A Note About Edgar Rice Burroughs

Friday , 7, April 2017 18 Comments

In light of the extensive discussions on the history of science fiction and fantasy that we’ve had here, I have to say that I was surprised when I heard this excerpt of a lecture by Dr. Jordan Peterson today. See, the overall gist of his thesis is something I’ve heard almost verbatim from the 1934 Edgar Rice Burroughs novel Pirates of Venus.

It’s almost as if… this sort of thing were common knowledge at some point, but then things changed so that it actually took something huge like the 1974 publication of The Gulag Archipelago to change the conversation again. But judging by the popular culture, once again this sort of thing has undergone another round of forgetting.

  • deuce says:

    I keep telling people that ERB was an excellent political satirist/ commentator when he felt like it. He would slip in observations like that seen in PIRATES OF VENUS fairly often. He mocked Nazis in a later Venus novel.

    Anyway, Ed was a fervent anti-Communist. Probably the first time he tackled the threat of Communism was in THE MOON MEN:


    He wanted to do a straight-up “Commies take over the US” story. The title was to be “Under the Red Flag.” ERB’s editor told him to make it more sci-fi. The first half of the novel, set a few decades after the Communist/Kalkar takeover is pretty cool, with some really poignant moments.

    Another novel that surprised me — it had been many years since the first read when barely a teenager — is THE LAD AND THE LION. ERB runs parallel storylines. One is a decent “Tarzan in the desert”-type story. The other keeps track of events back in the East European country the “lad” escaped from. You see the gradual takeover of the country by leftists, with a cynical tyrant rising to power. ERB’s handling of all that is pretty sophisticated. His original title was “Men and Beasts” and I being he was being sly with that one. IMO, he was using the “Tarzan”-type storyline to mask the story he REALLY wanted to tell. Here’s the link:


    The odd-numbered chapters are the ones that tell the story back in Europe, so the “desert” chapters are easily skipped and don’t impact the story. As I said, ERB was using one storyline to “mask” the main story he wanted to tell.

  • Alex Stoutwood says:

    When I try to watch the video on this site it gives me the following message: “This video contains content from Mosfilm, who has blocked it from display on this website or application. Watch on Youtube.” It works on Youtube.

  • B&N says:

    “This man founded a secret order known as Thorists and preached a gospel of class hatred called Thorism. By means of lying propaganda he gained a large following, and as all his energies were directed against a single class, he had all the vast millions of the other three classes to draw from, though naturally he found few converts among the merchants and employers which also included the agrarian class.

    [. . .]

    “They succeeded in killing most of us and a large proportion of the merchant class; then the people discovered what the agitators already knew, that some one must rule, and the leaders of Thorism were ready to take over the reins of government. The people had exchanged the beneficent rule of an experienced and cultured class for that of greedy incompetents and theorists.

    “Now they are all reduced to virtual slavery. An army of spies watches over them, and an army of warriors keeps them from turning against their masters; they are miserable, helpless, and hopeless.

    http ://gutenberg. net.au/ebooks03/0300211h.html

  • keith says:

    Scruton’s “Thinkers of the New Left”, in its early part, goes into some detail about the effort some intellectuals and historians, particularly British ones like Hobsbawm, have put into whitewashing of Soviet and Maoist regimes.
    Fascinating and depressing read. All the more so as Hobsbawm is still widely read and has been a huge influence on the following generations of British historians.

  • I’ve lived in the US my entire adult life and one of the things that HAS changed is the way that people react when I tell them about what life was like under Ceaucescu. Today, more likely than not, if I’m even allowed to finish my account, the reaction is dismissive: “Oh, that’s a nice story.” Like it’s something I’m making up or it’s just being told from “a certain point of view.” If there’s any acknowledgement at all that those kind of things happened, it’s followed by “Well, that can’t happen here because reasons.” There’s a Navajo saying: “You can’t wake a man pretending to sleep.”

  • H.P. says:

    Here is what I wrote on Pirates of Venus in my review:

    “Carson finds a rich society on Venus. The human-appearing Vepajans that find him are, notwithstanding their scant clothing and settlement high in 5,000 foot trees, scientifically and societally advanced. The former has given them almost unlimited lifespans. The latter gave them a class-based but utopian society. At least it had until “the lazy and incompetent” were led in a bloody Thorist uprising by leaders whose “aims were solely selfish.” The Thorist uprising is almost certainly heavily based on Communism, but this was pre-Chinese Communist Revolution, pre-WWII, and pre-Cold War. Burroughs may have had an eye of the rise of fascism and national socialism in Europe as well. Dissidents to the uprising have escaped to their Taiwan in the trees. They did learn one thing from the revolution—their updated society has dispensed with even ‘slight class distinctions.’ Things turned out for the pawns of the Thorists about as you would expect, as history has since taught us they always will:

    ‘[T]hey are all reduced to virtual slavery. An army of spies watches over them, and an army of warriors keeps them from turning against their masters; they are miserable, helpless, and hopeless.’

