The Man-Eater: ERB Light

John "Bridge" Martin


We have Light Mayonnaise, Bud Light, Light Rail and even ERB Light.


Just as there are those who prefer the lighter version of certain products and services, it's also nice that Edgar Rice Burroughs provided a line of merchandise for those who may not have the time to digest a full-length ERB novel.

And so, he wrote some novelettes—books such as "Beyond Thirty," the three parts of "The Land That Time Forgot" series, "The Oakdale Affair," "The Rider" and numerous other shorter stories throughout his career.

"The Man-Eater," also known as "Ben, King of Beasts," was one of these.

ERB Light is a story that contains all of the elements you would expect in a normal ERB story: Adventure, amazing coincidence, romance, and exotic locales. But it provides these things in a smaller package, a useful tool for the person "on the go."

Feel like getting a good Edgar Rice Burroughs novel under your belt but don't have time to read an entire volume? Why, just pick up a volume of ERB Light and you'll get the satisfaction without having to lug around a weighty tome.

I've been seeing the inside of doctors' offices more in the past three months than I have in the past 10 years!! No, nothing serious (that I know of, yet!!). These visits are predicated more on preventative than reactionary care!

However, I have been reacquainted with the fact that these visits sometimes require a wait, and doctors' offices do not traditionally stock my favorite brand of magazines. After you've leafed through the only copy of National Geographic, you grimace at the pile of Better Homes & Gardens and the three-week old Time or Newsweek, and wonder: "Is that all there is?"

So, on visiting one doctor who I quickly learned is notoriously behind schedule, I grabbed my copy of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Publications edition of "Beyond Thirty" and "The Man-Eater," thinking the time to read the latter story ought to be "just about right."

I wasn't far wrong. Starting at chapter one, I managed to read all but the last few pages, and I polished those off at home.

Since "The Man-Eater" is the second story in the book, I found Chapter One by flipping the pages backward until I came to the right place. It was only later, when I was looking at the book again, that I realized the story had a prologue. So I read that, too. It provided some background information that adds to the story, but I noted that my lack of reading it first had not taken away from my enjoyment of the book. ERB writes so well that he told the main story with sufficient explanation for the reader to just about mentally fill in any blanks that the introductory pages were to provide.

This was the second time I had read "The Man-Eater." I read it first many years ago and, somehow, had never gotten back to it. Thus, my memory of what it was about was just about a blank slate, so it was like enjoying a brand new ERB tale.

One thing I've heard over the years is fan speculation about the identity of the Mrs. Clayton and Charlotte who are mentioned in the story. There has been all kinds of theories as to the link—if any—between these two and the family of John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, Tarzan of the Apes.

Such speculation is just that, I decided. The reference to these Claytons is so brief as to not provide any clues at all. However, it is still a citation that ERB fans can have fun speculating about!

The hero of this story—Dick Gordon—and the heroine -Virginia Scott—are both admirable characters.

Since Burroughs loved to use the coincidence as a story-telling device, we might note here that, by coincidence, the last names of these two people, put together, become the name of Gordon Scott, one of the most popular fan favorites who starred in movies as Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan.

Dick Gordon reminds me of another ERB character—Townsend J. Harper of "The Monster Men." Harper saw another Virginia (Virginia Maxon) cross a platform and board a train and was so struck by her beauty that he impulsively followed her on a journey that was to bring great danger to himself but would eventually result in his saving the young lady from a horrible fate.

Dick Gordon, like Harper, is impulsive. Though he doesn't get a look at Virginia Scott, he is so motivated by the letter from her mother, and by his sense of honor and duty, that he sets off immediately to go to Africa to try to retrieve a missing document the Scott family needs.

Virginia, too, is a noble heroine. Upon learning of a murder plot against Gordon—to her, a stranger—she embarks on her own trip to the Dark Continent, taking on the seemingly impossible task of finding him in time.

This is what brings them, and their enemies, into the sphere of the Man-Eater, an African lion which has been terrorizing a native village.

Through bravery, coincidence, and circumstance the two young people who—of course—will fall in love, accomplish their mission, though not exactly in the way they expect.

And, when they return to the U.S.—coincidence of coincidence—the Man-Eater, captured by a circus and now known as Ben, King of Beasts—escapes in a train wreck and winds up a key player in the final resolution of the story threads in Scottsville, Va.

It's vintage ERB all the way. And so, if you know you've got a little time—just a little—take along a copy of The Man-Eater or another offering of ERB Light, and enjoy.

The story behind the story

In writing about "The Man-Eater," it's good to remember that a famous and dedicated fan made it possible for us to have this story. The late Darrell C. Richardson, an avid collector of Burroughs throughout his life, followed up a comment by Burroughs himself that he recalled having sold a story called "Ben, King of Beasts," to a New York newspaper. As fellow ERBapa member Jim Thompson recounted in an early apa article, "Richardson paid a research librarian to pursue this lead, and recovered the text of 'The Man-Eater,' which even Burroughs himself did not have a copy of." The story had been serialized in "The New York Evening World" newspaper, Nov. 15-20, 1915.

Thompson also pointed out to me that the paperback version (the one behind the cover of the illustration on page 1 of this contribution) has been edited down. To enjoy the full story, one must read the hardback version (illustration on page 2).