By Rusty Burke
Today is the 145th birthday of Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of the most influential adventure writers of all time. His creation, "Tarzan of the Apes," is one of the best known fictional characters in the world. His "Barsoom" series, taking place on a fictional Mars, inspired generations of science fiction writers (though it must be admitted there was precious little science in his novels). The prolific ERB also wrote stories set on Venus, in the center of the Earth ("Pellucidar"), in "The Land That Time Forgot" ("Caspak"), on the moon, and much more.
Much of Burroughs' work originally appeared in All-Story magazine (aka All-Story Weekly and All-Story Cavalier Weekly before merging with The Argosy to become Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1920), which is probably where a young aspiring writer in Texas named Robert E. Howard first read it. He apparently liked it: there were twelve ERB books in his library which his father donated to Howard Payne College after Howard’s death, including six Tarzan and four Barsoom titles (the others were The Mucker and the first Pellucidar novel, At the Earth’s Core).
Oddly, though Burroughs is the best-represented author in Howard’s library, REH did not mention him in listing his "favorite authors" in a December 1932 letter to H.P. Lovecraft. He named A. Conan Doyle (9 of whose books were in his library), Jack London (6 books), Mark Twain (4), Sax Rohmer (7), Jeffery Farnol (5), Talbot Mundy (7), Harold Lamb (2), Robert W. Chambers (5), H. Rider Haggard (3), Rudyard Kipling (5), Stanley Lane-Poole (2), Ambrose Bierce (1), and Sir Walter Scott, Jim Tully, Arthur Machen, and Edgar Allan Poe, none of whom were represented by a volume in his library, but did not list Burroughs. He mentions Burroughs only once in his writings, in a futuristic race-war tale called "The Last Man": "It was, I reflected, just such a scene as had been described by Edgar Rice Burroughs, a highly imaginative writer of fiction, who flourished in the early part of the twentieth century."
No one can doubt that Burroughs must have had some influence on Howard. In particular, the Tarzan stories seem likely to have played some role in the conception of the barbarian, and the jungle setting probably influenced any of Howard’s tales set in Darkest Africa (though of course Haggard and others might have contributed as well). Deuce Richardson has recently made a strong case that Tarzan the Untamed very likely influenced Howard’s Conan stories "A Witch Shall Be Born" and "Xuthal of the Dusk." While Untamed was not among the books donated to the Howard Payne library, it was the seventh book in the series, and Howard owned the first five as well as the eighth, so it strikes me as likely he’d have also had six and seven, and Deuce’s examples certainly suggest that, at the very least, REH had read it.
We can only wonder why Burroughs was left off the list in 1932. Possibly he thought such a "popular" writer would not impress Lovecraft. Or maybe he just overlooked him inadvertently. Whatever the case, I think it is safe to say that Burroughs was an important influence on Robert E. Howard.
Blogger bio: Rusty Burke is the Chairman/President of The Robert E. Howard Foundation; he was the founding editor of The Dark Man, and compiler of The Robert E Howard Bookshelf, among other things.
The Pavilion Blog is the companion blog of The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies. It features brief, conversational reflections related to Robert E. Howard at around 500-600 words. Interested in contributing? E-mail the editors at email@example.com