Monday, April 26, 2021

A Season of Discovery and Beginning

Tellers of Weird Tales turned ten years old last week. I first wrote on April 22, 2011. My first entry was on C.L. Moore (1911-1987), who grew up in the same neighborhood in Indianapolis in which I grew up, though half a century before. Being from Indiana and having the pride of a Hoosier in me, I took a special interest in her. In the year before beginning this blog, I began writing an article about her. That article was finally published in the summer of 2019 in Traces, the magazine of the Indiana Historical Society. Its working title was "The Weird and Wondrous Fiction of C.L. Moore." It went to print as "Amazing Tales: The Weird and Wondrous Fiction of C.L. Moore." It's because of my research and writing on C.L. Moore, too, that I have a place on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb), but that's for a different article I wrote, published by Paco Arrelano. I'm not a member of the ISFDb, so I'm not sure that I can add to it. I hope someone will add my article from Traces on my behalf. I would also like to hear from Señor Arrelano in hopes that I can get a copy of his magazine Delirio in which my article appeared.

Although C.L. Moore was the subject of my first entry on this blog, she wasn't the reason for my starting it. The impetus actually came while I was reading Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies, edited by Marvin Kaye (1988). Included in that book is the first Damp Man story by Allison V. Harding. Mr. Kaye's introduction to "The Damp Man" is brief, for at the time almost nothing was known about the pseudonymous Harding. But here in front of me was a mystery, one I was determined to solve. I began on April 26, 2011, ten years ago today. I solved the mystery less than a month later, on May 24, 2011, with my entry entitled "Who Was Allison V. Harding?"

The answer to that question was and is Jean Milligan (1919-2004), wife of the former associate editor and art editor of Weird Tales magazine, Lamont Buchanan (1919-2015). And now I see that I have to update my entry on the late Mr. Buchanan. Anyway, I have to admit that I was a little hard on Marvin Kaye for the part he played in the Weird Tales debacle of a few years back, but I also have to thank him for the part he unknowingly played in getting this blog off the ground. I have to reassert, too, that I am the person who discovered the identity of Allison V. Harding and Jean Milligan. No one else did that, and no one else should be taking credit for the discovery or pretending like it's something that just fell out of the sky. (This where the passive voice, mostly a scourge, comes in handy. In using it, you don't have to say that somebody did something, only that something happened, no doer necessary.) Anyway, I did it. I discovered the identity of Allison V. Harding. It's my work. I expect to be cited for it. And I have this to say to people who like to glom on to the work of others: if you want to be known for your work, then do your work. Get up and do it and don't thieve it from others. And once you have done it, publish it, however you can. Get it out there into the world.

* * *

There has been some controversy recently about Allison V. Harding and Jean Milligan. I might have been a little responsible for that, too, by suggesting that Lamont Buchanan was actually the writer behind the pseudonym. The controversy comes from the idea that we're all trying to take something away from women writers, that somehow we're anti-woman and that we want to erase them and silence them. That isn't my idea at all. In fact, it's closer to the opposite. (Should I point out here that the first three authors and five out of the first ten about whom I wrote on this blog were women?)

My idea that Lamont Buchanan was Allison V. Harding came to me as I was reading the last Damp Man story, "The Damp Man Again," from Weird Tales, May 1949. As I was reading, it occurred to me that this was not the work of a woman, for no woman would write about another woman in this way. Only a man--a bitter and angry man at that--could write about women with this kind of cruelty, mean-spiritedness, and misogyny, writing that has in it even intimations of psychopathy and a desire to hurt and punish women. Feminists might object to my suggestion or belief that Lamont Buchanan was Allison V. Harding, but they should first read "The Damp Man Again"--"Take the Z-Train," too--and see what they think afterwards. It's worth noting here that Lamont Buchanan was still a single man in 1949 when "The Damp Man Again" was published. He and Jean Milligan were not married until 1952, in The Bronx, where they went on to live out their lives together. By the way, there is a Harding Avenue in The Bronx. If we play a word game, then Harding Avenue can become Harding Ave. can become Harding, A.V., can become A.V. Harding . . . you get where I'm going.

