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THE WARRIOR lives by a personal code of honor.

The code of honor can never be broken even if it results in death.

The path of duty is written in the heart of the warrior;

He does not have to pause to think of what is right.

The warrior does not lie;

His word is always true.

The warrior is without fear;

He knows not the meaning of the word.

The warrior knows no pain;

He bears adversity in silence.

The warrior speaks few words;

Actions are his native tongue.

The sword in the hand of the warrior

Is for the weak and those in need.

The warrior will die for his friends;

A friend is never left behind.

The warrior honors women;

He is true to his mate.

The warrior ultimately fights for love;

The Code of the Warrior is a Lover’s Code.

The warrior is the arbiter of his own fate

More than any god.

Despair is never for the warrior.

Where there is life, there is hope.

A Warrior’s Code: The Personal Philosophy of Edgar Rice Burroughs

David A. Adams

"Full in the midst, high-towering o’er the rest,

His limbs in arms divine Achilles dress’d;

Arms which the father of fire bestow’d;

Forged on the eternal anvils of the god."

—(from Book XIX of Alexander Pope’s verse translation of The Iliad)

"As a family we are not rich except in honor"

(ERB - from A Fighting Man of Mars)

Edgar Rice Burroughs was first and foremost a soldier. His personal philosophy sprang fully-armed from the head of a simple code of duty and honor. He was trained to be a cavalry officer, and throughout his entire life he lived according to the tenets of a warrior.

This warrior mentality formed the framework of his heroes wherever they are found throughout his writings. Furthermore, this soldier usually begins as a wandering soldier of fortune—the paladin, the panthan, the Outsider.

[The following numbered lists are the direct statements written by ERB concerning his warrior’s code.]

A Princess of Mars

A First-Person Statement of the Code of the Warrior

The Path of Duty

1. "I do not believe that I am made of the stuff which constitutes heroes, because, in all of the hundreds of instances that my voluntary acts have place me face to face with death, I cannot recall a single one where any alternative step to that I took occurred to me until many hours later. My mind is evidently so constituted that I am subconsciously forced into the path of duty without recourse to tiresome mental processes. However that may be, I have never regretted that cowardice is not optional with me" (PM 8).

The God of My Vocation

2. "My attention was quickly riveted by a large red star close to the distant horizon. As I gazed upon it I felt a spell of overpowering fascination -- it was Mars, the god of war, and for me, the fighting man, it had always held the power of irresistible enchantment... My longing was beyond the power of opposition; I closed my eyes, stretched out my arms toward the god of my vocation and felt myself drawn with the suddenness of thought through the trackless immensity of space" (PM 21).

To Seek Adventure

3. "I have ever been prone to seek adventure and to investigate and experiment where wiser men would have left well enough alone" (PM 50-51).

To Stand and Fight

4. "I am ever willing to stand and fight when the odds are not too overwhelmingly against me ..." (PM 56).

A Longing to Explore

5. "I longed to explore the country before me, and, like the pioneer stock from which I sprang, to view what the landscape beyond the encircling hills might disclose from the summits which shut out my view" (PM 90).

The Dictates of Conscience

6. "... I can only act in the future as I have in the past, in accordance with the dictates of my conscience and guided by the standards of mine own people: (PM 104).

No Lies

7. "... in my own Virginia a gentleman does not lie to save himself" (PM 110).

The Kind Master

8. "I was ever a good hand with animals, and by inclination, as well as because it brought more lasting and satisfactory results, I was always kind and humane in my dealings with the lower orders. I could take a human life, if necessary, with far less compunction than that of a poor, unreasoning, irresponsible brute" (POM 129-130).

"I am a better warrior for the reason that I am a kind master" (PM 130).

By Nature a Wanderer

9. "By nature a wanderer, I had never known the true meaning of the word home, but the great hall of the Carters had always stood for all that the word did mean to me ..." (PM 148).

Killing is Not Wanton

10. "They were brave men and noble fighters, and it grieved me that I had been forced to kill them, but I would have willingly depopulated all Barsoom could I have reached the side of my Dejah Thoris in no other way" (PM 258).

 The Outlaw of Torn 

An Historical Treatment of the Warrior’s Code

Desire and Virtue

1. "Virtue and Vice be twin sisters who come running to do the bidding of the same father, Desire. Were there no desire there would be no virtue ..." (OT 19)

The Logic of the Sword

2. "The best sword arm in all Christendom needs no other logic than the sword ..." (OT 19).

Happiness and the Sword

3. "Be no one happy in all the world? ... Only he who wields the mightiest sword ..." (OT 43).

Fear is Unknown

4. "... the child was unafraid. Fear had not been a part of the old woman’s curriculum. the boy did not know the meaning of the word, nor was he ever in his after life to experience the sensation" (OT 43).

Pain is Contemptible

5. "At fifteen the youth was a magnificent swordsman and horseman, and with an utter contempt for pain or danger ... (OT 47).

A Man of Few Words

6. "Bronzed and hardy from his outdoor life; of few words, for there was none that he might talk with save the taciturn old man ... (OT 47).

7. "No man lives who can harm me while a blade hangs at my side" (OT 57).

No Allegiances

8. "I am no king’s man ... I am Norman of Torn, who has neither king nor a god, and who says ‘by your leave’ to no man" (OT 64).

Fight to the Death

9. "Only once before had he fought to the death, but that once had taught him the love of it, and ever after until his death it marked his manner of fighting ..."(OT 68).

To Think is To Act

10. "As was always his wont in his after life, to think was to act" (OT 70).

Protect and Defend

11. "to protect the poor and the weak, to lay down your lives in defense of women, and to prey upon rich Englishmen and harass the King of England" (OT 70-71).

Take Responsibility

12. "... he had no fear of or desire to avoid responsibility for his acts ...(OT 72).

The Word of Honor

13. "I give you the word of honor of Norman of Torn. Is it not enough?" "They say you never lie," replied De Montfort" (OT 135).

Redress Wrongs

14. "... Norman of Torn has fought and sacked and pillaged for the love of it, and for a principle which was at best but a vague generality. Tonight we ride to redress a wrong ..." (OT, 145).

A Brave and Courteous Knight

15. "Be he outlaw or devil ... he is a brave and courteous knight" (OT 150).

Law and Decency

16. "... the England I have been taught to hate I have learned to love, and I have it not in my heart to turn loose upon her fair breast the beasts of hell who know no law or order or decency other than that which I enforce" (OT 226).

The Role of God

17. "I be willing to leave it in His hands; which seems to be the way with Christians. When one would shirk a responsibility, or explain an error, lo, one shoulders it upon the Lord"

"... I take not the Lord into partnership in my successes it seemeth to me to be but of a mean and poor spirit to saddle my sorrows and perplexities upon Him. I may be wrong, for I am ill-versed in religious matters, but my conception of God and scapegoat be not that they are synonymous" (OT 227).

Treatment of Women

18. "... the fine sense of chivalry which ever dominated all his acts where the happiness or honor of women were concerned ... (OT 235).


As Simon de Montfort declares in Chapter X, "A strange man ... both good and bad, but from today I shall ever believe more good than bad."

Burroughs’ editor had sent him back to Ivanhoe, but ERB was already larger than Scott in his first novel, A Princess of Mars . Burroughs struggled in Outlaw of Torn with the concept of a an odd form of hero-villain, but as Leslie A. Fiedler points out in his Love and Death in the American Novel :

"The historical romance permits no hero-villains. The hero is the man who receives the rewards (comes into the inheritance, marries the girl he loves, wins the approval of the reader); and the man who receives the rewards is the hero -- life is as simple as that" (Fiedler 166).

Norman of Torn was an experiment with a good/bad hero, yet even he remains the essential Burroughsian warrior. Even outside the boundaries of normal society, he exemplifies the noble warrior. The "bad" elements of his character are eventually redeemed, but Burroughs realized that such a redemption only served to needlessly complicate his characters, who could more firmly stand upon the high ground of myth. As Fiedler points out:

"Such tame Outsiders represent the impulsive and the irrational only as a passing temptation (appealing chiefly to unsettled youth) not as a profound threat; and when the historical romancer follows his creations into the wildwood, everyone knows that he is only kidding ..." (Fielder 165-166).

[Stan Galloway provides an interesting link between Tarzan and Norman of Torn in his "Tristram, Tennyson and Tarzan: or Tarzan of the Round Table" in The Fantastic Worlds of ERB, #36, Spring 1994.]

Burroughs’ next creation, Tarzan, is another outsider who ascribes to the Code of the Warrior. His complexity however, will come from another source, that of the "noble savage," the mythic foundations which were already well established in literature. Here ERB follows his American roots in James Fenimore Cooper who overshadowed Scott.

"... Robin Hood and the Indian are one ... he ended by creating a middlebrow image of the primitive as heroic which displaced even the Highlander (Rob Roy) in the mind of the West" (Fielder 179).

The Burroughsian hero is an existential warrior who must struggle for acceptance. Every one of ERB’s heroes is an outsider struggling to get in, but once that goal is attained, it’s time to move on to other characters or time to move his old characters into new situations of struggle.

John Carter is the alien on Barsoom, not the various strange races that are already established on the planet. Once he rises to the top of society, he is no longer the soldier of fortune, which is Burroughs’ ideal, so he turned to other characters to again write about the lowly fighting man.

In the case of the alienated Tarzan, once he won his mate and place in society, Burroughs’ toyed awhile with turning him into a colonial plantation owner until he realized that to be a true warrior he had to be released into the wild again to struggle among peoples and cities where he was the outsider, the existential hero thrown into an alien world.

"Cooper ... had learned from Scott to invest his projections of the primitive with the pathos of the lost cause, and to play out his action on the "ideal boundary" between two cultures, one "civilized and cultivated," the other "wild and lawless." the American name for that "ideal boundary" is of course, the "frontier"; and on a continent which provided almost limitless possibilities for moving such a frontier westward, there was not one "Highland line" but many." (Fiedler 179).

Of course, ERB expanded this "frontier" to the planets and was the first great American writer to bring the adventure/romance to the stars.

Burroughs himself was an outsider most of his life, moving from job to job. His success with writing finally gave him a settled existence in California, but his happiest moments in life came with the war in the Pacific when he could finally live the life of the wandering warrior in an exotic setting.

Even more than Cooper, the model for this type of lone warrior came from Achilles in The Iliad. Achilles sank into ERB’s consciousness like a burning stone and the ancient warrior struggled all of his life to rejoin the light of day though his writings.

"While great Achilles (terror of the plain),

Long lost to battle, shone in arms again.

Dreadful he stood in front of all his host;

Pale Try beheld, and seem’d already lost;

Her bravest heroes pant with inward fear,

And trembling see another god of war."

Book XX of The Iliad

As much as the old West, which he experienced to a certain degree in his own life, ERB’s influences come from the imaginings of his own mind, which were informed from his earliest years reading mythology and from his thorough classical education, which gave him a foundation and love for the culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Ultimately, ERB was a stoic. Marcus Aurelius was the true father of this warrior-writer.

 Tarzan of the Apes 

How The Warrior’s Code Came To Be

No Sentimentalist

1. "Tarzan of the Apes was no sentimentalist. He knew nothing of the brotherhood of man. All things outside his own tribe were his deadly enemies, with the few exceptions of which Tantor, the elephant, was a marked example" (TA 117).

No Malice or Hatred

And he realized all this without malice or hatred. To kill was the law of the wild world he knew" (TA 117).

The Business of Killing

2. "His strange life had left him neither morose nor bloodthirsty. That he joyed in killing, and that he killed with a joyous laugh upon his handsome lips betokened no innate cruelty. He killed for food most often, but, being a man, he sometimes killed for pleasure, a thing which no other animals does ...

And when he killed for revenge, or in self-defense, he did that also without hysteria, but it was a very businesslike proceeding which admitted of no levity." (TA 118).

Mercy is for Men

3. "... deep in the minds of the apes was rooted the conviction that Tarzan was a mighty fighter and a strange creature. Strange because he had had it in his power to kill his enemy, (Terkoz) but had allowed him to live -- unharmed...

"Tarzan," he continued, "is not an ape. He is not like his people. His ways are not their ways ... (TA 152.) (Tarzan extends the primal code into a warrior’s code of honor.)

Nature and Nurture

4. "... in every fiber of his being, heredity spoke louder than training.

He had not in one swift transition become a polished gentleman for a savage ape-man, but at last the instincts of the former predominated, and over all was the desire to please the woman he loved, and to appear well in her eyes" (TA 270). The code of honor in Tarzan was instinctual.

All Men Are Not Enemies

5. "I do not know why I should kill the blacks back there in my jungle, yet not kill them here ... ‘Wait until the blacks spring upon you.’ replied D’Arnot, ‘then you may kill them. Do not assume that men are your enemies until they prove it.’" (TA 342). A revolution from the primitive code to a civilized one.

The Pleasure of Danger

6. " ... to me the only pleasure in the hunt is the knowledge that the hunted thing has power to harm me as much as I have to harm him" (TA 347).

The Wild Beast At Heart

7. "You are no longer a savage beast. You are a gentleman, and gentlemen do not kill in cold blood."

"I am still a wild beast at heart," he said, in a low voice, as though to himself" (TA 377).

Happiness of the Loved One

8. "I shall not urge you ... I would rather see you (Jane) happy than to be happy myself" (TA 378).

Renunciation of Love
9. "Here was the man who had Tarzan’s title, and Tarzan’s estates, and was going to marry the woman whom Tarzan loved -- the woman who loved Tarzan. A single word from Tarzan would make a great difference in this man’s life" (TA 392). Nobly, Tarzan says nothing because it would take them away from her also.


The case of Tarzan and the warrior’s code is a little more complex because it develops throughout the course of the novel like the hero—from the savage state to one of a fully realized noble manhood. It might be said that "Tarzan of the Apes" demonstrates the origins of the the code itself out of both instinct and training.

In the first three novels written by ERB we have thus three demonstrations of the Code of the Warrior.

In the fourth novel of ERB we see the code of the warrior in relation to friendship and development of the theme which might be called " the warrior for love".

Love is ultimate purpose of the warrior’s way of life -- this fact is given its first direct statement in the sequel to A Princess of Mars. It is in this novel that we see the warrior fighting for his love beyond all other considerations or distractions of the first three books. Although there is deep love shown in the first three novels, it is in the fourth, The Gods of Mars, that the concept of the warrior of love is codified.

The Warrior For Love is the ultimate Burroughsian concept of a hero. All other considerations of society, religion, scientific novelties, strange beasts and strange places, are secondary to this concept. All philosophical musings, all wars with men and beasts, all dangers met and overcome are for the Beloved One. She is the focus of the warrior’s struggles. She is the goal worth crossing oceans of time and space to attain.

The warrior’s song is a song of love, but he sings it with his sword.

This is the Burroughsian grand opera that played throughout his career in many voices. There are many variations of this song , but the leitmotif of the entire cycle is always "The Warrior for Love."

ERB’s achievement is not so distant from Wagner’s epic "Ring" cycle. It is a mighty construction that he spent a lifetime exploring and offering to us again and again in its many guises.

Later, in A Fighting Man of Mars Sanoma Tora asks the question,"What is love?" And Hadron of Hastor replies, "Love is everything." This is an example the truest revelation of the Warrior’s Heart—it is the essence of ERB’s own philosophy, and of every warrior hero he ever created.

One might argue that the first three novels demonstrate the Warrior for Love quite well, which of course they do. However, it is in The Gods of Mars that the concept is given its first direct statement in relation to the warriors way of life (see item 3 below).

In the case of Tarzan of the Apes, "Love Renounced" is a better way of looking at the presentation. Although the concept of a Warrior For Love is a strong thematic element in this novel, it is not mentioned directly in conjunction with the purpose of arms.