    There is also the inevitable problem that they have slaughtered, driven off, or disincentivized the most productive members of society. Hence the need to live in the trees, to hide from Thorist raiding parties intent of reimporting knowledge and skill. Written two decades earlier, the whole thing has a sort of sequel to Atlas Shrugged feel to it.”


  • Andy says:

    I know a lot of people interpret the green men from the Mars books as Indians, but I was always struck by how Dejah Thoris’s description of their culture lines up a lot with Marxism:

    “A people without written language, without art, without homes, without love; victims of eons of the horrible community idea. Owning everything in common, even to your women and children, has resulted in your owning nothing in common. You hate each other as you hate all else except yourselves.”

  • Terry Sanders says:

    Recently reread *Princess,* and was surprised and impressed by that speech. Apparently the Tharks were his idea of communism taken to its logical conclusion. Eep.

    • Hooc Ott says:

      Don’t be absurd.

      I was informed months ago after I made the claim that Orwell may have modeled his 1984 society after the Tharks society that they could have been taken from any number of past societies.

      Don’t make the stupid mistake I made.

      Burroughs is about fun action adventure and romance only of the up-towards apolitical sort.

  • Hooc Ott says:

    Almost as if Burroughs was not just writing for “Fun” and actually had something to say…


    That is just crazy right wing end of the horse shoe mirror image SJW talk.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Gee, I wonder why the leftist literati of the 20’s and 30’s hated ERB’s guts.

    They knew an enemy when they saw one.

  • Robespierre says:

    “The Roman populace, the common herd, the plebs have always aroused within me a feeling of disgust and loathing . . . enjoying free grain at the State’s expense . . . a race of mean and unscrupulous beggars, befouled by crime and immorality. I sometimes speculate upon the future of an Italy peopled by the descendants of such as these.”

    They become socialist blackshirts, a.k.a., fascists.

    From, I Am a Barbarian, written in 1941. The hero is a first century Briton – the great grandson of Cingetorix. The other cruel hateful people in the story: the Germans – committed socialists in 1941.

  • deuce says:

    ERB showed no mercy to the “Julian” lineage in I AM A BARBARIAN. Burroughs, just like Robert E. Howard, was no fan of the Roman Empire. He also got some digs in on Germans as you point out.

    ERB had come down really, really hard on Germans during WWI and then tried to make amends with TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE and BACK TO THE STONE AGE, but that came around and bit him on the arse with the Nazis. He was twice bitten, forever shy after that.

    • keith says:

      It is depressing to consider with what ease they either erased some once popular authors from history or, in case they were just too damn big like ERB, utterly soiled their literary reputation.
      I’ve recently started reading weird fiction of Gerald Hearn, primarily because great Russell Kirk praised him in his essay on ghostly tales. I thought that he might’ve been forgotten because he just wasn’t that good apart from the piece praised by Kirk.
      Nope. He’s actually pretty good. It was stuff like this that resulted in memory holing, not the quality of stories themselves:

      “And then came the war. That certainly raised the pressure from the personal front. It also brought relief for all the Progressives. They had been against war. It was part of the new creed that war was simply due to sex-repression. Sex, being unrepressed by Progressives, they naturally maintained that they had debunked war and they dismissed it with a laugh. But this war was different. It was present, pressing. The enemy was obviously suffering frightfully from sex-repression. The free, unrepressed peoples must unite now to oppose and end this sex-repression! So the Progressives found themselves freed from their awkward loyalty to peace, which, anyhow, was only a by-product of being unrepressed. After all, if little Alec is permitted to hit Susie on the head for fear he’d grow up repressed if he didn’t, surely if I have been repressed during childhood—not allowed to kick and bite father and mother—I had better get it out of my system now, especially when the enemy is so reactionary and would never permit children their charter right to kick their elders.”

    • deuce says:

      Memory-holing is a thing. When H. Rider Haggard can be memory-holed… I’ll have more to say about that. HRH fought the Literary Realists and Naturalists. It took them a century, but they put him down — for now at least.

      • keith says:

        Yeah, unfortunately it is. Look at Roy Campbell: in his day he was viewed as Elliot’s equal in poetry, he reached wide popular fame and success, he was greatly admired by Tolkien (in fact, he was one of principal inspirations for Aragorn’s character).
        But, his involvement with Franco meant that he was near erased from history. Today, it is almost unbelievable that he was once as big as he was.

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