minidoka- unpublished in his lifetime. Graustark, most notably in The Mad King, but echoes of both can be detected throughout the corpus. There is no doubt that Zenda, Graustark and Lutha are related but the resemblance stops at the family level.

If Zenda can be said to be the original of the Ruritarian genre, Graustark and Lutha are not mere imitations.  Both later novels can be described as inspired by but not totally derivative of. There is only the slightest resemblance to Zenda in Graustark.  Subtitled The Story Of A Love Behind A Throne McCutcheon tackles the theme of the superiority of American customs and institutions over those of what both McCutcheon and Burroughs considered decadent Europe.

At the time American heiresses were actively seeking titled Englishmen to marry.  Winston Churchill  was the result of one of one such union. McCutcheon reverses the roles by making a young American man pursue a Princess of Graustark.  (Note the title of Burroughs’ first novel, A Princess Of Mars.)  For any seeking a Golden Age of HSII & III Americanism I can heartily recommend both Graustark and McCutcheon.

A Sky Ablaze

A Sky Ablaze

Like two other Burroughs’ favorites, Booth Tarkington and George Ade, McCutcheon was from Indiana, moving to Chicago in 1901.  Just in passing it might be noted that another Chicago centered writer, Theodore Dreiser was also a Hoosier. The hero of Graustark, Grenfall Lorry, immediately puts one in mind of the old Arrow collar and shirt ads.  Richard Harding Davis personified probably the ideal American male in appearance.  One can contrast that ideal with the swarthy, unshaven, sweaty, slovenly type now being offered the public as something to aspire to. Grenfall has an upper economic class tone, not so plebeian as Joe, Jack or Jim.

Throughout the novel he is quick witted impetuous even reckless but because of his audacity, soon to be styled chutzpah, always successful while his European counterparts are vile, slow and cautious and almost certainly would fail but for Grenfall.  The answers just seem to come to him from out of the air.  It is marvelous.  Compare him to Tarzan and John Carter. Slowly his ways win out in the mind of the Princess.  I almost said corrupted her mind for her moral ideals were slowly eroded as integrity became less important than gratifying her desires.  But then, that too is American, isn’t it?  A deal’s a deal only if you’ve got the money to back it up in court in which case a contract is a contract but then again maybe not, depends on the ‘integrity’ of the court.

Graustark itself is a fanciful place in which brash young Americans are deferred to and dreams do come true if one only persists.  Can’t give up.  Plenty of castles and monasteries hanging on cliffs, thick with donjons and the like.  Parrishian bubbles floating in the air, quite charming dream sequences, the feeling that Maxfield Parrish captures so well.  Reproductions of Parrish’s  work were beginning to proliferate.  Howard Pyle was an influence on Burroughs’ illustrator J. Allen St. John as Maxfield Parrish also seemed to be.

Dreaming A Little Dream

Dreaming A Little Dream

While it easy to see the influence of Graustark on Burroughs there is very little resemblance in the two stories to each other.  Burroughs retains the love story behind the throne theme in a barely recognizable form.  While McCutcheon’s Grenfall Lorry is of the American aristocracy of wealth living in Washington, D.C., Burroughs Barney Custer is a gritty hick from Beatrice, Nebraska, pop, 30 or so.

The Mad King was written in two parts separated by nearly a year in real time and an eon in psychological time.  The Great War began between the writing of the two halves so that while the Lutha of the first half more closely resembles Zenda and Graustark the second half jumps ahead a century into a new era in time with motor cars and heavy artillery. The first half may have been written to placate ERB’s wife Emma.  By the end of 1913 she may have bitten her nails to the quick while she berated ERB every day for his spendthrift habits.  While ERB wrote an ode to Poverty in the spirit of Edwin Hawkin’s song WAR, (spit) Who Needs It?, if you remember the…ah…tune, Emma with three children to feed had endured the period of poverty with different feelings.

