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Burroughs, Edgar Rice

Entry updated 15 April 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1875-1950) US author whose early life was marked by numerous false starts and failures – at the time he started writing, aged 36, he was a pencil-sharpener salesman – but it would seem that the impulse to create psychically charged Science-Fantasy environments was deep-set and powerful, for he began with a great rush of energy, and within two years had initiated three of his four most important series.

Certainly the first of his published works has ever since its first appearance served as a successful solution to mid-life frustrations. A Princess of Mars (February-July 1912 All-Story as "Under the Moons of Mars" as by Norman Bean; 1917) opens the long Barsoom sequence of novels set on Mars (Barsoom), which established that planet as a venue for dream-like and interminable Planetary Romance sagas unpacking in melodramatic arenas strongly reminiscent in their repetitive iconographic clarity of the Western, sf and fantasy protocols indiscriminately intermixed as a sort of enabling gear, and where white women (in all but name) could bare their breasts. The Gods of Mars (January-May 1913 All-Story; 1918) and The Warlord of Mars (December 1913-March 1914 All-Story; 1919) further recount the exploits of John Carter as he battles with various green, yellow and black breeds without the law, and wins the hand of the red-skinned (and oviparous) princess Dejah Thoris. Starring different central characters, the series continued in Thuvia, Maid of Mars (8 April-22 April 1916 All-Story Weekly; 1920), The Chessmen of Mars (18 February-1 April 1922 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1922) (see Chess), The Master Mind of Mars (1927 Amazing Stories Annual; 1928) (see Identity Transfer), A Fighting Man of Mars (April-September 1930 Blue Book; 1931), Swords of Mars (November 1934-April 1935 Blue Book; 1936), Synthetic Men of Mars (7 January-11 February 1939 Argosy; 1940) (see Regeneration), Llana of Gathol (stories 1941 Amazing; fixup 1948) and John Carter of Mars (stories 1941-1943 Amazing; coll 1964). "John Carter and the Giant of Mars" (January 1941 Amazing), in the last volume, was originally written as a juvenile tale by Burroughs's son, John Coleman Burroughs [see Checklist for details]. The standard of storytelling and invention is high in the Barsoom books, Chessmen and Swords being particularly fine; but it has always been difficult for some critics to accept the Planetary Romance as being, in any cognitive sense, good sf. Although Carter's adventures take place on another planet, he incontrovertibly travels there by magical means, and Barsoom itself is inconsistent and scientifically implausible. It is clear, however, that Burroughs's immense popularity has nothing to do with conventional sf virtues, for it depends on storylines and venues as malleable as dreams, exotic and dangerous and unending.

