Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, February 10, 2017


The Wizard of Venus and Pirate Blood by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1970, 1979)

First published in 1970 by Ace Books under the title The Wizard of Venus and then in 1979 under the current title, this book contains two posthumous works found in Edgar Rice Burroughs' papers.  The Wizard of Venus was first published in the collection Tales of Three Planets in 1964 along with two (three?) other tales by Burroughs.  The book contained the two-part Beyond the Farthest Star (Part 1 from Blue Book, January 1942, and Part 2, "Tangor Returns," was an unpublished piece found after Burroughs' death), "The Resurrection of Jimber-Jaw," a previously unreprinted story from Argosy, February 20, 1937, and The Wizard of Venus.  Pirate Blood is original to this book and evidently has not been reprinted (at least, not according to ISFDb) outside of the ten editions of this book book from 1970 to 1991.

The Wizard of Venus is the final adventure of Carson Napier, the "Wrong-Way Corrigan" who ended up on Venus (or Amtor, as the natives called their planet) instead of Mars and stayed for four books (the last being a fix-up of four novelettes) before he ended up with Duare, the beautiful daughter of the emperor, with the couple looking forward to a lifetime of peace and content.  This was not to happen immediately, though.  Napier and his Venusian friend Ero had designed a flying machine (called an anotar) and the two decided to take it on a three day cross-country test flight, while using the opportunity to map some uncharted parts of the planet.  The two found themselves in a cloud covered area where, for unknown reasons, their compasses refused to work.  They decided to land and wait for the clouds to disperse before returning home, which they calculated to be some ten thousand miles away.  They land and are taken to the castle of a local Togan (similar to a Baron), where they are feared to be wizards.  One of the neighboring Togans is a powerful wizard who exerts his powers over the area by turning people, Circe-like, into zaldars, animals used for food.  The Togan's beautiful (of Course) daughter is one such victim.

All this, of course is bunkum.  The wizard turns out to be an old man who knows a few sleight of hand tricks but does have great hypnotic powers with which he convinces people they are zaldars.   By this means, his neighbors are convinced that any zaldar might be a relative so they refuse to eat them, leaving a huge supply of zaldar's for the wizard's table.  (Of course, the wizard's people, thinking the prisoners in their dungeons are also zaldars, often dine on the hapless prisoners.)  Carson Napier had learned some mind control tricks from an East Indian mystic while he was on earth, but had previously seldom used these powers during his previous adventures.  He now uses these powers -- and eventually -- good wins out.

The Wizard of Venus is unlike any other adventure Carson has had.  There's very little action.  The improbable plot is told with wit and unassuming charm.  I don't know if Burroughs ever planned to publish the story during his lifetime, but it reads like a doodle he wrote for his private amusement.  I really enjoyed this piece of nonsense.

As Donald A. Wollheim notes in his brief introduction, Pirate Blood reads like a first draft.  Johnny Lafitte is a young Californian, the son of a poor cobbler.  His best friend is Frank Adams, descendant of two presidents and born with the proverbial silver spoon.  They both love the beauteous Daisy Jukes, who only has eyes for Frank.  The discovery of oil in their town has made all of their gang except Johnny very wealthy and Johnny begins to distance himself from his friends.  Johnny eventually graduates from law school but fails the bar exam.  Proudly (and stupidly) refuses to try again and accepts a position as a motorcycle cop.  One of Johnny's childhood friends is accused of embezzling a million dollars from the local bank and Johnny is tasked with arresting him.  The friend, Billy Perry, had been building a dirigible to use for his escape with the loot.  Johnny arrives just in time to board the vessel to arrest Perry but Perry manages to launch the ship before Johnny can stop him.  Johnny has no idea how to steer or land the dirigible so he is at Perry's mercy.  Perry sets course for the East Indies and neither Johnny nor member of law enforcement can stop him.  After a days it becomes obvious that the dirigible is losing air; the cold nights condense the air and continues to lower the vessel.  Johnny and Perry manage to stay aloft by jettisoning various things.  As the days pass and they limp along, Perry goes mad and attacks Johnny.  Eventually the maddened man leaps off the ship into the ocean.  Alone, Johnny continues to cannibalize the ship.  Eventually, just when there is nothing left to throw overboard and the dirigible seems doomed to crash into the ocean, Johnny spots an island.  Rather than go down with the ship, Johnny parachutes to the island, landing on a beach where two cut-throat gangs are battling.  When one of the men, evidently on the invading side, attacks Johnny, Johnny shoots him.  Eventually the attack is repulsed and the defenders of the island take Johnny to their leader, a dreaded pirate known as the Vulture.

Johnny Lafitte happens to be a descendant of Jean Lafitte, the famous pirate, and his pirate genes awaken within him.  Johnny eventually becomes second in command to the pirate gang and cuts a bloody swarth throughout the East Indies and surreptitiously falls for the Vulture's mistress. .  Eventually he falls in disfavor with the Vulture and allies himself with the Vulture's even more untrustworthy enemy the Portuguese.  In true Burroughs fashion, Johnny also runs into Daisy Jukes, the woman he has always loved.

In first draft fashion, the bones of an fairly good adventure novel are here but Burroughs never returned to the story to smooth it out.  There are a lot of threads left hanging, characters and plot need some fleshing out, and the story's denouement -- which takes up only the final two paragraphs -- definitely needs work.   Nonetheless, Pirate Blood is highly readable, unpolished Burroughs.

Unpolished Burroughs?  I had never before thought of Burroughs as a particularly polished writer and maybe I should.


  1. I have both of these ERB books, but of course I haven't read them yet. After reading your fine review, I want to drop everything and read them!

  2. Sure were a lot of manuscripts in ERB's safe to be found after he died.