Now, in 1913, with the money pouring in ERB with breathtaking confidence for the future was spending it before he had it or even written books to get it.  To Emma it must have seemed a replay of Idaho when ERB gambled away their last forty dollars. It may have been clear to ERB that he was over the top where the money would never cease coming in, which indeed, turned out to the be case, but to many others including Emma he seemed to be the same old joker who would be back on street soon. Emma yearned for some security, money in the bank, that ERB was loath to provide.

His is an interesting case.  No sooner did he begin to have a good year in 1913 than he packed up family and kids and used car and headed for the sunshine of San Diego in the most expensive first class manner.  This expenditure wasn’t based on savings but in the hope of a future income.  ‘13 was an anno mirabilis for ERB during which even traveling and vacationing he was able not only to write but to sell a fabulous number of words.  This has been told often but it is so extraordinary, I , who have never received a penny from my writing have difficulty letting it sink in.

ERB would later boast, while Emma undoubtedly stood by shuddering, that he literally had to wait for checks from his writing to pay his expenses from day to day.  He obviously had an urge to live with one foot over the precipice. You can understand why Emma was on edge. Thus in late 1913, while they were anxiously watching the mailbox for a check, I’m sure, ERB sat down to write the first half of this novel, that I believe was meant to placate Emma and let her know that the bozo she thought she married was a bozo no more.  Not totally reformed, perhaps, but reformed.

When Herb Weston wrote at the time of the divorce that no other woman would have put up with ERB’s eccentricities this must have been an example of what he was talking about. Zenda involved a lot of lookalikes as does Mad King so people assume that Burroughs copied Hope.  Maybe, but I don’t think it’s necessarily so.  Burroughs with his split personality didn’t have to copy anybody, he was two different people.  Burroughs didn’t even disguise that he was talking about he and Emma.  He calls the Ruritarian princess Emma.  He introduces his friends Bert and Margaret Weston as characters, Bert and Margaret of Beatrice Nebraska where they really lived.

Barney Oldfield Behind The Wheel

He calls himself Barney Custer.  Custer after the failed general of the Little Big Horn and Barney after the famous race car driver, Barney ‘Mile-a-Minute’ Oldfield.  B. Custer gets his rig up to 90 per beating old ‘Mile-a-Minute’ by half again.  In 1913 that would still be going some.

Burroughs can be quite unintentionally comic. ERB must have known he goofed back in Idaho with the card trick but now that he had found the handle he’d become a new man, a real man, a whole man, a made man, that augured for a bountiful future for Emma so she could now stop treating him like a clown and revert to her pre-card game opinion of him. But it wasn’t that easy;  he’d been a goof for too long.

In the succeeding novel Nu Of The Niocene, when Emma had apparently rejected his offer, Barney Custer shows up at Tarzan’s ranch in Kenya but without Emma, escorting his sister Victoria instead. ERB would give Emma a last chance to take the new him over the old one in Tarzan And The Ant Men when she had a choice between his goofy lookalike Esteban Miranda and the real Tarzan, himself.  Emma chose Esteban Miranda thereby sealing her fate.

The choice of the title Mad King is significant.  The blow to the head ERB received in Toronto had affected his reasoning so that to others he appeared goofy or mad.  His mental state was accentuated by an acute feeling of failure.  His father not only told him he was a loser but apparently told everyone else too.  ERB’s friend Bert Weston who knew both George T. and ERB says that he often defended ERB to his father.

George T. told Weston that ERB was ‘no good.’  Weston defended ERB to George T. by insisting ERB was plenty good but that the goodness hadn’t come out yet.  I didn’t have a father, my mother divorced while I was an infant, so I don’t have this sort of father problem, but I imagine when your father continually tells you you’re a loser it must have some effect on your attitude. So when your father detests you, you get cracked on the head and then you lose your wife’s confidence because of the resultant stupidity is it any wonder that when you find not only success but big success and you find not only money but big money you go off your head a bit?

