Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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BEYOND 30: Venturing into the great Beyond
John "Bridge" Martin
Back in 1915, adventuredom’s newest and most exciting author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, exulting in the popularity of his Tarzan and Mars novels, thought he’d try his hand at writing about the future.
The result was "Beyond Thirty," a tale based on the idea that a devastating war could cause communication to cease between the hemispheres of the world.
The story is set in the year 2137, with the protagonist, Jefferson Turck, a 21-year-old officer in the Navy of Pan-America (the future name for the united, pole-to-pole hemisphere), experiencing a misfortune while on a routine cruise along the longitudinal line of 30 degrees, separating the west from the east.
Since setup of the united western hemisphere, E.R.B. wrote, "…peace had reigned from the western shores of the Azores to the western shores of the Hawaiian Islands, nor has any man of either hemisphere dared cross 30W. or 115W."
In fact, to do so would be "high treason, punishable by disgrace or death."
Of course, in order for there to be a story, Turck must cross 30 and, so he does, ending up in England, or "Grabriten" as the savage natives call it, with all its great cities and structures fallen to ruin and mostly overgrown with vegetation, and lions, tigers and wolvesdescendants of animals which escaped from zoosroaming freely and killing at will.
It is here that Turck rescues Victory, a savage beauty who, of course, will turn out to be a descendant of the royal family of England, her name no doubt a mispronounced, yet fitting, version of one of her ancient predecessors, Queen Victoria.
Add a traitor to the mix (one of the three men who were stranded in Europe with Turck), and you soon have the ingredients for an ever-changing and rapidly moving story line.
Turck ends up separated from Victory and his men and captured by the more organized black population of the European mainland. The blacks must eventually marshal forces to battle the invading Chinese, giving Turck the opportunity to reunite with Victory, who he discovers has also been taken as a prisoner.
The blacks are defeated by the Chinese, and Turck and Victory are taken captive, but Turck, using his powers of persuasion, manages to get the Chinese to treat them well and, most important, to believe his story. And, since these Chinese are anxious to re-establish ties with the Western Hemisphere, it’s a happy ending for all.
It’s a novelette in comparison to Burroughs’ other stories and, for many years, wasn’t very well known. He had trouble marketing it to his regular publishers, who were hungrier for a Tarzan sequel or another Mars story.
Bob Davis, one of his editors, rejected the story, stating in a letter, "’Beyond Thirty’ reminds me of a magnificent piece of scenery with no play. You have drawn an extraordinary picture and set the stage for a stupendous thing. Then the curtain falls.
"You must not, however, regard this criticism as a protest against your style, for it is full of the ‘Burroughs’ quality, and I have not any doubt that some people will like to read this story. However, I am trying to escape war, rumors of war and themes kindred to war. That is the particular reason why I pass ‘Beyond Thirty’ back to you…" (Porges, 257)
Eventually Burroughs did find an editor who liked the story enough (or was happy to have ANY Burroughs story for his lesser known magazine) to publish it. It appeared in the February 1916 edition of All-Around Magazine, under the title of "Beyond Thirty."
Because it was published only in such an obscure magazine, many Burroughs fans did not even know of the story’s existence for many years, according to Donald A. Wollheim, former editor of Ace Books and later founder of DAW books.
In 1957, Bradford Day published the story between hard covers alongside another hard-to-find Burroughs title, "The Man-Eater." The book, which included a black and white dust jacket, bore the imprint of Science Fiction and Fantasy Press. Though limited to 3,000 copies, the book has not been that difficult for Burroughs collectors to locate.
Finally, the story saw widespread distribution in the early 1960s with publication of the Ace paperback, under the new title of "The Lost Continent," and its stunning cover artwork by Frank Frazetta. Later paperback editions have sported covers by Sanjulian and Michael Herring.
Davis seemed to speak out of both sides of his mouth when he rejected this story, saying on the one hand that the book falls far short of stupendous and, on the other hand, that the only reason he rejected it was because he was trying to steer clear of war stories!
Davis was right, though, in saying that "…some people will like to read the story." Burroughs fans admit that some of his stories are better than others, but we still like and enjoy them all to one degree or another.
In some ways, the story does seem too short. Yet, it moves rapidly and far, transporting Turck, in effect, around the world, from the Atlantic Ocean to England, then continental Europe, then Moscow, China, and finally back to "Pan America."
It’s a risky kind of story to write. Others have written of future events and tied those events to certain dates and their stories fade away when those dates roll around and their predictions are proven to be "not even close."
Perhaps one exception in the genre would be George Orwell’s "1984," which will probably continue to remain a classic for its timeless themes, despite the now ill-chosen date which constitutes its title.
Burroughs’ "The Lost Continent/Beyond Thirty" will never be a classic the level of Orwell’s novel, but it will always find a welcome home in the library of Burroughs afficiandos.
As I read the book, I made some notes on random thoughts that struck me as appropriate for further comment. Here they are:
One of the treats of reading E.R.B. is that it causes one’s vocabulary to grow. In reading this book, I learned at least two new words. One was "verdigris," which my dictionary says is a green patina that forms on copper or brass or bronze that has been exposed to the air or water for long periods of time.
E.R.B. uses it when he writes:
"Snider again held aloft another trophy of the searcha metal spike and some tarnished and corroded metal ornaments. They had lain close beside the skull.
