Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Remembering Norman Bean

On this day in 1875, Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago, Illinois. Much like H.P. Lovecraft, whose birthday was less than two weeks ago, Burroughs is one of the oft-forgotten founders of contemporary fantasy and science fiction. His tales of John Carter of Mars, in particular, have exercised an enormous influence on subsequent portrayals not only of the Red Planet but of interplanetary adventure more generally. Carter and the abilities he possesses while on Barsoom was one of the models for the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman. And, as I never tire of telling anyone will listen, Barsoom was also a key inspiration for the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. Between Superman and D&D, there can be little question that the lasting impact of Burroughs's stories and ideas on contemporary popular culture is immense – not a bad legacy!

Many later creators have expressed their admiration for Burroughs and the debt they owed to him, starting with Ray Bradbury, himself the author of many influential stories, who once said that "Burroughs … probably changed more destinies than any other writer in American history." George Lucas claimed that "my entire world changed when I was given the Warlord of Mars at the age of 8. I got onto Edgar Rice Burroughs … and the curtain went up. . . There was the universe and stars and comets and what-not, and I was never the same afterwards.” Lucas was far from the only one to feel that way and we have the imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs to thank for that.


  1. Funny, I was reading an old military history magazine last night and one of the articles mentioned in passing that ERB had been in Hawaii the day of Pearl Harbor and promptly applied to become a war correspondent. He was (if my math serves) 67 at the time, and became one of the oldest people to serve in that role, although I haven't found much more detail about what he did and where he went. Author William Brinkley (who I'd only heard of due to a tenuous connection to the Exorcist film, but was apparently quite the name at one point) included a fictionalized account of a PR trip involving ERB in the South Pacific in his best-selling book Don't Go Near the Water, although sadly that section seems to have been left out of the film adaptation and the book is eluding me so far.

    Immensely influential author in many ways, not least of which was his deliberate (and successful) push to make Tarzan a massive multi-media phenomenon, something he did against the advice of his agents and financial advisors. Really changed the way fictional characters were marketed, although it took a long time to evolve into things like the MCU and franchise IP marketing.

    Always been particularly amused by the fact that Rudyard Kipling regarded ERB as the very best of the many people who imitated his Jungle Book, although I don't know for sure whether ERB ever actually said he read the book so it may have been more parallel evolution than flattering imitation. Kipling had a tendency to believe he was a bit more universally read than he actually was, after all.

    1. For all things ERB don't forget to check out Bill Hillman's excellent site, ERBzine. I've used it for years.

  2. Happy Birthday, Mr. Burroughs, and thank you.

  3. If you fact check many of this, there are people left out of the D&D creation. D&D was created by Eugene Gary Gygax, along with a little know person Doris Levine, my mother.