Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 1, 2018


The Outlaw of Torn by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1914; 1927)

Although not published in book form until 1927, The Outlaw of Torn was the second novel that Burroughs wrote, sandwiched between A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, and published as a five-part serial in New Story Magazine in 1914.

It shows.

Although Burroughs was never a polished writer, his imagination and his ability to propel a narrative made him one of the most popular writers of the twentieth century.  Even today the Burroughs estate is busy pushing new works based on ERB's classic characters.

The Outlaw of Torn is a historical romance taking place in 13th century England..  It plays havoc with facts and historic timelines, but that never stopped Burroughs from churning out an exciting story.  Prince Richard is the young son of King Henry III.  He is kidnapped by Jules De Vac, the greatest swordsman of his age and, despite being French and secretly hating all things English, a sycophant in Henry's court.  An argument with the king led to De Vac being banished from the kingdom.  Playing the long game for revenge, the swordsman uses the young prince as part of his terrible vengeance.

Disguised as a nameless old lady, De Vac raises Richard to hate the English and to view the destruction of Englishmen his only purpose.  The boy was taken at such a young age he no longer remembers who he was nor who his parents were.  Eventually the nameless old lady vanishes and, in her place, and old man whom the boy is taught to call father.  De Vac then teaches the boy swordsmanship and eventually he comes close to his master's skill.  All the time while under De Vac, the boy did not have a name.  As a young adult he finally gets a name when De Vac calls him Norman of Torn.

When Norman goes out into the world, he must wear a visored helmet so no one may see his face.  It turns out that he is a dead ringer for Prince Edward -- the brother he does not remember he had.  Norman soon gathers a group of outlaws around him, raiding English barons.  He becomes powerful and has over a thousand men in his gang.  Although he's a ruthless murderer, carving his initials on the foreheads of those he has killed, he cannot stray far from his noble side -- he helps the poor and respects women.  How nice.

Soon he meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman, the niece of the king -- making her a first cousin.  Royalty and inbreeding go hand in hand, it seems.  Love for a fair maiden turns him around and he becomes a good guy, his nobility shining through like a flashlight accidently left in the stomach cavity following surgery.

Meanwhile, he's still a wanted man.  Le Duc keeps giving Norman's location to the king's men.  Le Duc wants them to capture Norman and hang him.  Le Duc could then go to the king and say, "Lookie there, you just hanged your own son," and the swordsman's long plan for vengeance would be complete.

Of course it is a silly plot with many holes in it, but somehow Burroughs makes it readable.

Historians out there may carp because Henry III never had a son named Richard.  Burroughs explains right at the beginning that Richard's name has been deliberately erased from history, without saying why or how.  At the very end of the book, he says the same thing.  WTF?

This one is probably for Burroughs completists or for readers who are not very critical.


  1. I read OUTLAW OF TORN back in the 1960s when ACE was publishing ERB books month after month. As you point out, Burroughs' output was uneven.

  2. Of possible interest: