Authors: Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

A Princess of Mars, 1912 (serial, as Under the Moons of Mars), 1917 (book)

Tarzan of the Apes, 1912 (serial), 1914 (book)

The Gods of Mars, 1913 (serial), 1918 (book)

The Return of Tarzan, 1913 (serial), 1915 (book)

The Warlord of Mars, 1913-1914 (serial), 1919 (book)

At the Earth’s Core, 1914 (serial), 1922 (book)

The Beasts of Tarzan, 1914 (serial), 1916 (book)

The Outlaw of Torn, 1914 (serial), 1927 (book)

The Son of Tarzan, 1914 (serial), 1917 (book)

Pellucidar, 1915 (serial), 1923 (book)

Thuvia, Maid of Mars, 1916 (serial), 1920 (book)

The Land That Time Forgot, 1924

The Cave Girl, 1925

The Moon Maid, 1926

Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, 1929-1930 (serial), 1930 (book)

Pirates of Venus, 1932 (serial),1934 (book)

Lost on Venus, 1933 (serial), 1935 (book)

Carson of Venus, 1938 (serial), 1939 (book)

Llana of Gathol, 1948

I Am a Barbarian, 1967

Short Fiction:

Jungle Tales of Tarzan, 1919


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.{$I[A]Burroughs, Edgar Rice}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Burroughs, Edgar Rice}{$I[tim]1875;Burroughs, Edgar Rice}

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 Mars, named Barsoom. Although he also wrote a historical novel called The Outlaw of Torn, Burroughs struck gold with Tarzan of the Apes. This saga of an abandoned child raised by African apes was immediately popular with magazine readers, prompting Burroughs quickly to produce the first of twenty-three Tarzan sequels and allowing him to break into book publication.

Burroughs brought a fresh perspective and new ideas to the profession of fiction writing. Recognizing the value of his works, he fought to garner the most favorable deal for each story. Intrigued by the new medium of motion pictures, he drafted his own scenarios before letting a producer make the first Tarzan movie in 1918. Later, having lost control over cinematic depictions of Tarzan and displeased to see his civilized hero portrayed as an inarticulate simpleton, Burroughs produced two Tarzan films of his own. He also profited by licensing a Tarzan comic strip, a Tarzan radio program, Tarzan children’s books, and other Tarzan merchandise. Most important, Burroughs in 1923 took the unprecedented step of incorporating himself as a writer; he founded Edgar Rice Burroughs, Incorporated, appointed family members as its board of directors, and made himself a salaried employee of the company. Initially advantageous for tax purposes, this company evolved into a powerful force, publishing his later novels and enduring after his death as an energetic guardian of his legacy.

In 1919 Burroughs relocated to California and purchased a ranch near Los Angeles that became the centerpiece of a new city, appropriately named Tarzana. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, he wrote more Tarzan and Mars novels, while launching two other series. At the Earth’s Core introduced readers to exciting adventures in the earth’s hollow interior, named Pellucidar, while Pirates of Venus transported them to the exotic forests of Venus or Amtor. Burroughs also published hardcover editions of his greatest nonseries novels, the evolutionary fantasy The Land That Time Forgot and the saga of a lunar civilization that conquers humanity, The Moon Maid.

Burroughs’s personal life, however, was troubled. He no longer loved Emma, who was drifting into alcoholism, and developed a platonic relationship with a friend’s wife, Florence Dearholt. After Dearholt was divorced in 1934, Burroughs left Emma and instigated divorce proceedings. A year later, he married Dearholt, but this second marriage also ended in divorce, partly because of Burroughs’s own increased drinking.

By the late 1930’s, Burroughs seemed to be losing his touch, as several new stories were rejected by magazines. Bad business decisions also led to financial difficulties. To save money, he and Florence moved to Hawaii in 1940, where he remained after she returned to California and divorced him in 1941. Later that year, Burroughs witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which began while he and his son were playing tennis. During World War II, Burroughs was certified as the nation’s oldest war correspondent. He traveled across the Pacific, reporting on the war, and wrote for a Honolulu newspaper. In 1945, suffering from heart disease, he returned to California and spent his final years in poor health before dying in 1950. Sadly, he did not live to witness the remarkable resurgence of interest in his work that began in the 1960’s and has since continued.

BibliographyBrady, Clark A. The Burroughs Cyclopedia. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1996. Offers alphabetized entries providing detailed information about Burroughs’s fictional worlds.Fenton, Robert W. The Big Swingers. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. This is a breezy, informal introduction to the life and work of Burroughs with special attention paid to Tarzan. It is as much concerned with the motion pictures as the books. Includes numerous illustrations.Holtsmark, Erling B. Edgar Rice Burroughs. Boston: Twayne, 1986. An overview of Burroughs’s fiction, with short biography and overall assessment.Holtsmark, Erling B. Tarzan and Tradition: Classical Myth in Popular Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981. Explores the language, techniques, and themes of Burroughs’s Tarzan novels.Porges, Irwin. Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975. A massive, comprehensive biography, based upon years of research involving Burroughs’s extensive manuscripts and correspondence.Taliaferro, John. Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Man Who Created Tarzan. New York: Scribner’s, 1999. A brief, accessible Burroughs biography.Zeuschner, Robert B. Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Exhaustive Scholar’s and Collector’s Descriptive Bibliography. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1996. A thorough Burroughs bibliography, listing all American editions of his works through 1996.
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