Though scholars have long disparaged Edgar Rice Burroughs (BUR-ohz), he remained a popular writer into the twenty-first century, suggesting that critical reappraisals are overdue. Dozens of his novels remain in print, and numerous enthusiasts keep publishing meticulously researched books and articles about his fiction. His writing is not without flaws, including an occasionally halting prose style and overreliance on clichéd plot devices. However, he displays powerful virtues as a mythmaker, capable of creating memorable heroes and persuasive imaginary worlds. While the jungle hero Tarzan is his most famous character, Burroughs also produced celebrated science-fiction novels, Westerns, historical novels, and adventures set in contemporary times.
Burroughs was born in Chicago, the youngest son of businessman George Tyler Burroughs and Mary Evaline Burroughs. After a happy childhood in Chicago and a sojourn at an Idaho ranch, he briefly attended Andover before enrolling at Michigan Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1895. For the next seventeen years, Burroughs tried his hand at a bewildering variety of careers in various locales, briefly working as a teacher, soldier, policeman, shopkeeper, salesman, bookkeeper, and office manager. From these jobs, he gained familiarity with the vanishing American frontier, which he drew upon for his Westerns and adventure stories, as well as practical business experience that helped him become a profitable writer. In 1900 he married Emma Hulbert, with whom he had three children: Joan, Hulbert, and John.
His life changed dramatically in 1911, when reading fiction magazines inspired him to write a story of his own. The resulting novel, published in book form as A Princess of Mars, was so fanciful that he submitted it to a magazine under the pseudonym Normal Bean, so people would not think its author was crazy, but the magazine misread this as “Norman Bean.” The story proved successful and eventually inspired ten sequels describing Burroughs’s technologically advanced but decadent...
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