Tag Archives: Edgar Rice Burroughs

‘A Potboiler with a Vision’ (2013)

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Bob Abbett’s covers were my favorites.

I love the “Barsoom” novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Not just because they’re fantastic escape reading, and no end of fun–but sometimes he also came out with something wise and prescient.

https://leeduigon.com/2013/06/11/a-potboiler-with-a-vision/

Synthetic Men of Mars is one of those books that gets smarter as you grow older. If you haven’t read it since you were a teenager, read it again now. It’ll blow you away.

The image of the uncontrollably expanding shapeless mass in Vat Room #4 will stay with you for a long time to come.


Where Wytt Came From

Image result for images of tarzan and the lost empire

See the little monkey on Tarzan’s shoulder? His name is Nkima, and he’s the biggest braggart in the jungle–which is kind of funny, because he’s mortally afraid of… everything.

He is also the inspiration for my character, Wytt–who is afraid of… nothing.

What?

People often ask me where my characters come from, and how they end up in my Bell Mountain novels. And if I had to guess, I’d guess that Wytt is probably my most popular character. A lot of readers have told me so. But where did Wytt come from?

If you know me, you know I’m a Tarzan fan. And Nkima is my favorite character in all the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I mean, he’s so full of it! And it’s all hot air. This amuses me: a trait that would be unbearable in a real human being is a lot of fun in Tarzan’s monkey sidekick.

As the Omah creatures began to take shape in my mind, I asked myself, “What would Nkima be like, if all his bluster and bravado were perfectly genuine?” What if he really were as brave and bold as he makes himself out to be? What would that look like, in a little character no bigger than a monkey or a squirrel?

And then I had him–Wytt, Jack and Ellayne’s self-appointed protector and guide, who takes on enemies many times his own size, and lets them have the rough side of his tongue while doing it–and gets away with it. This little tiny hero armed with a tiny stick chewed to a point, who’s always up for any challenge that confronts him. No job is too big for him.

Yeah, he’s kind of easy to like. If Wytt’s your guardian–baby, you are guarded, but good. And given the numerous perils in which Ellayne and Jack have found themselves, he’s been kept rather busy. He’s even had to save Martis once or twice: and Martis is a professional assassin who ought to be able to take care of himself. But some of the adventures are a bit dangerous even for him.

I’m sure Wytt will be up for the next book, whatever the adventure turns out to be.


‘More on My Writing Methods’ (2012)

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The good old stuff

I’ve refined my technique (I hope!) during the seven years since I wrote this–and where did that time go?

https://leeduigon.com/2012/07/03/more-on-my-writing-methods/

One is always working to refine one’s technique. But one thing hasn’t changed: if you want to be a writer, you still have to listen to other writers. Agatha Christie and Edgar Rice Burroughs are still there to back me up.

Anyway, after seven years of working at it constantly, my literary voice is more my own, and mine only, and someday maybe new writers will try to learn from me.

That’s a rather humbling thought.


How I Fell in Love with Fantasy

Image result for images of ballantine books fellowship of the ring

Someone around here was enthused enough to prefer my books to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Well, what can I say?

I first read The Lord of the Rings in high school, and it overwhelmed me. My imagination was already on fire, thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs–first his Pellucidar novels, and then his tales of adventure on Mars. But Tolkien–!

I was astonished that such a book could ever have been written. Burroughs’ books are short; Tolkien’s was a monumental trilogy. You wind up spending a lot of time in it. The marvelous thing about The Lord of the Rings was that it positively came alive for me: it made me believe in the story that it told. Perhaps it was the mass of detail: Tolkien’s imaginary world is vast. To this day, after many re-readings, I’m sure I could find my way around the Shire, and I’m sure I’d like it there. And I’d know which places to avoid–Mordor, Mirkwood, and the Mines of Moria.

I’ve never seen any illustrations of LOTR which satisfied me. That’s because Tolkien’s art made his people and places real to me, as if I’d actually been there, seen them; and any illustration is, of course, someone else’s imagination, and can never show me anything exactly how I’d already imagined it myself.

It gave me a burning desire to write fantasy. I can’t even guess how many pages I turned out in notebooks, and on my old manual typewriter, trying to imitate Tolkien, trying to match him. But I can say it took several decades for me to realize that the world didn’t need another Tolkien: any fantasies I wrote would have to be my fantasies, and no one else’s. And that took another couple of decades to accomplish.

It’s important to remember that when LOTR came out, there was nothing else remotely like it. Since then, the fantasy genre has been suffocated with Tolkien wannabes, shamelessly ripping off his once-upon-a-time unique creation. I still love Tolkien’s Elves and Dwarves and warriors, etc., but find everybody else’s cheap imitations intolerable. I suspect that if my first reading had been now instead of then, it wouldn’t have had the impact that it did.

Burroughs and Tolkien inspired me, and I doubt my own books would ever have been written if I hadn’t read theirs first. I still stand up and salute The Chessmen of Mars, and in my imagination, search for the road to the forest of Lothlorien.


