This article came from a few queries on erb-list, an email list server dedicated to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. As Mr. Martin originally started this article:

Korak asked why Red Axe of Pellucidar was never published, and then suggested a couple of theories as to why:

1. Because Mahars did not sell as well as hoped?

2. Because Red Axe contained heresies against the ERB concepts (ala Tarzan on Mars)?

I am going to address the subject of John Eric Holmes and his Pellucidar stories, "Mahars of Pellucidar" and "Red Axe of Pellucidar".

As can be seen, it does not take much to inspire "Bridge" to share his personal experience and memories!

— Tangor

JOHN ERIC HOLMES:
Mahars of Pellucidar
and
Red Axe of Pellucidar

John "Bridge" Martin

John Eric Holmes, Introduction

In 1993, I asked Mike Conran, the editor and publisher of Edgar Rice Burroughs News Dateline, if there were any type of articles he would like to have for his fanzine. He said he would love to see an interview of John Eric Holmes Holmes. Holmes had written "Mahars of Pellucidar," which had been published by Ace Books, and a sequel, "Red Axe of Pellucidar," which had not been published.

But Holmes was working on another book which Mike knew about but I didn't, and Mike was curious as to what progress John Eric was making on preparing that book, John Coleman Burroughs' unfinished novel, "Danton Doring," for publication.

Since John Eric lived about 90 miles south of me, in Portland, Oregon, it seemed an ideal assignment. So, I telephoned Mr. Holmes and made an appointment to come down and see him and interview him for an article.

In the meantime, my source is the fanzine article I wrote for Mike, which was published in ERB News Dateline No. 49/50 in November 1993.

Before I wrote the article, the ECOF was held at Willows, Calif., hosted by Ralph Brown, and John Eric Holmes was present, and received the Edgar Rice Burroughs Lifetime Achievement award. He also was the guest speaker, and told the guests there some of the same stories he had told me in the interview, and added some details, some of which I incorporated into my ERB News Dateline article as well.

John Eric Holmes has had a lifelong interest in ERB, having been a fan from the age of eight, checking Burroughs books out of the library in Hawaii. He lived in Hawaii from ages 8 to 12 and, during that time, a neighbor lady learned of his interest in ERB and took young Holmes to the home of Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. John's mother gave him a copy of "Tarzan and the Leopard Men" to take along for an autograph, and John still has that copy today.

At the ECOF in Willows, Holmes bought a dust jacket to put on the book.

Later in life, due to his successful efforts to get "Mahars of Pellucidar" published, he was able to develop a close relationship with John Coleman Burroughs, serving as a medical advisor to assist Mr. Burroughs with medication levels for his Parkinson's Disease. John Eric Holmes, a doctor, had served as assistant professor of neurology at the University of Southern California School of Medicine.

So, John Eric Holmes is not only a fan who wrote a pastiche, but someone who met ERB himself and had later personal contact with the family.

Mahars of Pellucidar

John Eric Holmes entertained his two young boys, Christopher and Jeffrey, by reading Edgar Rice Burroughs stories aloud to them. He read them the Mars series, the Venus series, the Pellucidar series and a little bit of Tarzan. The Pellucidar series was their favorite, and one day Christopher said he wished there had been more Pellucidar stories. That gave John Eric Holmes the idea of writing a sequel himself. And, he said, "I knew exactly what kind of Pellucidar story he would like."

So John Eric wrote the book—in long-hand—featuring a hero named Christopher West, in honor of his son, Christopher West Holmes. Christopher was 10 when the story was finished, but it didn't get published until he was in high school.

Some wrangling, of course, was needed in order to get it published. At first, ERB Inc. refused to consider publishing "an imitation," but after an appeal by John Eric they gave it more consideration and so, one day in 1976, John Eric went into the Change of Hobbit Bookstore that he frequented in Portland and found a paperback copy of his novel for sale. He bought five copies and mailed one to Christopher, who was living elsewhere at the time.

