Edgar Rice Burroughs: Books & Biography

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You might be familiar with John Carter, or certainly with Tarzan, but how much do you know about the pencil sharpener salesman who brought them to life? Learn about Edgar Rice Burroughs, including his books and many odd jobs, in this lesson on his adventure-filled life and work!

The Adventure Capitalist: Edgar Rice Burroughs

While some of us have known what we wanted to be when we grew up for quite some time, others have a much harder time with that decision. Although we might know him as the author of some of the most enduring adventure novels of the early 20th century, Edgar Rice Burroughs was indecisive and uncertain about what he wanted to do in life, before he discovered how to capitalize on America's thirst for adventure and need for escape.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), prolific American novelist
Photo of Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar was born on September 1, 1875 in Chicago to Mary and George Tyler Burroughs, an army major and veteran of the Civil War. To avoid disease outbreaks, such as influenza, Edgar moved from school to school, and even spent some time on his elder brothers' ranch in Idaho. Displeased with the effect ranch life was having on Edgar, George Burroughs found yet another school he thought more suitable for his wayward son: the Michigan Military Academy.

After his graduation from the Academy in 1895, Edgar accepted a teaching post there for a short time before he signed up for active duty in the Arizona Territory. He was discharged in 1897 after being diagnosed with a heart murmur and returned to his brothers' ranch. In 1899, he went to work with his father in Chicago and a year later married Emma Hulbert, the mother of his three children and whom he divorced in 1934. While Edgar and Emma were married, the little family experienced many cash-strapped hardships as Edgar moved them around the country, trying desperately to find something to do with his life.

From looking for gold in Idaho to serving as a railroad policeman in Utah, Edgar held just about any odd job you could imagine. As a pencil sharpener salesman, he finally discovered something that he really wanted to do. Supposedly, while checking ads placed in one of the era's many popular pulp magazines, low-cost literary publications that typically featured short stories or excerpts from novels, Burroughs decided to write a story that he was sure would be better than what he found in the magazines. He submitted his short story 'Dejah Thoris, Martian Princess' to All-Story magazine in 1911, and from that point on, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a smashing success in the realm of literary escapism.

By the time Edgar passed away on March 19, 1950, he'd brought life to well over 60 adventure novels. During the 40 years he spent as a writer, he also experienced a second marriage and divorce, established his own publishing company and even started war reporting at the age of 66. Many of his daring and fantastic tales influenced his reading public over the years, so much so that prior to his death, the town where he was laid to rest place was named Tarzana, CA.

Books by Burroughs

A Princess of Mars

Have you ever seen the Disney movie John Carter, starring Taylor Kitsch in the title role? If so, you've seen the film adaptation of Burroughs' first novel, A Princess of Mars! Originally submitted as the story 'Dejah Thoris, Martian Princess,' this sci-fi adventure follows Civil War veteran Carter as he travels to Mars. There, he encounters strange new creatures and conflicts, as well as a budding new love interest, a common theme found in pulp magazine space fantasies, such as Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

The novel was serialized under the title 'Under the Moons of Mars' from February to July 1912 and was published as a complete book in 1917. It would be the first of twelve novels in Burroughs 'Barsoom Series', his alternate name for Mars, which followed Carter's exploits on the Red Planet.

Tarzan of the Apes

Even if you've never even heard of John Carter, you're probably at least familiar with the Disney version of Tarzan or one of the countless other films featuring Burroughs' most iconic character. Tarzan of the Apes was Edgar's third novel and the first to feature the famous King of the Jungle. Based on the success All-Story had with his 'Under the Moons of Mars,' this novel was never actually serialized. Instead, the editor decided to run Tarzan of the Apes in its entirety in the October 1912 issue.

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