* * *

There has been another recent controversy when it comes to Allison V. Harding. I wasn't the first person to have made a connection between Lamont Buchanan and J.D. Salinger (1919-2010) and Salinger's character Holden Caulfield, but I think I was the first to get it out into the world of science fiction and fantasy fandom and scholarship. I don't really believe that J.D. Salinger was Allison V. Harding, and I doubt that Buchanan and Salinger, who may have been friends in their college years, collaborated or talked to each other about writing as late as 1947 or 1949 or 1950. But you never know. There seems to be a hole in the scholarship on J.D. Salinger that hasn't been filled yet. I still want to say to all of the bored academics of this world, "Get up and get busy and forget about all of that woke BS that seemingly occupies everybody in your formerly respectable fields!" That's a little long and not very pithy for an exhortation, but you get the idea. In the meantime, the only people who seem to be interested in the idea that Buchanan was the model for Caulfield are those vying for or writing about Buchanan's estate. Money has its ways.

* * *

I have never counted the number of authors who contributed to Weird Tales. Years ago I estimated it at about 700. I had thought that by now I would be about finished with them. But in writing this blog I have gotten on to things other than biography. Biography and the discovery of lives and identities is fun, but so are other things. In any case, I'm planning to get back to some biographies soon. First I have to finish my current series, which is going on about as long as Burroughs' Mars series. I didn't want this anniversary to go by unobserved, though, and so I will let you know that Tellers of Weird Tales is ten years old in this season of discovery and beginning. I plan to continue writing, even after I go over the 1,000,000-visits mark sometime this summer, even after I have covered all of the magazine's writers and artists.

Ten years is a long time. As one of my entomology professors would say, "Time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana."

C.L. Moore at her desk at the bank in Indianapolis, another discovery I have made, and maybe the only photograph of her at work. I presume that the typewriter in front of her is a Royal typewriter and the one that she used in composing her stories. The name of her Venerian character Yarol is an anagram of that brandname. From the Indianapolis Times, May 22, 1939.

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part Ten

Utopia: Ideal & Idyllic

In the 'teens and 'twenties, Edgar Rice Burroughs busied himself with writing and seemingly every future author of science fiction stories read and loved his Mars books. In addition, seemingly everyone then writing science fiction emulated Burroughs and his creations. I will write more on that topic in a future part of this seemingly interminable series. Maybe for now we can take all of this as a given: Burroughs wrote what we can now call science fiction in its then-contemporary form, and his Mars books became the model for the planetary or interplanetary romance, a sub-genre of the not-yet properly named whole genre of science fiction. (If science fiction is in fact a proper name for it now.)

* * *

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has so many interesting things to say, including these two:

The lost-race story [what I have been calling Lost Worlds] is obviously an opportunity for the setting up of imaginary Utopias [q.v.] and Dystopias [q.v.] [. . .]. (p. 736)

It has been suggested, too, that such stories allow exercises in imaginary cultural anthropology [. . .]. (p. 736)

Then the encyclopedists take it back--the way I took things back last time I wrote--pointing out that Lost World utopias and dystopias "are not as common as might be expected" and that in actuality most Lost Worlds stories "are quite straightforward romantic adventures." (p. 736) That seems right to me. I think of Utopia as a progressive or forward-looking genre in which plot and action are secondary to more satiric, intellectual, or high-literary purposes, all fit for publication in a fine hardbound edition and suited for academic or scholarly study. In contrast, the Lost Worlds/science fantasy-type story seems to me more conservative, romantic, and adventurous, essentially a pulp genre meant for popular consumption. Its aims seem simpler. They would appear non-intellectual and even anti-intellectual: Nobody ever accused Edgar Rice Burroughs of being an intellectual, but in our hyper-intellectualized age (which began, I think, in the 1960s and '70s), Burroughs has become a subject for the same kind of academic or scholarly study previously reserved for more literary works. (1)

* * *

The science fiction encyclopedists also write that, in regards to the Lost Worlds genre,

there is more and better cultural anthropology in offworld stories of planetary exploration and colonization of other worlds [q.v.] (mostly postwar), subgenres that largely superseded the lost-race story, than there are in lost-race stories set on earth. [Emphasis added.] (p. 736)

A lot of science fiction history is packed into that little phrase, "subgenres that largely superseded the lost-race story," for it implies that a big part of science fiction came out of the Lost Worlds/science fantasy tradition established by H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. That seems right to me, too. If it involves other planets--worlds lost and newly discovered--explorations and odysseys--mysteries and journeys through and in time and space--then it seems likely to have come down to us from the science-fantasy adventures of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (The dystopian and apocalyptic strain of science fiction would appear to have had different origins. That's another topic still to come in this series.) Burroughs in particular seems to have been an originator of the science-fictional (and utopian) hero, which might have been a new type when he wrote but was based on a far older one, as old as the heroes of ancient Greece. More on that soon, too.

* * *

Here is the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction on Utopias:

It can be argued that all utopias are sf, in that they are exercises in hypothetical sociology [q.v.] and political science. Alternatively, it might be argued that only those utopias which embody some notion of scientific advancement qualify as sf--the latter view is in keeping with most definitions of sf [q.v.]. Frank Manuel, in Utopias and Utopian Thought (anth 1966), argues that a significant shift in utopian thought took place when writers changed from talking about a better place (eutopia) to talking about a better time (euchronia), under the influence of notions of historical and social progress. When this happened, utopias ceased to be imaginary constructions with which contemporary society might be compared, and began to be speculative statements about real future possibilities. It seems sensible to regard this as the point at which utopian literature acquired a character conceptually similar to that of sf. (p. 1260)

That's a long quote, almost long enough for its own blog entry, but it gets to a point, which is that categories seemingly fail and definitions lose their precision as time goes by. Utopia by Thomas More, from 1516, is a Utopia. But is Burroughs' Barsoom, first in print in 1912, also a Utopia? An even larger question: Is science fiction of the twentieth century essentially utopian? Or, can we turn it all around and argue that all Utopias are science fiction, as the encyclopedists suggest in their use of the very passive voice? Maybe Charles Fort's concept of continuity in all things applies: science fantasy, planetary and interplanetary romance, and science fiction as a whole are pulp versions of the damned: "By the damned, I mean the excluded," Fort wrote in 1919, shortly after John Carter projected himself to another planet. And that's how I think of the pulp genres: for decades they were excluded, beneath consideration, beneath contempt, not a part of polite society or worthy of academic study, discontinuous with accepted literature. People might have called pulp magazines rags, but in one sense they weren't rags at all, for rag paper is for finely made books and meant to last. Pulps were for the moment, to be read and discarded, to be found again in the trash or on the train, like Jessica Soames' copy of True Story. Printed on acid paper, they were cheap, designed for decay, meant not to last at all. But in them--perhaps now more than then--are lost and decaying worlds and races, all ready for rediscovery, like Haggard's lost valley of Kukuanaland or Burroughs' decaying world of Barsoom. But the pulp genres did and still do lie along a continuum, or more accurately exist in a medium in which all touch and intermingle with all, in which all boundaries are lost. Lost Worlds are Utopia is science fiction is speculative fiction is literary fiction and so on and on . . .

* * * 

It seems to me that in his Lost Worlds stories, of which the Mars books are just one iteration, Burroughs didn't actually write utopian fiction. I think that the definition of Utopia is--like Jabba the Hutt--too broad and flabby. I think that, properly speaking, a utopian story is one concerning a perfect or idealized society. (2) A mere fantasy--even in the form of a Lost Worlds story or some exploration of cultural anthropology--isn't really utopian, for if it is, then all of high fantasy and about half of science fiction is subsumed into Utopia (instead of the other way around). If a word can mean anything, then doesn't it really mean nothing at all? Anyway, in writing their stories of Lost Worlds and cultural explorations, these authors seem pretty clearly not to have had utopian aims. I don't think we should put those aims on them. Instead, I think we should keep our definitions narrow and admit that there are far fewer utopian stories than what some theorists would have us believe. Nonetheless, Utopia seems to have passed into science fiction by way of Lost Worlds and science fantasy . . .

To be continued . . . 

Notes

(1) Witness "Utopia in the Pulps: The Apocalyptic Pastoralism of Edgar Rice Burroughs" by Michael Orth in Extrapolation, Vol. 27, No. 3, 1986.

(2) It's worth noting here that ideal and idyll are from the same root, meaning "form" or "appearance," more remotely "to know" or "to see." So, Utopia = ideal society, and Lost Worlds ≈ idyllic society.

European languages make a distinction we don't make very well in American English: to us, all book-length works of fiction are called novels. I like the European way: novels are realistic, while romances are fanciful. Here's another linguistic twist: in German, science fiction and utopian stories are tied to each other in the use of the words utopische, utopischen, utopischer, and so on. (I know nothing about the German language, only the words that I see in this place or that.) Here is an example, the cover of Insula by Paul Eugen Sieg (1899-1950), subtitled "Utopischer Roman," presumably "utopian romance," or maybe, loosely, "science fiction novel." Published in 1953, Insula is about a secret volcanic island--a kind of Lost World--inhabited by a scientist living in a secret city, like Captain Nemo or Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Sieg had previously written other science fiction novels, including Detatom (1936), at the core of which is a journey to Mars and the discovery of "remnants of a technically superior high culture."

The German firm Pabel published hundreds of entries in its Utopia Großband series between 1954 and 1963. Here is the cover of No. 58, from October 21, 1957, featuring a novelization of the American film 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), written by Henry Slesar (1927-2002). The artist was Wolfgang Blaar

I picked this cover because of its great art, done by Ed Valigursky (1926-2009), and not knowing that the original story, by Andre Norton (1912-2005), is called Secret of the Lost Race. I guess there's no getting away from the idea that Utopia-Lost Worlds-Science Fiction is an unbreakable nexus. (Utopia Großband No. 126, May 31, 1960.)

Pabel also published Utopia Zukunftsroman, or "Utopia Future Fiction" (I guess). The dates were 1953 to 1968. Here is the cover for the last issue, No. 596 from August 30, 1968, with a cover story originally entitled Objectif Tamax and written by the French science fiction writer Peter Randa (1911-1979). The identity of the cover artist is unknown.

Finally in this series of covers, that of Utopia Zukunftsroman No. 547 with a cover story, originally "The Programmed People," by Jack Sharkey (1931-1992) and cover art by R.S. Lonati (Rudolf Sieber [1924-1990]). This issue is dated August 25, 1967.

My reason for showing these covers is to show also that connections of which we might not be aware once existed and may still exist in other languages and cultures. Thanks to Hlafbrot for pointing out to me the utopian-science fiction connection that exists in Germany.

A final image, one that I have just discovered, "The People in Today's State" versus "The People in the Future State," a German-Romantic vision from 1904 by Friedrich Eduard Bilz (1842-1922). (That's his self-portrait in the middle.) So, above, examples of the Zukunfstroman, a story of the future, or science fiction; and below, an image of Zukunftstaat, the State of the future, or Utopia, in this case an idyllic or pastoral Utopia with imagery that could have appeared--and did appear--on the cover of Weird Tales a generation later, drawn by another German artist, C.C. Senf (1873-1949). (See especially the woman in pink on the center right of the page.) I'll say it again: What every romantic and idealist fails to see is that every Utopia is also a Dystopia, for we are not perfect, we cannot be made perfect, and we will not be harried into perfection nor used as soulless and inhuman building blocks in the construction of someone else's vision of a perfect human society.

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, April 17, 2021

These Good Things We Are Granted

Today on a cool day in April, with the perfume of crabapple blossoms in my window, I finished reading The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton (1913-1999). It's a beautifully written book, full of love and warmth and affection, and very funny, too. Published in 1962, The Moonflower Vine is also underlain with darker things, with sin and guilt and transgression. As you approach its end, an awareness very suddenly arises within you that there is something hidden at the heart of the story and that the ending of it will be a surprise, just as in a genre story. Suspense builds. There is a kind of anxiety crying out for catharsis. And then it comes, and the whole experience of this book reverberates for long moments after you have turned the last page. The mood of The Moonflower Vine came into my dreams last night, and now that I have finished reading, it still echoes and vibrates within me.

Sometimes authors mention other authors in their books. Jetta Carleton did that in The Moonflower Vine. I have the Fawcett Crest paperback edition (no date). On page 185:

With their stockings rolled down and their skirts pulled up, they read aloud to each other and told naughty jokes and laughed. Sometimes they read Good Housekeeping--lush romantic stories by Temple Bailey, Emma Lindsay-Squier, and Queen Marie of Roumania. Now and then they horrified themselves with a tattered copy of True Story which Jessica had found on the train. [. . .]

These are names from the past, as remote from us now as the household task of washing and baking down feathers and stuffing them into new pillow ticking. (Something done in Jetta's novel, taken as most of it is from life.) But fans of genre fiction might recognize the name Emma-Lindsay Squier* (1892-1941), for she was a teller of weird tales. In addition to authoring a hardbound collection called The Bride of the Sacred Well and Other Tales of Ancient Mexico (1928), Emma-Lindsay wrote one story for Weird Tales, "The Door of Hell," from the August issue, 1926.

Jetta Carleton's mother died in March 1958. Jetta's novel came out four years later to great acclaim. She dedicated it to her father and sisters and in memory of her mother. Her fictionalized mother's story and her surprise and secret close the book. Callie Soames also speaks the last words spoken in The Moonflower Vine:

"Thank you," she says.

Thank you.

My own mother died sixteen years ago today, in the morning, and she went away into the morning.

* * *

"She was thinking that perhaps, after all, her God and Matthew's differed. She had made hers up in her head. But Matthew was smart, he could read; perhaps his God of wrath was the real one and every word of the Bible true, though some were as bitter as gall." (p. 301)

Even before I read that passage in The Moonflower Vine, I had a sense that this was true among its characters, and that it's a truth that might grow outside the pages of a book into whole ways of looking at the world. Callie loves the world and is happy: "Oh, if she never got to heaven, this was enough, this lovely earth with its sunlight and its mornings and something always to look forward to. (Earth had that over Heaven!)" (p. 303) But her ideas are not utopian, for she lives in the real world and is a believer in God. (Utopianism is for nonbelievers and people who live in their heads.) Instead, we might call them idyllic or arcadian or pastoral or whatever word or words we might use to describe things that are without words because they are things of the heart instead of those of the abstract and inward-turning mind.

Matthew, her husband, has his own sins, his own guilt. But his is a darker personality. His imagination seems almost apocalyptic . . .

And so we have these two responses to the world, arising perhaps from differing views of God--on one hand, the idyllic way, and on the other, the apocalyptic vision--and I realize that both might come from the same place: from Christianity itself. Or is it that Christianity addresses the opposition that is within each of us of the apocalyptic to the idyllic? The Bible itself is built upon an opposition: at the beginning, a pastoral, an idyll, a Garden of peace and repose; at the end, a dream, a vision--four riders are approaching: Apocalypse.

Are we to be happy? Will there be love and contentment in and among God's Creation? Or will there be rage and despair, buried in and too often erupting--exploding into hatred and violence--from the darkened human heart?

-----

*Jetta Carleton put the hyphen in the wrong place.

I write on April 14 for publication on April 17, 2021.

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Ice & Icebergs on the Cover of Weird Tales

The first installment of "Under the Moons of Mars" was published in The All-Story in February 1912. By April, readers would have been halfway through Burroughs' first published work and the first of what would be eleven volumes recounting John Carter's adventures on Mars.

There was a far bigger story in April 1912, though. On April 15, after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, the RMS Titanic went to Davy Jones' locker. More than 1,500 people died in the disaster, including the American mystery writer Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912). Born in the same year as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Futrelle died as Burroughs was reaching the greatest success of his young life.

There are several covers of Weird Tales depicting snowy scenes and many with ships, but only two that I have found showing ice, and only the first of these also shows a ship.