The Tarzan saga is just as much sf (or non-sf) as the Barsoom series. Though clearly influenced by H Rider Haggard, Burroughs did not imitate one of that writer's prime virtues: his sense of reality. Allan Quatermain's Africa may be romantically exaggerated, but Tarzan's Africa is a cartoon, and must accepted as being no more governed by the reality principle than Barsoom. Tarzan of the Apes (October 1912 All-Story; 1914), the story of an English aristocrat's son raised in the jungle by "great apes" (of a nonexistent species) as a kind of feral child, was immensely popular from the beginning, and Burroughs continued producing sequels to the end of his career. In most of them Tarzan has unashamedly fantastic adventures, some of which – discovering lost cities and live Dinosaurs, being reduced to 18 in (46 cm) in height, visiting the Earth's core – evoke the adventure tropes of Pulp sf. Burroughs clearly did not quite grasp the iconic power of his aristocrat/barbarian lord in the first sequels in the series – The Return of Tarzan (June-December 1913 New Story; 1915), The Beasts of Tarzan (16 May-20 June 1914 All-Story Cavalier Weekly; 1916), The Son of Tarzan (4 December-8 January 1915 All-Story; 1917) and Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (18 November-16 December 1916 All-Story; 1918) all being relatively uninspired – though Jungle Tales of Tarzan (stories 1916-1917 Blue Book; coll 1919; vt Tarzan's Jungle Tales 1961) gains creative fire through its clever reminders of Rudyard Kipling's two Jungle Books (1894, 1895), and in "Tarzan's First Love" (September 1916 Blue Book) he invokes Apes as Human material otherwhere left tacit. The best Tarzan books came next: Tarzan the Untamed (coll of linked stories 1920), Tarzan the Terrible (29 January-26 February 1921 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1921), Tarzan and the Golden Lion (9 December 1922-20 January 1923 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1923), Tarzan and the Ant Men (2 February-15 March 1924 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1924; rev 1924), Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (December 1927-May 1928 Blue Book; 1928), Tarzan and the Lost Empire (October 1928-February 1929 Blue Book; 1929) and Tarzan at the Earth's Core (September 1929-March 1930 Blue Book; 1930), which also comprises part of the Pellucidar sequence (see below). Later the series deteriorated, becoming more deeply repetitive in Tarzan the Invincible (October 1930-April 1931 Blue Book as "Tarzan, Guard of the Jungle"; 1931), Tarzan Triumphant (October 1931-March 1932 Blue Book as "The Triumph of Tarzan"; 1932), Tarzan and the City of Gold (12 March-16 April 1931 Argosy; 1933; cut 1952), Tarzan and the Lion Man (11 November 1933-6 January 1934 Liberty; 1934), Tarzan and the Leopard Men (August 1932-January 1933 Blue Book; 1935), Tarzan's Quest (October 1935-March 1936 Blue Book as "Tarzan and the Immortal Men"; 1936), Tarzan and the Forbidden City (19 March-23 April 1938 Argosy as "The Red Star of Tarzan"; 1938; cut vt Tarzan in the Forbidden City 1940), Tarzan the Magnificent (fixup 1939) and Tarzan and the Foreign Legion (1947). Two posthumous books are Tarzan and the Madman (from unpublished original; 1964) and Tarzan and the Castaways (1939-1941 var mags; coll 1965), neither of much merit. Two mildly interesting offshoots of the main series were The Tarzan Twins (1927; cut 1935; rev by other hands vt Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins in the Jungle 1938) and its sequel, Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-Bal-Ja, the Golden Lion (1936), both being assembled as Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins (omni 1963). Despite Burroughs's overproduction, Tarzan is a remarkable creation, and possibly the best-known fictional character of the century. Part of Tarzan's fame is due to the many Tarzan Films (which see) adaptations, particularly those of the 1930s starring Johnny Weissmuller; almost none of these are very faithful to the books.

Burroughs's third major series, the Pellucidar novels based on the Hollow-Earth theory of John Cleves Symmes, began with At the Earth's Core (4-25 April 1914 All-Story Weekly; 1922) and continued in Pellucidar (8-29 May 1915 All-Story Cavalier Weekly and All-Story Weekly; 1923), Tanar of Pellucidar (March-August 1929 Blue Book; 1930), Tarzan at the Earth's Core (September 1929-March 1930 Blue Book; 1930) – a notable "overlap" volume – Back to the Stone Age (9 January-13 February 1937 Argosy as "Seven Worlds to Conquer"; 1937), Land of Terror (1944) and Savage Pellucidar (stories February-April 1942 Amazing; fixup, incorporating 1 previously unpublished story, 1963). Pellucidar is perhaps the best of Burroughs's locales – a world without time where Dinosaurs and beast-men roam circularly forever – and is a perfect setting for bloodthirsty romantic adventure. The first of the series was filmed disappointingly as At the Earth's Core (1976).

A fourth main series, the Venus sequence – created much later in Burroughs's career – concerns the exploits of spaceman Carson Napier on Venus, and consists of Pirates of Venus (17 September-22 October 1932 Argosy; 1934), Lost on Venus (4 March-15 April 1933 Argosy; 1935), Carson of Venus (8 January-12 February 1938 Argosy; 1939) and Escape on Venus (stories March 1941-March 1942 Fantastic Adventures; fixup 1946). These books are not as stirring and vivid as the Barsoom series. A posthumous story, "The Wizard of Venus", was published in Tales of Three Planets (coll 1964) and subsequently as the title story of a separate paperback, The Wizard of Venus (coll 1970; vt The Wizard of Venus and Pirate Blood 1984). Two of the stories from Tales of Three Planets, "Beyond the Farthest Star" (January 1942 Blue Book) and the posthumous "Tangor Returns" (in Tales of Three Planets, coll 1964), form the opening of a fifth series which Burroughs abandoned. They are of particular sf interest because they are his only tales with an interstellar setting. The two stories were subsequently republished as a paperback entitled Beyond the Farthest Star (coll 1965).

