Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 23, 2017

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: TWO BY EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS

The Lad and the Lion (1917/1938) and The Man-Eater (1915/1955) by Edgar Rice Burroughs


Here are two standalone books with very similar themes by the popular Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Lad and the Lion first appeared as a three-part serial in All-Story beginning on June 30, 1917.  It was released in book form by Burroughs' own publishing house in 1939, and later by Canaveral Press and by Ballantine Books in 1964.  The copy I read is an Ace paperback printing from 1978 which states, "Twenty-one thousand words of new material added to book edition," which, I assume, refers to the original 1939 edition, although I'm to lazy to compare the editions to verify this.

The book follows a typical Burroughsian path, starting in a Graustarkian kingdom and stranding the protagonist in a merciless African climate to undergo both adventure and maturation.  Prince Michael is the young heir of an old European kingdom undergoing political turmoil.  The revolution comes and the king is assassinated, but a loyal retaining manages to get Michael aboard a crowded ship fleeing the violence.  Naturally the ship runs into a hurricane and is sunk.  A piece of the wreckage knocks Michael unconscious and he wakes up alone in the water, bobbing in his life jacket.  He manages to climb on a nearby lifeboat.  The blow to Michael's head has given him total amnesia -- not only can he not remember his past, every memory is gone including language and any knowledge of being a human.  Michael is a blank slate who existence started only when he climbed onto the lifeboat.

The story could have ended there for Michael except that a steamer passes by and rescues him.  The steamer has a crew of one, an insane man who had originally been a stowaway.  The only other living being on the ship is a huge caged lion.  The man forces Michael to be his slave.  Michael somehow befriends the lion.  This goes on for an incredible three years, until the man beats Michael just once too often and the lion escapes from his cage and kills the man who is beating his friend.  The ship is wrecked off the coast of Africa and the lad (who by now is a young man) and the lion begin a trek across the Sahara.

Whoever said that thing about the willing suspension of disbelief must have had Edgar Rice Burroughs in mind.

Meanwhile, off in Graustarkville (or wherever), political intrigue continues.  There is a new king and a new prince.  The prince, Ferdinand, is a complete little snot.  He has no one to play with and his tutor suggests that he play with Hilda and Hans, the gardener's children, as young Michael used to do.  Ferdinand want nothing to do with Hans, but Hilda is a very pretty little girl and Ferdinand is smitten.  their relationship blossoms into an imperious friendship and Hilda turns from a sweet and innocent girl to a venal turnip-brained fathead.  Ferdinand wants his father dead so he can be the king and do whatever he wants, so there!  It so happens that there's a cabal of plotters within the palace and there's an underground revolutionary movement.  Eventually Ferdinand gets his wish and becomes king.  He then extravagantly spends the country's capital on himself while his people suffer.

Back on the desert, Michael and the lion rescue the daughter of a sheik from a band of desert outlaws.  Remember, Michael has no memory.  He has never seen a girl, especially a beautiful one.  Feeling he can't understand begin to bubble up because of this creature with the strange things arising from her chest.  The girl gives Michael a name -- Aziz.  She begins to teach him Arabic.  Michael and the lion have been raiding the sheik's flock for food.  Now, on discovering the concepts of property and of right and wrong, he vows never to raid another man's livestock again.  The sheik is frightened of both Michael/Aziz and the lion.Michael is taken in by a French official who also has a beautiful daughter.  this girl teaches Michael/Aziz French.  This is followed by the usual romantic misunderstandings, angst, kidnapping, and rescue.

Meanwhile in Europe, characters are dying like flies as political machinations and murder rule the day.

True to Burroughs fashion, the author shifts chapters from one scene to another, from the Sahara with Michael and the lion to the European country with its political intrigue.  Burroughs usually has the two strands meet up near the conclusion of his books but in this case he doesn't until the very last paragraph.  And in the end we are left with a Rousseau-like vision that civilization is bad and back to nature is good.  Typical Burroughs.

I have to note that the stereotypical portrait or race in this book is deeply muted.  There are very few instances of words that might be offensive to the modern reader and much is made of the romance between a white European man and the sheik's daughter, often referred to as of another race.  Burroughs treats this relationship as he does that of John Carter and the zaftig (and oviparous) Martian princess Dejah Thoris -- nothing to be concerned about.

The Man-Eater is a different kettle of fish, abundantly laced with offensive descriptions of blacks (nigger, pickaninny, coon, and that just scratches the surface.  Stepin Fetchits abound in this short book.  I cringed when I read a description of banjos strumming on the steps of the servants cabins at a Virginia plantation.

The Man-Eater was first published almost two years earlier than The Lad and the Lion, asa six-art serial running in the New York Evening World from November 15 to 20, 1915.  It was first published in book form in an unauthorized edition of 300 copies by Lloyd Arthur Eshback in 1955.  It's first major book publication was with another short novel by Buirroughs in Beyond Thirty & The Man-Eater, published by Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications in 1957.  The Man-Eater has been republished several times since then by both Fantasy Press and EBRville Press and as an e-Book.  It is also available on-line.  There not been a mass market paperback edition.

A young baby and her mother are the only survivors of a native attack on their African home.  The woman's parents were slaughtered and her husband was killed trying to get help.  Her late husband's father, hearing of this tragedy, brought them to live with him on his Virginia estate.  Nineteen years later, the older man has died but his will, which left everything to the young girl, cannot be found.  A neer-do-well nephew appears and claims the estate is his because there is no proof that the girl's mother was ever married to the dead man's son.  The only marriage certificate was lost in the attack on their African home.

Luckily, there was one living witness to the marriage ceremony -- the husband's best friend.  Unluckily, that man died a few years ago.  The letter sent to him, pleading for his help, eventually reached his son, a rich and bored young man with a taste for adventure.  He immediately decides to travel to Africa to see if he can find the marriage certificate among the ruins of the family home.  Neer-do-well nephew, in the meantime, has the same idea and scurries of to Africa with two criminal buddies.

A woman is killed and carried off by a lion.  The natives dig a deep pit to capture the lion.  the lion falls in an is trapped.  Meanwhile, neer-do-well and his cronies shoot and kill the lion's mate.  Back at the pit, natives are about to kill the lion but our hero manages to come along and stop them because it's just not sporting to shoot him while he is trapped in the pit.  To make things more sporting, he tosses a log into the pit so the lion can climb out, but keeping his rifle handy in case the lion attacks him.  The lion hops out of the pit, our hero trips while reaching for his rifle, and the lion is on top of him.  The lion, sensing that this man has saved him, leaves him alone and goes off in search of his mate.  The lion (whose name, by the way, is Ben, King of Beasts -- Burroughs' working title) comes across the dead lioness and gets the scent of the three baddies.  Ben vows vengeance (or whatever lions do) against them.

Virginia (the young heiress, named after her father's home state) discovers our hero has gone to Africa and sets off after him to warns him about neer-do-well and his pals, who plan to murder him if he finds the marriage certificate or to murder him if he doesn't find it.  (they are non-discriminating thugs who just like to kill.)   Our hero has discovered a sealed envelope in the ruins and, presuming it to be the marriage certificate, he tucks it in his pocket unopened.  Then there are attacks and captures and cannibals and rescues.  Our hero, gaga-eyed over Virginia, forgets he has the envelope and travels with her back home.

Ben, meanwhile, has been captured, shipped to the States, and is sold to a circus.

Neer-do-well has also traveled to Virginia and is planing to attack the estate.  He doesn't count on a near-by circus train wreck that has freed Ben.  Ben catches neer-do-well's scent and goes a-hunting.  Neer-do-well manages to get the envelope from our hero and jumps out a window with Ben in hot pursuit.  A negro servant hides from Ben in a cupboard (and in an awkward Mantan Moreland fashion); when he finally released, a hidden compartment with another sealed envelope is discovered.  All's well that ends well, except for several people who end up as lion chow.

And so we come to the close of another episode of Coincidence Theater.

Few people can claim that Burroughs was a good writer and keep a straight face.  But Burroughs was an effective writer.  He keeps the balls juggling as he races the plot forward at a pell mell pace.  Somehow the reader becomes invested in his paper thin characters.  His stories are exciting and his occasional shots of humor help alleviate some of his obvious faults.  For some reason, reading an occasional Burroughs novel helps cleanse, rather than stain, my reading palate.

I  don't mind jingoism and I don't mind obvious racism in books of a certain age (because they are of a certain age, you see), but parts of The Man-Eater border on outright bigotry.  You'd be better off just sticking with The Lad and the Lion.

5 comments:

  1. Wow. And a newspaper serial to boot. But would you recommend THE LAD AND THE LION ahead of the more famous books for those just trying ERB for the first time?

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