Weird Tales, October 1923. Cover story: "The Amazing Adventure of Joe Scranton" by Effie W. Fifield. Cover art by R.M. Mally

Weird Tales, May 1939. Cover story: "The Hollow Moon" by Everil Worrell. Cover art by Harold S. De Lay. Note that "Almuric" (part one) by Robert E. Howard was also in this issue. Almuric, an uncharacteristic work by Howard, is more or less a pastiche of Burroughs' Mars novels.

May all who perished rest in peace.

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, April 12, 2021

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part Nine

Mars, Red to Blue

For simplicity's sake, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) and his works are thrown into a big bucket called "science fiction." We like to categorize and we want our categorizing to be easy. But Burroughs began writing before there was a well-formed thing called science fiction--"Under the Moons of Mars" was in The All-Story on this day 109 years ago--and by our standards and our current categories, stories of John Carter on Barsoom are more properly called science fantasy*, planetary romance, or swords and planets. I would say that, like Star Wars, Burroughs' Mars books are not science fiction.

And now I take it all back. (But maybe not really.)

By our current categories, Burroughs' Mars books may not be science fiction, but before the Great War and even early in the interwar period, there may not have been any more popular, influential, or pertinent example of the genre, at least on this side of the pond. (On that topic, there are still things to come.) They were the state of science fiction at the time, and they were so powerful in the imagination that they endured for decades, in their pure, original, science-fantasy form, perhaps more deeply and intensely in science fiction, space opera, and space fantasy. (There are swords and sabers--airships, too--on both Barsoom and Tatooine. See the images below.) Even into the Space Age, some people imagined Mars to be the way Burroughs had imagined it. Even some scientists still thought of Mars as a dry but habitable planet (and Venus as wet but also habitable). Canals still webbed the Red Planet's surface. Ruined or dying cities might still be found at their nodes. Decadent or moribund peoples might still haunt those cities and their engulfing, pitiless deserts. Maybe there were or once had been other people in our solar system. Maybe someday we would come upon their artifacts and ruins, like a forlorn and windswept City on the Edge of Forever.

That popular image of Mars persisted even after the mid-sixties Mariner 4 mission showed the planet to be not just mostly dead but all dead--persisted, that is, in the popular imagination if nowhere else. Even in the 1970s, there were artists' images of Mars showing a patchwork of green and red, the green parts tied to each other by ligamentous canals, the two colors waxing and waning, warring with each other within the wider cycle of the Martian year. We so wanted there to be life on Mars. We wanted the green to exist and for it to be plant-life, even if it was just simple moss or lichens. You might look at the Viking missions of a decade after Mariner as acts of quiet desperation, as a kind of grasping at the straws of the idea that the Red Planet was once alive and vibrant and that life might still be found there. The views from a space-borne Mariner weren't enough. We needed a close-up view of things. We needed to touch the surface: the arm of the Viking lander would extend like the forefinger of God, but instead of bestowing life upon Mars, it would detect it. Carl Sagan (1934-1996), an ardent childhood reader of Burroughs, was instrumental in the Viking missions. Although a scientist, Dr. Sagan seems to me to have been more than anything a hopeless romantic. I think he went to his grave believing in life on other planets.

But there would be no Barsoom.

There wasn't even a bacterium.

In January 1980, a little over three years after the Viking landers set down, NBC-TV broadcast The Martian Chronicles, based on stories by Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) and with a screenplay by his friend, Richard Matheson (1926-2013). Both men had been young contributors to Weird Tales. Bradbury loved Burroughs' Mars books so much that as a child he wrote a sequel to The Warlord of Mars (1919). Even in 1980, we were holding on to romantic notions of Mars. But instead of being red, Mars in our imagination had turned blue, not only for the terrible sadness and melancholy of The Martian Chronicles, but also for the cyanotic lack of oxygen in its rarefied air. Red planet, blue mood.

By 1990, when Total Recall was released, Mars had become a kind of cyber-corporate-dystopia. In seven decades, the -topia of Red Planet had seemingly gone from Burroughs' U- to a Philip K. Dick-inspired Dys-. But in the climactic scenes of the movie, the hero Quaid reactivates the ancient Martian atmosphere factory, the vivifying plant in the original Mars books, and the blue of sadness and cyanosis gives way to a cyan sky: Mars is suddenly terraformed and Burroughs' vision is redeemed: Dystopia is banished and Utopia returned to Mars.

To be continued . . .

-----

*I still want to hold on to there being a close connection between science fantasy and Lost Worlds: I think of Burroughs' Mars novels as science fantasy/Lost Worlds set not on a closed Earth but in an open--and limitless--universe. With that being the case, it's a short step from science fantasy to science fiction, and the doors of the universe are thrown open to every kind of storytelling.

The Gods of Mars & The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the Nelson Doubleday edition of 1971. Frank Frazetta's cover illustration is a tour de force of action and painterly technique. I suspect he finished it in a day or less. The Thark's red cloak is reminiscent of the one worn by the ape-creature on Frazetta's cover for the Lancer edition of Conan.

A rear view of this wraparound cover will show a rear view of Dejah Thoris, too. Frazetta had his proclivities. But his choice in depicting the female figure in such a way wasn't just about showing a good shot of her fanny. Or at least I don't think it was. By turning her away from us and posing her the way that he did, I think he heightened the mystery and peril of the situation in which the lovers find themselves. She is firm in the grip of the ape-creatures and is rapidly being carried away by them. John Carter had better do something, and fast, before she disappears from this tableau. (Winslow Homer did the same kind of turning away in his picture-making. I think his purpose was to depersonalize, and thus universalize, his figures.) By the way, if you look quickly enough, you will see the same kind of rear view and split, gray-toned, feminine anatomy in the climactic scenes of Total Recall.

Frank Schoonover (1877-1972) was one of the original John Carter artists. Here is his cover for The Gods of Mars, from 1919. His protagonist is a little goofy-looking. My reason for showing this image is to point out the similarity between Burroughs' desert airships and those run by Jabba the Hutt's gang in Return of the Jedi (1983): George Lucas--just like seemingly everybody else in twentieth-century American fantasy and science fiction--was almost certainly influenced, directly or indirectly, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, April 9, 2021

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part Eight

Arcadian Utopias

Dejah Thoris upbraids and implores the Tharks of Barsoom:

"Why, oh, why will you not learn to live in amity with your fellows. Must you ever go on down the ages to your final extinction but little above the plane of the dumb brutes that serve you! A people without written language, without art, without homes, without love; the victims of eons of the horrible community idea. Owning everything in common, even to your women and children, has resulted in your owning nothing in common. You hate each other as you hate all else except yourselves. Come back to the ways of our common ancestors, come back to the light of kindliness and fellowship. The way is open to you, you will find the hands of the red men stretched out to aid you. Together we may do still more to regenerate our dying planet. The granddaughter of the greatest and mightiest of the red jeddaks has asked you. Will you come?" (A Princess of Mars, Nelson-Doubleday, 1970, pp. 52-53)

This passage is as clear and succinct as any in illustrating Edgar Rice Burroughs' conservatism. It seems to me, though, that his views were not reactionary so much as a uniquely Burkean/American version of conservatism. This version might not be easily portable except perhaps into the Lost Worlds of the imagination. Maybe fictional conservative utopias are possible after all.

* * * 

In this blog, I have made distinctions and emphasized dichotomies:

  • Progressive vs. conservative
  • High culture vs. low or folk culture
  • Science fiction vs. fantasy and weird fiction
  • Utopia vs. Dystopia
  • The intellectual-elite vs. the popular

These distinctions don't always hold up very well. They are, after all, attempts to impose an architecture upon things that are wholly natural and organic. Science fiction author Jack Williamson (1908-2006) made distinctions, too. He considered the dystopian tradition older than the utopian. He found the origins of Dystopia in the ancient, G_d- or gods-centered, Egyptian/Hebraic past. Utopia, on the other hand, is from Greek humanism, still ancient, but more derived, and in our age more prevalent.

