Thursday, April 5, 2012

A to Z: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of my favorite authors.  He's come up again in the public consciousness because of Disney's 'John Carter of Mars', but don't let that movie mislead you if you hadn't heard of him before: he's one of the most significant authors of speculative and adventure fiction of the twentieth century.
He wrote over 70 novels, starting in 1912 with both Tarzan of the Apes and A Princess of Mars.
His mark will be felt for a long time to come, along with authors like Jules Verne and H.G.Wells.

I wasn't much of a reader as a young kid.  The first 'big book' I read was in second grade: The Hobbit.
Probably explains quite a lot right there.  I loved it, but for some reason I really didn't get drawn into reading much after that.  Fast forward to seventh grade, as I fly through the air nine feet, spinning: sky-ground, sky-ground, sky-ground, sky: thud of ground. Look around: a mangled bike and a right leg with two knees where there really should be just one. Probably not walking away from this one.

I spent the next couple months in the hospital, attached by cables and pins that must have been designed by one of those Hellraiser cube fellows and for lack of anything to do, I became a reader.  Science Fiction and Fantasy were the only things I was interested in.  I read all that was brought to me.

When I got home, in a cast for many months more and having read all the books which had been gifted to me at the hospital, my dad brought in a large box.  It was full of old Ace & Bantam paperback books: Edgar Rice Burroughs.  He said 'This ought to keep you busy".  He'd bought them when he was a kid and saved them. There must have been over 50 books in there.  Busy indeed. I still have these books, now in a bigger box as I've added to them over the years, heading to 'B' in the science fiction section every time I go to a used book store, since they must be from this era.
Burroughs created so many worlds!  Most famous for Tarzan of the Apes of course.

But that's only one to explore. He created the Land the Time Forgot: a lost continent.
He also populated the inside of the earth, Pellucidar, with peoples and animals extinct upon the surface.
And not only our own planet, but thriving civilizations on the Moon, Venus, Mercury, and my personal favorite: Mars, a.k.a: Barsoom.

What a more interesting reality we'd live in if Burrough's imagining of it were real.

Some people can not tolerate anything that isn't completely modern and up to date with the current style and sensibilities, but if you don't suffer from this and haven't read Edgar Rice Burroughs I highly recommend it.
To a modern reader, the characters might not have full depth and breadth, the protagonist undoubtedly has some mildly sexist views, in a condescending Victorian manner, but probably less so than what fills Romance novels written today, so don't judge it too harshly. What you do get is a thrilling adventure that pulls you through the pages as well as some incredibly insightful ideas, especially considering they come from nearly 100 years ago.

For example, in one of the Barsoom novels a scientist invents a paint which makes anything painted with it invisible by bending light around it.  Right this moment scientists are working on this exact thing.  Not too shabby for 100 years ago!

Burrough's worlds are also filled with interesting cultures and languages.  Short of Tolkien, you're not likely to find many that are so complete.

For the Gamers:
Shall I put a bow on it for you?  Wrap it in fancy paper?  Because you won't get a better gifts than this!

Pulp adventure is perfect for miniatures gaming.  And with Edgar Rice Burroughs you have so many worlds to chose from!  Like Dinosaurs & Mammoths? Dive into Pellucidar! Prefer a historical approach? Tarzan's Africa awaits. More a fan of VSF?  Venus & Barsoom are ideal: Aliens, monsters, swords & guns, mad scientists, and airships galore.

The best source for miniatures are:

Bronze Age Miniatures : Good timing, right now they have a 30% off sale running until April 18, 2012!

Tin Man Miniatures

Black Hat Miniatures for 15/18mm gaming.
EMP401 - Giant Tribal Martian infantry
Black Hat also have a set of rules, Martian Empires, for larger battles in a 15/18mm environment.
A mash up of Burroughs, Wells & VSF.

For skirmish rules, I recommend 'Legends of Old Mars' based on GW's Legend of the Old West & Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. Looks like a winner to me.  Probably would not be too hard to make a full 'Legends of the Old West' / Mordheim style campaign and experience system out of it too!

Here's a 'Green Man' from Tinman Miniatures I painted:

I'd love to convince the LotOW/ LotHS players around here to give Legends of Old Mars a go!

I've also done some work on a set of miniatures rules and setting inspired by the imaginings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Someday I'll do more work to develop that.

* Check out the blog Voyages Extraordinaire.
For the 100 year anniversary of both Tarzan & John Carter, he's had some very interesting articles this year related to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and just an all-round fun blog too!

Burroughs in Film
There have been a lot of movies made of ERB's work, especially of Tarzan which was probably the easiest of his works to bring to film, with the dinosaur topics next, but the denizens of Mars and their technology was impossible for our film technology until recently. Someday I'll do a movie review of the recent 'John Carter'.  the earlier movies are worth exploring though.

Here's a trailer for the 1975 Land That Time Forgot. I love the 'B' movies like this from this time.  Fun Stuff!

This has been an A-Z Challenge post. 
For the month of April there will be an update for each letter within the theme of: Things that influence and inspire me, or the converse: things which I find distressing or make me want to rail at the world.
Some of these will pertain to the miniatures hobby, but many will venture off to atypical territory for the duration of the challenge, then it will be back to normal with mostly minis and an occasional blithering.
You can find out more about the A-Z challenge my clicking the logo at the top left of the page. 


Mr. Lee said...

Didn't know there were producers of the Barsoom tribes.. good stuff!
Haven't read any of his stuff ( I know, shame on me ) but after seeing the potential from John Carter ( decent but not fully fleshed out film ) I might have to investigate on getting some of them.. thanks for the push on this!

Michael Awdry said...

Another great post and although I can't say that I've read any Burroughs recently it is certainly on my 'to do' list; especially given my predilection for all things dinosaur!

Paul of the Man Cave said...

Love Burrows and Love JC of Mars in particular. Who as a Lad didnt dream of meeting their own Dejah Thoris...

I took my son to the recent movie and now we are deep in reading Book 3 together! I would love to play some JC of Mars too, maybe SAGA warbands as a concept would work well.

I love the Thark you painted up too -Tars Tarkus would be proud!

PsychosisPC said...

The Hobbit in second grade? Didn't read that until I was in high school and was forced to read it for a class. Second grade was about the discovey of numbers and history book pictures for me. Was into John Wayne movies. My parents knew I did not like reading, but like drawing, so they tried comic books to get me to read.

Many of the stories written back in those days had those thought up inventions that we are able to somewhat create today. Makes me wonder if many of Neal Stephenson's thoughts from books like Snowcrash and others will come to fruition one day also.

S. L. Hennessy said...

He's one of my favorites - wish people wouldn't associate him with only John Carter. Way to inform the masses (or bloggers) about him.
P.S. Love Verne and Wells too.

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