Another Tough Assigment

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I’m currently reading a Young Adults novel so I can review it for Chalcedon. I’m about halfway through it, and it has begun to give me a kind of creepy feeling, sort of like the feeling you get when the Crawling Eye is stalking you. Because I’m not yet finished reading it, and Chalcedon has first dibs on the review, I will follow my custom of using pseudonyms for both the book and the author. For the time being, it shall be known as Deeply Neurotic People with Feminism Thrown In, by Hortense Portense.

I liked it at first: crisply written, cleverly arranged, with a first-person teenage girl protagonist whose narrative voice somehow reminded me of Karl Kolchak: if you can imagine Darren McGavin’s Night Stalker as a 17-year-old girl, which I hope doesn’t give you the heeby-jeebies.

I am sorry to say the story is turning toxic awfully fast. And it’s pitched to young readers, most of whom have not yet lived long enough to acquire sharp critical faculties and are thus in danger of having something not so nice slipped under their door. So my review will have to be a warning light to parents, a role that’s not quite my cup of tea. I would’ve truly hated it, to have my folks vet the books I was reading when I was 15: but in those days there wasn’t stuff like this for them to worry about. My mother liked to read some of my Edgar Rice Burroughs books when I was through with them; and I would read some of the historical novels she had.

There are books out there that aren’t good for us, and I’m afraid this is one of them.


Accused Welsh Politician Found Dead

The accusations of “misconduct,” most of it apparently of a sexual nature, are coming hot and heavy not only here in America, but also in Britain, so far involving “about a dozen” Members of Parliament. And a prominent Welsh politician, in the wake of unspecified charges leveled at him, has been found dead in his home in northern Wales: they’re calling it a suicide (https://www.yahoo.com/news/uk-politician-found-dead-misconduct-claims-151848137.html).

Powerful, important men in business and in government have been chasing after women since wealth and power were invented. The author who led me to understand this was, of all people, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan.

Among the great apes, Tarzan’s people, the big apes used their status and their muscle to make sure they got the best food, the most food, the most comfortable resting spots–and as many she-apes as they desired, whether the females liked it or not. That such “apes” as ERB described are totally fictitious is irrelevant. What Burroughs really had in mind, when he wrote those stories, was human beings.

We are Christians, and we call it Original Sin. Even David, called a man after God’s own heart, was guilty of sexual sin when he took Uriah the Hittite’s wife away from him and arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle.

If we were humanists, we would deny Original Sin, insist that all wickedness comes from outside the human heart, and claim that we can fix it by allocating more power to the government. Man, we would say, is perfectible by man.

Jesus Christ, our Savior, taught otherwise. “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” (Matthew 15:18-20)

We are not perfectible by our own efforts, no matter how strong the coercion; and that’s why God has given us a Savior.

In time the current hubbub over sexual misconduct among the mighty will die out. But without the personal regeneration obtainable only in Jesus Christ, confession of sins, and acceptance of God’s grace, the misconduct will continue.


Why I Watch Movies and TV

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Some of you are down on movies and television for celebrating immoral and even wicked actions and letting the characters in the story get away with it. Those are not unfounded criticisms.

As a fantasy novelist, I must plead guilty to writing in such a way that the story turns out as I want it to. King Ryons gets to Obann in time to save the city. Lord Orth passes through a phase of madness and idiocy to emerge as a true man of God. These things happen because I wrote them that way. It can’t be helped.

I watch a lot of old TV and movies. One reason is for relaxation. After a day of writing, I need to veg out. I don’t think any of you will accuse me of allowing these films to shape my moral outlook.

But there is another reason.

Writing a novel isn’t as easy as it looks. The only thing easy about it is that it’s very easy to mess it up. And as I write, I have two overriding concerns: character and story. Both have to be right, or the novel will be wrong.

So I watch for the same reason I never go to bed without a book to read until I fall asleep. I want to learn how to create and manage believable characters that my readers will respond to, and how to tell a story coherently, convincingly, and compellingly. I can’t learn that unless I immerse myself in other people’s stories. And because the story-telling art is so difficult, I have to keep learning all the time.

As hard as I try to avoid it, some of the stories I watch turn out to be dreck. From these I learn what not to do! From the others, the ones that are not pigs’ breakfasts, I pick up innumerable hints that I can apply to my own stories. From C.S. Lewis, Agatha Christie, Walter R. Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Upfield, and many others, I learn the techniques I need to make my novels stand the test of readership.

And daily Bible reading is indispensable as a guide to what I ought to put into my stories and what I ought to leave out. As a writer, I can do nothing without God’s blessing and guidance.

A steady diet of B.S. fiction, consumed uncritically, unthinkingly, for no other purpose than “because it’s there,” has a really good shot at rotting the consumer’s mind.

If you want to be a musician, you have to listen to other people’s music. The same hold true for story-tellers.


‘Lost on Venus’ is… Lost

I’ll never outgrow Edgar Rice Burroughs–best known as the creator of Tarzan, but that was only one part of his achievement. Still when you write as many novels as ERB did, some of them are bound to turn out… well, not so good as others.

Lost on Venus–which first appeared as a magazine serial in 1933, and as a book in 1935–is full of stuff that reminds us that a lot of loopy ideas were floating around in the culture, back then. You can’t say they were spawned by the Depression, because they all have roots easily traceable into the 19th century.

Burroughs swallowed ’em all, hook, line, and sinker.

I’d say the biggest howler in the book is a single line: “Nothing is impossible to science.” It is spoken by an official in the city of Havatoo, a utopia created by rigorously breeding human beings, like farm animals, to yield a better product. This is the now-discredited pseudoscience of eugenics. Back in the 1930s, all the smart people believed in it. You were a real ape if you questioned it. But it kind of fell into disrepute when Heinrich Himmler took it literally and became the eugenics poster boy.

On Venus, as Burroughs followed the Progressive will-o’-the-wisp, there’s no religion because all the people are way too smart to believe in God, and anyhow they don’t need God because their Science has given them an immortality serum and they all get to stay young and beautiful and healthy forever. Yeah, right.

The best thing about the Venus books (Lost is No. 2 of 4, with a posthumously published novelette tacked on) is the physics and cosmography cooked up by Venusian scientists who have never seen the heavens, the sun, stars, etc., because of Venus’ impenetrable cloud cover. Absent these observations, what they come up with is simply astounding: and all of its contradictions can be resolved by multiplying all the numbers by the square root of minus one: an imaginary number, and a wonderful little joke by Burroughs.

Hey, wait a minute! Was he the sucker, or am I? Like, didn’t he just show that the whole Venusian system of science was based on a completely erroneous model of the universe? Was he having a long, long laugh at all the wise men of his day?

P.S.–If you don’t see what I’m getting at, try it yourself. Multiply any number by the square root of minus one and see what you get.


Aging Your Characters

As my Bell Mountain books go on, I find myself forced to acknowledge the fact that my characters are getting older. It just snuck up on me. I remember when the kid who starred in Lassie had to leave the show because he was growing a mustache and talking like Steve Reeves.

Well, I’m stuck with it now, and my two original protagonists, Jack and Ellayne, are just going to have to keep on getting older until they grow up (if the series runs that long). I missed my chance to dodge the issue.

What are my options now?

1. Stay with all the original characters and let them age naturally–at the risk of losing a big part of my small audience. I could let them grow up physically while remaining completely immature, but I don’t think my publisher would like it.

2. Replace these kids with other young protagonists as needed. Yeah, that would work. Only I’m attached to my original characters and would hate to part with them. But yes, new kids are going to have to come along.

I missed my chance to go with characters who never age, no matter how many books wind up being in the series. There are a few ways of doing that.

In his “Rick Brant Science Adventure” series that ran for some 20 years, J.G. Blaine (aka Hal Goodwin) simply ignored the whole issue. Rick, Scotty, and Barbie remain teenagers throughout the entire series. In fact, none of the regular characters ages at all. And readers didn’t seem to mind. Same with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, come to think of it–teens forever.

When Agatha Christie first introduced Hercule Poirot to the reading public in 1920, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, she presented him as a retiring police detective whose best days were behind him–a man of about 60. Little did she dream that she’d be writing about him for the next 50 years! She is said to have calculated that Poirot must have been some 130 years old when he finally died. While she was writing about him, she had to ignore the age issue. Again, the readers didn’t seem to mind.

Edgar Rice Burroughs tried to explain why his characters never seemed to age, not wanting anyone to remark that ERB’s need for money seemed to be as evergreen as Tarzan. So David Innes didn’t age because there was no means of telling time in Pellucidar, at the earth’s core. It would be hard to get around the treetops in a walker, so Tarzan didn’t age, either, and neither did his wife, Jane–the result of secret immortality pills invented by the Leopard Men. And John Carter of Virginia and Barsoon was just plain immortal: always was, no telling how or why.

I think I could have gotten away with not aging any of the Bell Mountain cast and crew, provided I’d stuck with it from the beginning. But it’s a decision the writer of a series has to make from the git-go.

Once the kids in your story start growing up, you really mustn’t try to make them stop.


A Gem from Mars

Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ very first novel, A Princess of Mars, is 101 years old. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of his most famous book, Tarzan of the Apes. I’ve just finished re-reading Princess–and after all these years, it’s still a gem.

One aspect of it deserves special mention: to this day, A Princess of Mars remains one of the most potent refutations of communalism ever written.

The Green Martians have been communalists for untold ages. Having done away with marriage, the family, and private property, they have become cruel, joyless, hateful, and dull. At some point in their ancient history, they must have been ruled by “progressives” who seduced them with a scheme for achieving radical egalitarianism. They achieved it, all right.

When Burroughs started writing this in 1911, what did he know of communalism? Why did he make it a major theme of his first book? Or was this just another one of those extraordinary insights which God grants to artists? Certainly there are anointed Experts among us today who wave their credentials in our faces and preach the abolition of marriage, the family, and even “gender.” Some of us don’t realize that they’re crazy.

Because of what they’ve done to their own culture, Burroughs’ Green Martians are more bestial than the beasts.

Take a good, hard look at what’s being done to our culture, and tell me he was wrong.


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