Burroughs Bibliophiles In the Light of the Torah
First published in ERBapa #49, Spring 1996
David Adams presents a compelling look at the past, present, and future of scholarly research and commentary on the life and works of American author Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950).
Dealing with a closed body of literature in a concentrated manner brings out the best in our natural human love of the hunt. There seems to be something that attracts the species to the maze of trails and toward a meaningful reading of messages left by tracks of beasts which have passed over the ground before we arrived.
The collection of certain works into a canon of literature—those works considered to be of lasting value, or in some cases, those works considered to be authentic -- is also a pastime related to the hunt in that the categorization of the tracks being followed is important if the hunters are to arrive at a specific destination, which in the case of our earliest ancestors was simply, food.
Over the years, when the quest for the basic needs of life became less fundamental and more leisure time became available, this primal interest in the hunt developed into, among other things, the quest for knowledge, for beauty, or for salvation.
Humankind has collected books together which have been called sacred texts when the matters being discussed upon their pages have to do with fundamental issues of living and dying. Some of these texts contain elements of myths and legends which are read in various ways by various peoples.
Some people consider all sacred tales of myth and legend as fanciful stories told simply to entertain the hunters as they sit around the fire after the light of the day is gone. These are the folks who call a mastodon a mastodon and look at the pictures painted on the walls of the caves as frivolous and unnecessary to the real business of the hunt.
Yet some people consider the hunt impossible without the drawings on the wall of the cave and have dreams of animals that can move from that solid stone to the grass and air and back again at will. These of course become the shamen or priests of the tribe, and without them and their followers all that humanity would have left behind would have been piles of well-picked bones.
At first there is an oral tradition of sacred tales, but with the development of writing a certain fixation of legend at least becomes possible.
Humankind has come to consider sacred texts to be of the highest value, although people living in different places upon the face of the planet have different texts which they consider to be sacred. A sacred text is one for which a certain people hold a special reverence, believing its words contain ultimate truths concerning the condition of affairs among humans and their relation to the world.
Oftentimes elaborate systems of worship involving intricate religious rituals grow-up surrounding the stories and proscriptions inscribed in the sacred texts. As such, a certain body of writing develops a profound influence upon the lives of many people.
The author, or authors, of the texts is well-known when these books first appear, and yet only a short time after the passing of the master-teller, or the circle of scribes, the authenticity of the writings is called into question. Many problems arise when bare words must face the world without a single voice of authority available to explain the complexities and variations bare words always exhibit standing alone.
The Torah is many things:
In the beginning there is the Pentateuch—the original five books of Moses. At first the authorship was a given, but over the course of years variations in text and translations became a problem until finally in some circles even the author became legendary.
We have the canon of ERB, written by ERB, and yet there are variations in text between the magazine and book appearances. It is too close in time for the author himself to become a legend, and yet his placing himself in his own books among characters which are nominally considered to be fictitious may eventually lead to Burroughs becoming a character in fiction created by another hand.
The Mishna consists of an oral teaching which was later written down. The rabbinical tannaim, or teachers of the oral law, at first memorized the rules and passed it down by word of mouth.
The only oral tradition in ERB has to do with stories and memories of his relatives and people who knew him during his life. This Mishna is very "inner circle," and is in this day and age usually passed quickly to a written stage or forgotten. Of course there is also Mishna that has to do with artists and actors and publishers which circulates among those who were involved with the Burroughs legend.
The Gemaras are commentaries on the Mishna. They are very discursive in nature, part halacha (law) and part haggada (story). The rabbinical amoraim are the later expounders who debated, analyzed, explained, amended, and illustrated the text.
The Gemaras are the works produced by the Burroughs commentators. (The writings of the ERB/apans are among them). ERB is close enough to us in time to find both Mishna and Gemaras.
Later when the commentaries become so abundant that confusion of authority threatens to overwhelm the original texts themselves, there will be a need for saboraim or (reasoners) to revise the vast commentary and put it all into a more certain perspective.
A Midrash or (exposition) is an expounding in popular style on Hebrew Scriptures.
In the world of ERB, a Midrash is the writing of a tale based on the characters originally created by Burroughs. (Many ERB/apans are presently involved in Midrash.)
The Cabala or (qabala) is a secret doctrine that lies hidden in the original text. Practitioners of the cabala tend to be esoteric and obscure, yet there is often a great appeal among the most brilliant scholars for this type of investigation.
The Palestinian Talmud or (Teaching) consists of both Mishna and the shorter Gemara.
The works of ERB, so close in time, have only had time to develop a local Gemara, which might be called the English or Anglo-American Gemara. In time, and with continued popularity, there may also develop a Babylonian Talmud with a longer body of literature.
I propose in my work to work upon the Gemara or commentary upon the texts of ERB along the more traditional amoraim line, although I have already see a need for a revision or collection of the many texts already produced. And I must confess that I have a temptation toward the cabala, the more esoteric studies, which are not always to the taste or understanding of the many.
Note: The descriptions of the various beings descended from the Tree of Life and their color schemes as described by ERB in his Mars Series are very cabalistic in nature. Thus does the poet John Hollander hold up the sacred candlestick:
"As each branch is lighted, it shall have a differently colored luster from the other six; and when all seven are kindled, their radiance shall combine into the white light of truth."