Of Burroughs's non-series tales, perhaps the finest is The Land that Time Forgot (first appeared in three parts, August, October, December 1918 Blue Book; fixup 1924; vt 3vols under original part-titles: The Land that Time Forgot 1962, The People that Time Forgot 1962 and Out of Time's Abyss 1962). Set in World War One during which a German U-boat and its prisoners land inadvertently on the giant Island of Caprona (or Caspak) near the South Pole; the tale cunningly presents in literal form the dictum that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, for individual animals on Caprona metamorphose through evolutionary stages. There are, moreover, seven separate iterations of "human" stock (see Evolution; Race in SF), with conflicts (and some coercive Sex for breeding purposes). The book was loosely adapted into two films, The Land that Time Forgot (1975) and The People that Time Forgot (1977). Also of interest is The Moon Maid (stories May 1923-September 1925 Argosy All-Story Weekly as "The Moon Maid" [5 May-2 June 1923], "The Moon Men" [21 February-14 March 1925] and "The Red Hawk" [5-19 September 1925]; cut fixup 1926; vt 2vols with text restored as The Moon Maid 1962 and The Moon Men 1962; vt [of 1926 cut fixup] The Moon Men 1963), which describes a civilization in the hollow interior of the Moon and a future Invasion of the Earth.

Among Burroughs's other books, those which can be claimed as sf include: The Eternal Lover (stories 1914-1915 All-Story Weekly as "The Eternal Lover" [7 March 1914] and "Sweetheart Eternal" [23 January-3 February 1915]; fixup 1925; vt The Eternal Savage 1963), a prehistoric adventure involving Time Travel featuring a character, Barney Custer, who reappears in the Ruritanian The Mad King (stories 1914-1915 All-Story Weekly as "The Mad King" [21 March 1914] and "Barney Custer of Beatrice" [7-21 August 1915]; fixup 1926); The Monster Men (November 1913 All-Story as "A Man Without a Soul"; 1929), a reworking of the Frankenstein theme, which should not be confused with the second part of The Mucker (October-November 1914 All-Story Weekly; 17 June-15 July 1915 All-Story Weekly as "The Return of the Mucker"; 1921; part two only vt The Man Without a Soul 1922; vt The Return of the Mucker 1974), which contains some peripheral Lost Race material. Along with a much later tale contained in The Oakdale Affair/The Rider (coll 1937; reprinted solo as The Oakdale Affair 1974), The Mucker and its follow-ons can be thought of as The Mucker sequence, though it has normally been regarded as one rather long novel.

Further titles of some interest include The Cave Girl (July-September 1913 All-Story; exp as fixup 1925), another prehistoric romance; Jungle Girl (May-September 1931 Blue Book as "The Land of Hidden Men"; 1932; vt The Land of Hidden Men 1963), about a lost civilization in Cambodia; and Beyond Thirty (February 1916 All Around Magazine; 1956 chap; vt The Lost Continent 1963), a story set in the twenty-second century after the collapse of European civilization; along with The Man-Eater (circa 1955 chap), it was reprinted as Beyond Thirty and the Man-Eater (omni 1957).

It cannot be claimed that Burroughs's works have much literary or intellectual merit. Nevertheless, because their lack of realistic referents frees them from time, because their efficient narrative style helps to compensate for their prudery and racism, and because Burroughs had a genius for highly-energized literalizations of dream-worlds, they have endured. Tarzan is a figure with the iconic density of Sherlock Holmes or Dracula. His "rediscovery" during the 1960s was an astonishing publishing phenomenon, with the majority of his books being reprinted regularly. Burroughs has probably had more imitators than any other sf writer, ranging from Otis Adelbert Kline in the 1930s to Kenneth Bulmer (writing as Alan Burt Akers) in the 1970s, with homage continuing from much later writers like Terry Bisson in Voyage to the Red Planet (1990) and Hitoshi Yoshioka in Nangun Kihei Taii John Carter ["Southern Cavalry Captain John Carter"] (2005). There have been no "official" continuations of his series, however, with the exception of Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) by Fritz Leiber and Tarzan, King of the Apes (1983) by Joan D Vinge, the latter being more accurately described as a rewriting. When some UK paperback firms, like Curtis Warren with Azan the Apeman (see Marco Garron), attempted to capitalize on Tarzan, the Burroughs estate obtained injunctions halting publication. Later attempts at similar series, like the US New Tarzan books (1964-1965) by Barton Werper and Tarzan at Mars' Core (1977) by Edward Hirschman, and J T Edson's UK Bunduki sequence (1975-1980), were similarly dealt with. Serious sf writers who owe a debt to Burroughs include Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock (as Edward P Bradbury) and, above all, Philip José Farmer, whose Lord Grandrith and Ancient Opar novels are among the most enjoyable of latter-day Burroughs-inflected romances. Burroughs was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003. [DP/JC]

see also: Aliens; Amazing Stories; Androids; Anthropology; Boys' Papers; Collections; Comics; Cryonics; Dime-Novel SF; Ecology; Fantastic Voyages; Fantasy; Future War; Games and Sports; Heroes; History of SF; John Carter: Warlord of Mars; Jupiter; Little Green Men; Lost Worlds; Origin of Man; Parallel Worlds; Pastoral; Recursive SF; SF Music; Scientific Errors; Sense of Wonder; Series; Spaceships; Suspended Animation; Sword and Sorcery; Terraforming; Transportation; Weapons.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

born Chicago, Illinois: 1 September 1875

died Encino, California: 19 March 1950

works (selected)

Nonfantastic series and individual titles are omitted.




The Mucker



individual titles

  • The Land that Time Forgot (Chicago, Illinois: A and C McClurg and Co, 1924) [first appeared in parts: August 1918 as "The Land that Time Forgot", October 1918 as "The People that Time Forgot", and December 1918 as "Out of Time's Abyss", all Blue Book: hb/J Allen St John]
  • The Eternal Lover (Chicago, Illinois: A and C McClurg and Co, 1925) [fixup: stories first appeared 7 March 1941 as "The Eternal Lover" and 23 January-3 February 1915 as "Sweetheart Eternal", both All-Story Weekly: hb/J Allen St John]
  • The Cave Girl (Chicago, Illinois: A and C McClurg and Co, 1925) [first version July-September 1913 All-Story: hb/J Allen St John]
  • The Mad King (Chicago, Illinois: A and C McClurg and Co, 1926) [fixup: stories first 21 March 1914 as "The Mad King" and 7-21 August 1915 as "Barney Custer of Beatrice", both All-Story Weekly: hb/J Allen St John]
  • The Moon Maid (Chicago, Illinois: A and C McClurg and Co, 1926) [first appeared 5 May-2 June 1923 as "The Moon Maid", 21 February-14 March 1925 as "The Moon Men" and 5-19 September 1925 as "The Red Hawk", all Argosy All-Story Weekly: hb/J Allen St John]
    • The Moon Maid (New York: Ace Books, 1962) [reprinting the Argosy version of "The Moon Maid", which is longer than that printed in the 1926 book version, see above: pb/Roy G Krenkel]
    • The Moon Men (New York: Ace Books, 1962) [reprinting the Argosy versions of "The Moon Men" and "The Red Hawk", which are longer than those printed in the 1926 book version, see above: pb/Ed Emsh]
    • The Moon Men (New York: Canaveral Press, 1963) [vt of the above: note that this vt exactly reproduces the 1926 book version of The Moon Maid: hb/J Allen St John from first edition]
  • The Monster Men (Chicago, Illinois: A and C McClurg and Co, 1929) [first appeared November 1913 All-Story as "A Man Without a Soul": hb/J Allen St John]
  • Jungle Girl (Tarzana, California: Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1932) [first appeared May-September 1931 Blue Book as "The Land of Hidden Men": hb/Studley O Burroughs]
  • Beyond Thirty (Reading, Pennsylvania: Lloyd Arthur Eshbach privately, 1956) [chap: first appeared February 1916 All Around Magazine: published in the correct belief that the story was public domain, but without identifying marks: pb/nonpictorial]
    • The Lost Continent (New York: Ace Books, 1963) [vt of the above: pb/Frank Frazetta]
    • Beyond Thirty and the Man-Eater (South Ozone Park, New York: Science-Fiction and Fantasy Publications, 1957) [exp of the above as coll: with the addition of The Man-Eater (Reading, Pennsylvania: Lloyd Arthur Eshbach privately, 1956): pb/Gil Kane]
  • The Efficiency Expert (Kansas City, Missouri: House of Greystoke, 1966) [first appeared 8-29 October 1921 Argosy All-Story Weekly: pb/Frank Frazetta]
  • I Am a Barbarian (Tarzana, California: Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1967) [written 1941: hb/Jeff Jones]
  • Minidoka (Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse, 1998) [illus/hb/Michael W Kaluta]

collections and stories

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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