September the first is Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ birthday.
One of the great storytellers of the 20th century, Burroughs has left behind a corpus of narratives that are fun, entertaining, and much more sophisticated than those that never read them believe.
Like most kids in my generation I discovered Burroughs through the Tarzan movies, that were once the basic fare provided by the TV during the summer – and also, our parish cinema used to feature Tarzan in massive doses.
I discovered John Carter when I was in high school – and it caused a lot of raised eyebrows, not only from my teachers, but from my schoolmates too.
Stories set on Mars, written in the 1920s and 1930s?
Why don’t you read something more… realistic?
A few years more, and my Pellucidar or Venus paperbacks would be harshly criticized by friends that were “really into” cyberpunk.
More recently, poor ERB and his readers have been accused of almost everything, from violence to elephant poaching to rape, and a lot of friends frowned – once again – at my decision to re-read the Tarzan novels. As I said, a lot of people that never read Burroughs entertain a lot of weird ideas about his books.
Turns out it’s always been like that.
There’s two letters, that have been making the rounds on the web, and were repeatedly posted on Facebook in the last few days.
It all begins with a teenager – one Forrest J. Ackerman – writing a lettero to Burroughs about the very bad reaction his teacher had when ERB’s books were proposed as reading matter for high schoolers.
But Burroughs did bother to answer to Ackerman, and his short letter is a nice, heartfelt defense of narrative as entertainment.
Happy birthday, ERB!