Setting the Record Straight: An Interview of a Burroughs Expert
thought I’d offer you a break from my own semi-literate ramblings and speculations to offer the words of Bill Hillman, the official webmaster and more of Edgar Rice Burroughs information. After my comment about the film version of Tarzan’s “Me Tarzan. You Jane,” Bill stepped forward to set the record straight, as he has done on his official Burroughs websites.
I asked Bill to talk about his experiences with Burroughs’ works, and he demonstrates his fan status and authority with the balance achieved only by a Canadian. Or maybe his professorship is to blame for the lack of Jerry Springer moments. I assume most of us will be glad of that reprieve, but there’s fun for sure and many "u"’s in unusual places.
The following are the questions that leapt to mind while I perused the Burroughs section in our new science fiction catalogue. The rest consists of his answers, pure and unabridged, (which means you have to click a link to read on. Tragedy.)
1. How did you first encounter Burroughs’ works?
As a kid growing up in the ’50s I was surrounded by ERB’s Tarzan: the Tarzan Sunday page appeared for many years on the front page of the Toronto Star Weekly comics section ~ Radio shows (". . . and now in the very words of Mr. Burroughs. . .") ~ Dell comic books ~ Big Little Books ~ Lex Barker Tarzan films ~ toys, etc. At age 10 I even built a Tarzan tree house – with my father’s hunting knife 🙂
The first ERB novel I read was The Chessmen of Mars. The first Tarzan book was The Return of Tarzan.
2. Which character or book is your favorite?
My favourite "character" has to be Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. His
life was as fascinating as any of the characters he wrote about. As for
his fictional characters, I have no favourite — just as I have no
"favourite" among our own three kids. Each one is unique — love ’em
3. Do you believe Burroughs’ works are dated? If no, why? If yes, how so?
A yes and no answer.
Yes, many are written in a somewhat colourful Victorian style which
is quite different from the writing styles that have evolved 100 years
later in our 21st century. . . and perhaps some of his inventions and
the conventions of his storytelling and plots may seem dated to some .
. . BUT these elements form much of the appeal of the ERB books.
Burroughs is a remarkable storyteller and his formal writing style
seems to lend an air of believability to the stories. He wrote for the
adults of his day and when I first read the books my first thought was,
"Wow! This ain’t kids stuff." If some of his themes appear dated, it is
because he did so much of this FIRST, to be followed by hundreds of SF
and adventure writers who picked up on his imaginative ideas and
conventions. ERB’s moral themes of good over evil are timeless. The
world now, more than ever, needs heroes to look up to . . . and
books got ’em.
4. When did people like you begin taking Burroughs seriously, as more than fans?
Although ERB wrote primarily for escapism, it is hard to not take
him and his accomplishments seriously: One of the most-read and
best-selling authors in the world — from 1911 to present day. An
author who has influenced all entertainment media and accomplished so
many "firsts" across that spectrum — self-incorporation, movies
(silent, serials, animated features, etc.), adventure strips and comic
books, newspaper/pulp magazine serials, world-wide book sales in scores
of languages, radio serials in ET syndication, TV, computer gaming,
Internet, merchandising, tie-in promotions with advertising, stage
plays, ice shows. . . the list is endless, and I haven’t even touched
on his personal accomplishments beyond his role as a businessman/author.
5. Would you define Burroughs as a science fiction, a fantasy, or an adventure author? Or does it depend on the book in question?
He dun it all 🙂 — very often all three elements in one book . . . yup.
6. I’ve heard of conventions on Burroughs. Do you attend?
There are two major ERB conventions each year: ECOF (Edgar Rice
Burroughs Chain of Friendship) and the major one hosted by the
Burroughs Bibliophiles, the Dum-Dum (a ritual gathering of the great
apes described in ERB’s Tarzan novels).
I attend as many as possible — sometimes the time scheduling
conflicts my "real world" role of university professor — or distance
makes attendance difficult. The events are held in different locations
each year, all across the US, Canada and even England. We are hoping
that there will be future gatherings in Holland and Germany as Disney
has plans to open their Tarzan stage musical currently running on
Broadway over in Europe next year.
7. Is there any controversy over Burroughs like there is over the authenticity of Jules Verne’s works after his son "edited" them?
The exceptions are a few "PC" changes done by paperback publishers
and the occasional "abridged" editions done for children. The greatest
liberties taken with ERB’s works have been in film where Tarzan, the
English Lord, is sometimes betrayed as a semi-literate oaf and many of
the plots are tired and repetitious — "Me Tarzan – You Jane." I would
hope that Nebraska Press is conscientiously looking for unbowdlerized
texts for all future reprints.
8. What book would you recommend to a newcomer to Burroughs’ works?
A good starting point would be ERB’s third novel, the first Tarzan
book: Tarzan of the Apes — followed by his first creation, the John
Carter Trilogy: (A Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars, Warlord of Mars).
That otta get ya hooked. . . then it’s on to the earth’s core, Venus,
lost civilizations, the wild west, and lands forgotten by time.
9. Even in The Moon Maid, on a failed attempt to meet Martian men, the explorers end up inside the Moon in a lush paradise. Why the obsession with the mysterious tropics?
Exotic lands. There isn’t much room for plot development on the
airless, barren Moon surface. ERB’s locales, however, included every
imaginable landscape/seascape under the sun (and under the earth, and
10. Finally, the shameless plug. What do you think if the University of Nebraska Press editions? Do you have a recommendation for expanding the already considerable list?
Of course we are very excited about these editions from such a prestigious university publishing house. They are bringing ERB’s classic timeless works to a whole new audience and new levels of acceptance and recognition. The addition of forewards/afterwords/glossaries, etc. by contemporary
authors and fans is a great addition — as is the inclusion of fresh new artwork by new artists, which builds on the great art tradition of the original artists: Schoonover, J. Allen St. John, John Coleman Burroughs, Hogarth, Krenkel, Frazetta, et al. And I know that there are many more releases in the works as I’ve had the pleasure of providing scans for some of these future projects. We are very grateful for the respect and obvious understanding of material that has been shown by the editors. The online feedback generated by blogs such as this should provide some idea of the titles that ERB fans, old and new, would like to see for future releases.
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS, INC. ON THE WEB
Bill is Webmaster and Editor for all the Websites authorized by
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. of Tarzana, California. These Websites
contain well over 5,000 Webpages and feature a comprehensive
documentation ERB’s life and works: ERB and Burroughs Family bios ~
illustrated bibliographies and encyclopedias for the original pulp
magazines, comics, novels, artists, newspaper articles, film, radio,
TV, etc. ~ e-Texts ~ fan fiction ~ countless analytical articles ~ fan
profiles ~ links to other ERB Websites, ListServs, etc. Also associated
with these sites are very large (and free) weekly & monthly
Webzines, along with an ERB News blog.
Thanks to Bill Hillman of www.HillmanWeb.com, Editor and Webmaster for the Official Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Group of Websites and Webzines: www.Tarzan.com, www.Tarzan.org, www.JohnColemanBurroughs.com, www.ERBzine.com, also, www.BurroughsBibliophiles.com
Thanks again to Bill and all who read our blog. We’re officially off
the ground now. While I myself will leave for Canada soon, you’ll be
hearing more from me in the days to come. (Books travel really well.
Still more convenient than laptops for airplane entertainment.)
If you’d like to weigh in, drop a comment in the box and perhaps
you’ll be my next interviewee. While not required, proof of expert
status should come, preferably, from an institution more prestigious
than “Cracker Jack” brand decoder rings.