At first, John Eric was a bit disappointed that his book did not get a Frazetta cover, although the cover by some new artist named "Boris" was certainly a good one. Many years later, when Boris Vallejo was far more well known, John Eric had a chance to purchase the original painting. However, it would have cost him more than he earned for writing the book, so he declined!

In using the Mahars in his story, John Eric was using a species invented by Burroughs. However, he did not use any of the human Pellucidarian characters in his story, and so Christopher West, who becomes known as Red Axe, never runs into David Innes, Abner Perry, Dian the Beautiful, Ghak the Hairy One, or any of the others. But, since Pellucidar has more land mass than the outer world, that should not be surprising.

The only non-Burroughsian thing I found in the books was a reference to Pellucidar being 200 miles below the outer surface, rather than the 500 miles that ERB specifies. I asked John Eric about that and he said it was simply an error that he made.

Christopher West is an associate of Dr. Kinsley, who has developed a beam that can see events taking place 200 miles below the surface. When they see people about to sacrifice a beautiful woman, Christopher obtains a pocket knife and a red fire axe and has himself beamed down to rescue the woman, not knowing if he will ever make it back. And thus the adventure begins.

The axe, by the way, is described as having a handle three feet long and with a blade on one side and a hammer face on the other. Later, he acquires additional weapons.

The Holmes family, and many others, loved the book. Christopher even wrote a brief parody of his dad's book called "The Shrubs of Pellucidar." If I recall correctly, I think that "Shrubs" is a short book with illustrations and I think Holmes brought it to show it around when he attended a later ECOF, near Portland, Oregon, a few years later.

Red Axe of Pellucidar

With "Mahars of Pellucidar " successfully published, John Eric Holmes wrote a sequel, "Red Axe of Pellucidar." And, he already had in mind a concept for a third book, which would be called "Swordsmen of Pellucidar."

Talks were actually under way with ERB Inc. to have "Red Axe" published. ACE books even ran an advertisement promising the sequel. However, in what was described by John Eric (when I interviewed him in 1993) only as "changing times and philosophies" at ERB Inc., the plans were changed suddenly.

And so, Red Axe exists, for fans, mostly in the form of an inch-thick, 241-page manuscript in pica type, double-spaced.

My copy has brown paper covers of normal weight. The front cover is an illustration of Red Axe inside a circle, with the title above and the author's name below in regular type. Additionally, my cover is signed by John Eric Holmes.

The story is basically two stories, about John Eric's experiences with two different Pellucidarian tribes.

Just for an appetizer, the story begins:

"It was a strange group that cautiously threaded its way over the half submerged fallen tree trunks of the tropical swamp. Overhead a brilliant sun beat down upon them from zenith, for this was Pellucidar, the inner world, where the sun, hanging in the center of a hollow ball, is always directly overhead. It is a timeless world of tropical immensity, and life flourishes under the bright, hot inner sun that has long been extinct on the outer crust.

"The leader of the little band of adventurers pulled himself to the top of a soggy mound surmounted by cycads and giant ferns. Small lizards scampered out of sight on all sides, some running on two legs, some on four. Giant dragon-flies, as long as a man's arm, darted aside to hover on irridescent wings. Farther ahead in the swamp, invisible in the greenery, there were heavy splashing noises as if some of the larger reptilian denizens had been disturbed.

"Christopher West's clear blue eyes swept his surroundings. There was no horizon. Inside the hollow earth the distances faded upward into the blue—forests, mountains, lakes and oceans blending into one another as they receded. In Pellucidar, distance had no end and time did not exist."

Just to give some idea of the contents of the book, here are the chapter titles, except for Chapter 8, which was untitled:

  1. Dinosaur Swamp
  2. Onoloa (name of a girl)
  3. The Fin-Backed Monster
  4. Damsel in Distress
  5. Sacrifice
  6. Escape
  7. The Mammoth Hunters
  8. Chapter 8
  9. The Mammoth Hunt
  10. The Place of Singing Stones
  11. Rescue Party
  12. Confrontation
  13. "You Again!"

There is also a hard-bound, limited edition of "Red Axe in Pellucidar." It was put together by Jim Bergen of Beaverton, Ore., in a very limited edition of 15 copies and featured color paintings by Bergen as illustrations. With one copy for Bergen and one for Holmes, the other 13 were sold out at the 1993 ECOF in Willows, Calif.

I purchased my manuscript copy from Mike Conran, publisher of ERB News Dateline, 1990 Pine Grove Dr., Jenison, MI, 49428. I don't know if he still has copies for sale or not, but he probably does, or might make some more up. If he doesn't have any copies of Red Axe, he'll be happy if you subscribe to ERB News Dateline!

Danton Doring

Besides writing the published "Mahars of Pellucidar" and the fan-published sequel, "Red Axe of Pellucidar," John Eric Holmes has written other publilshed works and, as of 1993, had other projects in progress, including work on an unfinished novel by ERB's son, John Coleman Burroughs.

Holmes had written a few non-fiction articles for Analog and has also had published a textbook he wrote on neurophysiology.

His one other published entry into the sci-fi field is a story titled "Modred," published by ACE Books. This is a sequel to Philip Francis Nowlan's "Armageddon 2419 A.D.", which is a story about a space adventurer named Anthony Rogers. In the comics and movies, Mr. Rogers was given the nickname of "Buck," by which he is far better known.

In writing "Modred," Holmes told me he originally included a line in which Anthony Rogers tells someone: "You can just call me Buck." But the editors told him: "No, he CAN'T just call him Buck!" Due to various copyright considerations, the name "Buck" was not available for use by ACE Books. The company owned only the rights to the novel concept, and didn't own anything else associated with Buck Rogers properties.

Holmes has also written some published material for Dungeons and Dragons.

His unpublished works include an attempt at a Conan novel. He had an agreement with L. Sprague de Camp to write a story about Conan in Africa. He wrote two-thirds of "Conan on the River of Doom" before a new editor nixed the idea of a Conan story in Africa. Nonetheless, thanks to de Camp's contract with him, in which de Camp took pains to protect the rights of authors, Holmes was paid for the unfinished story anyway.

He figured he would change the name of the hero and rework the story and attempt to have it published some day. In 1993, his latest idea was to start off with the battle of the Plains of Zama where Hannibal is defeated by Scipio Africanus and have his hero be part of Hannibal's army who escapes and has his own adventures in Africa. Whether this story has ever been published in any form or not, I don't know.

Of most interest to ERB fans is John Coleman Burroughs' unfinished novel, "Danton Doring," the Danton name no doubt coming from the name of JCB's son, Danton Burroughs, well known in ERB circles today.

JCB painted five illustrations to go with the story, and four of them have been publilshed in full color in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Library of Illustation, Volume II, along with a little bit of information about JCB's concept for the story, which basically is the idea of someone being shrunk in size and finding lost worlds and beautiful princesses in the lawn out back.

JCB had said:

"...at our feet lies a world as wild, as bizarre, as vicious and as beautiful as any heretofore conceived in the wildest dreams of the science fiction writers—an inconceivable vast world teeming with life and relatively unexplored."

Holmes, a physician, had gotten to know members of the Burroughs family becauase of "Mahars of Pellucidar," and JCB, who was suffering from Parkinson's Disease, realizied that Dr. Holmes was knowledgeable in the area of medicine that treated Parkinson's. So, John Eric Holmes was able to be of assistance to JCB for many years in helping to adjust the levels of medication for his disease.

In the process, Holmes was entrusted with the job of finishing JCB's unfinished story. In 1993, he told me he had completed 24 chapters but still needed to solve some plot difficulties.

Apparently, the problems remain unresolved as, to my knowledge, the story has never been published.

Just what the future holds for this story, whether it will ever be finished and published or not, is something I do not know. JCB himself had once said, "Someday I'll write my novel or I shall take Danton Doring's incredible story to my grave with me."

Perhaps, in the end, JCB will have been a prophet!!


This article has been updated, July 15, 2018