Edgar Rice Burroughs was born on this day in 1875, and although one-hundred-and-forty years have passed, if you were asked to tick off famous fictional characters on your fingers, chances are that before you made it to your second hand you’d name his signature character.
There’s a very good argument to be made for Tarzan of the Apes being the single most well-known character in all in 20th century fiction. And Edgar Rice Burroughs would be assured of his place in literary history just for that one creation – a true multimedia star of novels, film, radio, comics, television and games – but the one-time pencil sharpener salesman was no one-hit wonder.
Fans of classic science fiction (and we’d like to think we have one or two amongst our readers . . .) will know Burroughs for the creation of the ‘lost world‘ books beginning with The Land that Time Forgot, the hollow-Earth locale of Pellucidar, the Carson Napier of Venus series and, of course, the Barsoom books, featuring John Carter: Confederate captain and future Warlord of Mars.
These are pulp adventures of the first order – breathless, primary-coloured, wide-screen romps of the sort that once formed the bedrock of the entire genre. Larger-than-life heroes, impossibly beautiful heroines and melodramatically hateable villains chase each other across exotic landscapes in pursuit of goals that can only be painted in black and white terms. Like that other great pulp writer on the early 20th century, Robert E. Howard, Burroughs knew that the story was all – there’s no place for subtle shades of grey, here, as villains pursue vengeance and heroes salvation, and the reader clings on for dear life.