Writers We Like #2: Dennis Drayton on Edgar Rice Burroughs

Yes, the Tarzan guy. He hardly seems worth mentioning because Tarzan is, or at least was, so famous for so long. But you never know, I only read one of the books in high school and never followed up.

Recently I discovered that many of his works are available for free on Project Gutenberg.

I have caught up on many years of neglect by reading four of the John Carter/Barsoom books and four of the Tarzan books. For anyone who really doesnt know, Barsoom is Mars with people living on it and John Carter is a Confederate officer who ends up teleporting to Mars by some unspecified technology of wish-fulfilment – Mr Burroughs was more of a fantasy than a science fiction writer. There was a movie based on these recently which failed probably because so many of the ideas had been recycled by Star Wars and other fantasy and science fiction franchises in the intervening 100 plus years. Be warned, familiarity may breed contempt or confusion.

I think the books stand up very well for their age. The dialogue and social attitudes are a bit eye-rolling a hundred years on, and many of the situations are so absurd as to be comical. Even in Tarzan, things happen by co-incidence, not once but up to three times in a row – ships are taken over by drunken sailors who murder or maroon their passengers. In the exact same place that it happened to Tarzan’s parents. Where Tarzan’s parents were marooned. And where he swims back to in a later book having been thrown off a passing ship. But the books really rattle along and the action scenes may pull you right in and make you forget the overall ridiculousness. In the second era of Fake News (then being the first) it is easy to see how serious people would have been dismayed, but if you take it as all good fun (sadly naked princesses of Mars still seems to have a grip on the imagination of the spec-fic community) then it could be well worth your time. The Barsoom books have entertaining hand-wavy technology that now seems steam-punk, and Tarzan may sometimes strike you as a fore-runner of more modern toff action heroes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *