What does Carlos de Leon, a.k.a. Rat-gêló, have in common with Prince Richard of England, a.k.a. Norman of Torn, or Townsend Harper, a.k.a. Jack, a.k.a. Number Thirteen? What? You haven’t heard of Norman of Torn or Number Thirteen? Well, what about John Carter, a.k.a. Dotar Sojat, or John Clayton III?

Surely you have heard of John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke? Oh, maybe you are more familiar with his other name, Tarzan. Having decided that he could write at least as bad a pulp fiction as what he had been reading, Edgar Rice Burroughs began spinning tales that would carry his readers from the Arizona desert to the rugged landscapes of Mars, from English manor houses to the darkest jungles of Africa, from the Sahara sands to the center of the Earth, from the South Pacific to a land that time forgot. No one would deign to classify Burroughs’s writing as “literature,” least of all himself. But he was a master storyteller who became a corner stone to the science fiction genre (ever heard of Star Wars or Avatar), action adventure (ever heard of Raiders of the Lost Ark), and even plied his pen writing Westerns and historical fiction.

Burroughs’s protagonists were all supremely optimistic, noble of heart, and deadly at arms. The women they rescued weren’t helpless, just outnumbered. Ray Bradbury said, “Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world. By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special.”[1] I know he made me feel that way. A true mark of good story—and by good I mean that it calls us to a better self—is fictional characters that can inspire you. When Tarzan is tied to a post and the current horde of enemies is lighting the fire at his feet and he utters, “So long as there is breath, there is hope,” young boys take courage. I know I did. His stories taught me that ladies are to be treasured, that goals outweigh difficulty, that tenacity wins the day, and that evil is to be vanquished.

It was my Aunt Jeanie who got me hooked on Burroughs. One Christmas, she sent us a graphic novel version of Tarzan. The artwork was exquisite, the story like none other I had ever read. I devoured his books after that. Tarzan, The Princess of Mars, The Moon Maid, Pellucidar, The Outlaw of Torn, I Am a Barbarian, The Monster Men, The Efficiency Expert all at one time or another had my nose prints in them. He was entertaining, engaging, the master of circumstance and switched points of view. Story trumped all and he never let the pressure off, not even in the end. The cliff-hanger was his stock-in-trade.

I may owe Robert Ludlum for my sense of plausible plot twists. To Stephen King I owe the threatening overtones of the supernatural and the literary sleight of hand offered by an altered state of mind. But to Edgar Rice Burroughs I owe the pace and progress of story and the sheer adventure of it all. He was born on this day, September 1, in 1875. He came to writing late but stayed at it long. And his legacy lives on in writers and filmmakers to this day. Happy Birthday, Edgar!

[1], accessed September 1, 2017

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