But then, even that looks goofy.  But she stuck with him; she stood by her man. ERB even celebrated his dead father’s birthday every year of his life which is beyond me. Thus one aspect of The Mad King is Barney Custer, the able, confident American.  Burroughs continues McCutcheon’s theme of the superiority of the American although both author’s belief in hare brained schemes seems astonishing in this day and age.

Idylls Of The King

Idylls Of The King

The other aspect is Leopold the cowardly, ungrateful king of Lutha.  Both writers use terms like ‘king’ in a contemptuous manner.  Kings are hereditary while any self-made American man is a true and better king in his own right while he can someday be President of the United States if he chooses, or so he believes.  Even a hick like Barney.

Emma as ‘Emma’ is confronted with a choice between these two lookalikes.  She quickly prefers the self-confident able American Barney Custer, or in other words, the new ERB, but tradition binds her to the despicable King of Lutha.  By which ERB means to say, I imagine, that she can forget the old him and accept the successful money making author Edgar Rice Burroughs to whom money is as nothing.

Written in late 1914 Burroughs had had another astonishingly successful year.  Two in a row, get that, Emma.  She didn’t. If the couple had only ERB’s income from book royalties that were not in sight in 1913 and early 1914 to look forward to for income, I think Emma’s fears might have been at least partially justified.  ERB didn’t ever really make that much money from his royalties.  Good money but not that good. He could never buy the yacht that other authors had.

ERB might have but Emma probably didn’t see the potential of the movies.  Probably neither realized at the time the value of the intellectual property Burroughs had created in Tarzan.  Had Emma been aware she might have reevaluated her husband.  Probably not though. Mad King breaks off with Barney Custer leaving Lutha to return to Beatrice with his relationship with the Princess unresolved.

We are told that Emma read these stories before they were submitted.  If so then she could hardly have missed the import of the failure.  She either missed the message or disregarded it. The second half of the novel was written largely in October of 1914 nearly a year later.  The World ERB and his fellows had grown up in had now all but disappeared in the smoke of the guns of August.  The second half of the novel is dominated by the opening months of the Great War.  ERB concentrated on the southern Austrian-Serbian front siding with the Serbs in the battleground Lutha has now become.

The novel is taken up with the intrigues of Leopold and Peter of Blentz with the Austrians to turn the country over to them.  Barney and Emma and her father are attempting to keep Lutha on the Serbian side while maintaining Lutha’s independence.   ERB gives the Serbians some much needed advice on how to conduct the war.  He must have been studying the conflict carefully. As Barney and the King are indistinguishable doubles, they were indeed two aspect of ERB’s own personality, Emma was always in a great deal of confusion as to which double she was dealing with, always hoping it was Barney.

Indeed, the Mad King Leopold is killed leaving Barney the last standing.  At this point it would seem that ERB is telling his Emma:  See.  The old me you thought was a goof is dead; this is the real me and I want your love and respect. Perhaps true but it take more than a simple assertion to change a woman’s mind.  You have to have patience and wait.  Emma  Burroughs must not have changed hers quickly enough because in the next story, Nu Of The Niocene,  Barney Custer is traveling without Emma, going to Africa with his sister Victoria instead.

One imagines that ERB’s personal Lutha, Graustark or Zenda disappeared in smoke as had the nineteenth century.  His hope and dream of entering that magic land somewhere over the rainbow in a land of perpetual Spring would have to be sought with someone other than Emma. In a very few years he would meet that other hope of another and better world in Hollywoodland which should have been a warning to him as he would learn the hard way that the answer always lies within, as difficult as that may be to recognize.  The Rainbow Trail begins on your own two feet.

If birds fly over the rainbow,

Why then, oh why, can’t I?

One Response to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow: Zenda, Graustark, Lutha And Other Improbable Places”

  1. […] Somewhere Over The Rainbow: Zenda, Graustark, Lutha And Other Improbable Places […]

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