"With the point of his cutlass Snider scraped the dirt and verdigris from the face of the larger ornament." (Chapter II)
The other word was "howdah." From the context, it was pretty easy to figure out that this was a saddle, but I had to check the dictionary for details. It said: " a (usually canopied) seat for riding on the back of a camel or elephant"
"The emperor rode in a golden howdah upon the back of a huge elephant so covered with rich hangings and embellished with scintillating gems that scarce more than the beast’s eyes and feet were visible." (Chapter VIII)
Value of Military Training
Burroughs, with military experience himself, spoke well in his books of the discipline and dedication of military men. In describing Delcarte’s battle against a tiger, E.R.B. wrote that Turck "…could not help but feel a thrill of pride that he was one of my men…and that he had demonstrated one of the principle contentions of the army-navy adherentsthat military training was necessary for the salvation of personal courage in the Pan-American race which, for generations, had had to face no dangers more grave than those incident to ordinary life in a highly civilized community…" (Chapter III)
Tigers were probably not thought to be endangered during Burroughs’ time, but his novel of the future creates a scenario where specieseven those species which had been confined to zooshad bred prolifically to replenish their kind and were in no danger of going extinct. Rather, they were an instrument that may have made other species (such as man) go extinct!!
"The country was apparently infested by these huge carnivora, for after three other attempts to land and cook our food we were forced to abandon the idea entirely, as each time we were driven off by hunting tigers." (Chapter III)
Burroughs was many years ahead of the blood, sweat and tears of the British during World War II, but he nonetheless correctly characterized the flint and determination of the people in the face of an enemy, a trait witnessed once again most recently in the aftermath of the July ’05 terrorist attacks on the London transit system.
In the words of Victory: "…once the men from there came across to Grabritin. They came upon the water, and under the water, and even in the air. They came in great numbers, so that they rolled across the land like a great gray fog. They brought with them thunder and lightning and smoke that killed, and they fell upon us and slew our people by the thousands and the hundreds of thousands; but at last we drove them back to the water’s edge, back into the sea, where many were drowned. Some escaped, and these our people followedmen, women, and even children, we followed them back…" (Chapter IV). Moral: Don’t mess with the British.
To the tune of…
In case it isn’t obvious, the prayer-like chant uttered at the entrance to the Camp of the Lions can be sung to the tune of "God Save the King (Queen)," or, as we know it in America, "My Country ‘Tis of Thee." (Chapter IV)
Lions Defeat Tigers
Burroughs assumes that, in a fair matchup, a lion could defeat a tiger. A recent Discovery Channel series, "Animal Face-Off," had computer simulations of what might happen when one type of beast encounters another type. One episode showed a lion versus a tiger. Although tigers actually outweigh lions, the computer simulation, which took all factors into account, predicted that the lion would most likely win. Burroughs, apparently, knew this long before there were computer simulations.
"Far away…" Victory said, "is the land of the tigers….There were tigers here long ago, but both the lions and the men set upon them and drove them off." (Chapter IV)
Solution to gasoline shortage
Burroughs foresaw the end of dependence on fossil fuels, something people of today still have not quite mastered.
"Taylor had found the ingredients for chemical fuel, and the distilling of them had, with the motor trouble, accounted for their delay in setting out after me." (Chapter VI)
Slavery in Reverse
In creating his view of a world of the future, Burroughs probably took great pleasure in showing the black race as uniting and conquering the European mainland, and becoming the enslavers of the whites, rather than the reverse.
Says Turck, while kept as such a slave, "They looked upon the whites as their inferiors, and treated us accordingly…."
Later, he adds, "A couple of soldiers snapped the first ring around the neck of a powerful white slave, and one by one the rest of us were herded to our places, and the work of shackling us neck to neck commenced." (Chapter VIII)
Burroughs loved to poke fun at his fellow man and at society’s so-called norms, as he did, for example, in his Apache novels, and he took an early opportunity in this story.
Sadly, Burroughs was also a creature of his time and, though he sought to uphold those whom society regarded as inferior, he sometimes lapsed into the same descriptions himself. One reason a book such as "Beyond Thirty" is never going to find a place on a recommended African American reading list is a passage such as this, in which Turck reacts when a black man strikes Victory. "My blood boiled. To stand there, inactive, while a negro struck down that brave girl of my own race!" A writer nowadays would make the hero’s blood boil simply at the fact that a man struck a woman, race notwithstanding! (Chapter VIII)
And then there is the particularly unfortunate and offensive passage where Burroughs equates intelligence to one’s facial features: "The Abyssinians themselves are a fine looking race of black mentall, muscular, with fine teeth, and regular features, which incline distinctively toward the Semitic mold….Among the soldiery a lower type of negro predominates, with thicker lips and broader, flatter noses…." Burroughs goes on to say some nice things about these thick-lipped, flat-nosed blacks, but the imprint of the stereotype leaves a taint on the passage. (Chapter VIII)
A similar stereotype is found in "The Return of Tarzan," written just two years earlier, in Chapter 15, when Tarzan hooks up for the first time with the Waziri tribe: "Tarzan was again impressed by the symmetry of their figures and the regularity of their features—the flat noses and thick lips of the West Coast savages were entirely missing. In repose the faces of the men were intelligent and dignified…."
The blacks are left without a role at all at the end of the book, where we read that "A new epoch for Europe is inaugurated, with enlightened China on the east and enlightened Pan-America on the westthe two great peace powers whom God has preserved to regenerate chastened and forgiven Europe."
So, in the end, not even the "dignified" blacks are left with a mention!
I don’t believe Burroughs was prejudiced, but he no doubt shared the racial ignorance of many others of his era at that time.
Burroughs used his words to create many worlds. This was just one of them. One can only use one’s own imagination to dream of what other stories could have been told had he had time to write even more about the lost continent beyond 30.