There are more distinctions to make. Here is an important one I think, from Utopian Fantasy: A Study of English Utopian Fiction Since the End of the Nineteenth Century by Richard Gerber (McGraw-Hill, 1973):

In a sense every utopia is scientific. [. . .] All the same, though most utopias show signs of scientific detachment, it is well to distinguish between scientific and arcadian utopias. For in the arcadian utopia the scientific method, the thought applied to the building of utopia, is used to abolish every kind of scientifically rigid construction within utopia. Anarchy and a sublimated state of nature are proclaimed. [. . .] Both myths are significant, but the scientific clockwork utopia possesses a higher degree of reality, embodying modern man’s real hopes and fears. The arcadian Utopia nowadays has hardly any other function than reactionary wish-fulfillment [. . .]. (pp. 46-48)

It's clear that Mr. Gerber is coming at things from the left, but his point is a good one: that in the genre of Utopia, there is a distinction to be made between the scientific (and progressive) type versus the arcadian (and conservative, or as he calls it "reactionary") type. If there is such a distinction, then a seeming contradiction--Edgar Rice Burroughs as a conservative utopian--becomes instead a possibility. You might boil it down this way:

Scientific Utopia vs. Arcadian Utopia (or the Utopia of Escape)
Science Fiction, Dystopia, and Apocalypse vs. Science Fantasy and Lost Worlds
H.G. Wells vs. H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, and Edgar Rice Burroughs

So where does that leave weird fiction, the catchall category that filled the pages of Weird Tales? Well, I think a little falls on one side and a little on the other. I'm kind of surprised at how this is turning out . . .

* * *

Here is another paper hidden behind a paywall, "The Lost World as Laboratory: The Politics of Evolution between Science and Fiction in the Early Decades of Twentieth-Century America" by Marianne Sommer (2009). Only the abstract appears on the Internet at no cost:

The essay focuses on the writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)--the creator of Tarzan--and his contemporary and president of the American Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935). These historical figures are of interest as multimedia-versed shapers of collective fantasies of human evolution. [. . .] Osborn and Burroughs engaged in "interesting experiment[s] in the mental laboratory which we call imagination" when they made different races, sexes, and national types compete in prehistoric struggles for existence. The laboratory setups were to reveal natural hierarchies, but they were also intended to transform the reader/viewer. The verbal and visual reconstructions of lost worlds served Burroughs's and Osborn's conservatism: the true American/Anglo-Saxon type had to be preserved, if not recovered.

Again, the drift of the paper seems towards emphasizing Burroughs' conservatism except that now there appear to be elements of social Darwinism and racial theory thrown into the mix. But this leads to another important point, and it's in regards to the utopian/science-fictional/science-fantasy hero versus his dystopian/weird-fictional counterpart . . .

To be continued . . .

Thuvia, Maid of Mars & The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Nelson-Doubleday, 1972), with cover art by Frank Frazetta. What you can't see is a banth on the back cover, a multi-legged lion-creature that threatens John Carter but doesn't seem to bother very much his pink princess. I guess we have all seen this proud and haughty look on the face of a real-life woman.

A Barsoomian city looms large in the background. One distinction I haven't made yet is that Dystopia and the scientific Utopia would seem strictly urban phenomena: the perfectly orderly society--good or bad--requires mass living, urban density, urbanized order. Has anyone ever written a rural Dystopia? Is such a thing even possible? If Richard Gerber is right, then an arcadian Utopia is a possibility, and I guess the Mars novels might fall into that category. But do Tharks inhabit Dystopia? I sense that they don't. Their society is simply primitive, too primitive to reach the level of development needed for a perfectly orderly, perfectly controlled, and perfectly awful dystopian society.

A long time ago, I had a book called The Intellectual Versus the City by Morton Gabriel White and Lucia White. I never read this book, but the title is intriguing. You would think that the intellectual would favor the city. Intellectuals certainly do today. At some point, though, there must have been a flip, but I don't know when or why that would have been. Anyway, characters in dystopian stories often seek to escape from the city and into nature. It happens in THX 1138 (1971) and Logan's Run (1976). In We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924) and The World Outside by Robert Silverberg (1971), a green and natural world surrounds the dystopian city. These seem to me examples of the divide between the scientific Utopia (aka Dystopia) and the arcadian Utopia, which might as well be called by a different name.

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley