What I learned about writing (and reading and media in general) from Edgar Rice Burroughs

2012 incarnation of John Carter

I guess there’s a reason some stories keep being told. I just finished watching John Carter, based on a 1912 pulp novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and now for some reason I want to write a planet romance too. What’s wrong with me?

The movie wasn’t very original. The effects were good, but the story was something we’ve all heard before. John Carter, a hardened soldier without a cause, finds a woman, saves her, and spends the rest of the movie fighting for her. For almost two hours all I did was mock this movie. So why does it inspire me to write?

Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for creating the legendary Tarzan. What some people may not know was that Tarzan was created to succeed in multiple forms of media–paper, film, and whatever else the world might throw at him. He was a character ready to be made popular and to generate a lot of revenue. As you might have been able to guess by the twenty or so novels and multiple movie depcitions of Tarzan, Burroughs succeeded.

This makes me want to think less of Burroughs. Imagine writing a novel solely so that he could write sequels and make a lot of money. And John Carter was similar, being mass produced for the eager fans of pulp magazines. Where is Burroughs’s sense of honor to the artistic craft? Where is his integrity?

Burroughs's first novel featuring John Carter

But on the other hand, I have to applaud Burroughs for knowing what the readers want and then giving it to them. I’ve read Tarzan of the Apes, and yeah, it’s a really good novel. Completely implausible, but it captivated my imagination and my cheesy sense of romance. Even a hundred years after their publication, John Carter and Tarzan are characters that we can love and cherish and dream about. It’s amazing how timeless heroes really are.

I don’t know if Burroughs loved John Carter or just loved that other people loved John Carter, but fortunately I get the pleasure of a win-win situation. I love writing young adult fantasy, and it happens to be a very popular genre right now. I don’t think I’ll ever write something just to please my readers, but hopefully, I’ll never have to.

In the meantime, I’ll rest assured in the knowledge that if I get stuck I can always rehash Burroughs’ (and everybody else’s) old plot lines and readers will still love them.

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One Response to What I learned about writing (and reading and media in general) from Edgar Rice Burroughs

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