"You are free now, Jane," he said, "and I have come across the ages out of the dim and distant past from the lair of the primeval man to claim you—for your sake I have become a civilized man -- for your sake I have crossed oceans and continents -- for your sake I will be whatever you will me to be. I can make you happy, Jane, in the life you know and love best. Will you marry me?" (TA 389-390).

Tarzan makes a most eloquent statement. Yet for the sake of honor he does not say, "I love you Jane. Love is stronger than pride or honor. Come with me, for I am surely your true destiny." This feeling is reserved for the next novel where John Carter indeed places Love above every other consideration most directly when he says, a greater power than pride or honor spurred me to escape these fierce destroyers. In my case it was love.

This may seem to be a small point in consideration of ERB’s intent, yet it is a great one if we are willing to allow that Burroughs developed and expanded his warrior’s code with each succeeding novel.

 The Gods of Mars 

Warrior of Friendship/Warrior for Love

The Joy of Battle
1. "I grasped a mighty long-sword in my hand and in my heart was the old blood lust of the fighting man and a red mist swam before my eyes and I felt my lips respond to my heart in the old smile that has ever marked me in the midst of the joy of battle" (GM 15).

The Death of the Warrior

2. " ‘It will be a great death,’ I said to my companion ...

We may at least die fighting as great warriors should, John Carter,’ he replied (GM 17).

The Warrior For Love

3. " ... that Tars Tarkas was the bravest of the brave he had proven thousands of times; yes, tens of thousands in countless mortal combats with men and beasts. And so I knew that there was another reason than fear of death behind his flight, as he knew that a greater power than pride or honor spurred me to escape these fierce destroyers. In my case it was love—love of the divine Dejah Thoris; and the cause of the Thark’s great and sudden love of life I could not fathom, for it is oftener that they seek death than life—these strange, cruel, loveless, unhappy people" (GM 23-24). (This is the codification of the Warrior of Love theme.)


4. "Then we shall die together, Tars Tarkas," I replied, "for I shall not go first. Let me defend the opening while you get in ... .

"It was ever your way, John Carter, to think last of your own life; "but still more your way to command the lives and actions of others, even to the greatest of Jeddaks who rule upon Barsoom" ... .

" ... know that the cruel, and heartless Thark, to whom you taught the meaning of friendship, will come out to die beside you." (GM 28-29).


5. "... why would you return to face again the fierce banth, or whatever other form of destruction they have loosed within that awful trap?

"Because my friend fights there alone ..." (GM 57-58).

The Duty to Try

6. " ... you cannot escape." ... ."It is useless even to try." . ....

"But try we shall ..."

"Not only is it our right to bend every effort to escape—it is a solemn duty from which we should not shrink ..." (GM 65-66).

Not A Ladies' Man

7. "Never have I been much of a ladies’ man, being more concerned with fighting and kindred arts which have ever seemed to me more befitting a man ...(GM 133).

The Foe of Injustice

8. "I had no love for Xodar, but I cannot stand the sight of cowardly injustice and persecution without seeing red as through a haze of bloody mist, and doing things on the impulse of the moment that I presume I never should do after mature deliberation" (GM 148).

No Despair

9. "My case was hopeless."

"Well, I would make the best of it, and rising, I swept aside the brooding despair that had been endeavoring to claim me" (GM 151).

Eternal Hope

10. "Come, come! I cried. "There is hope yet. Neither of us is dead. We are great fighters. Why not win to freedom?" (GM 153).

The Arbiters of Fate

11. "... while we live we are still more the arbiters of our own fate than is any god" (GM 155).

Assertion of Manhood

12. "You are a brave man ... It is your own affair if you wish to be persecuted and humiliated; but were I you I should assert my manhood and defy my enemies" (GM 158).

No Pleasure in the Easy Thing

13. "It will make escape more difficult," I said, and then I shrugged my shoulders; for what, pray, is the pleasure in doing an easy thing? (GM 160).

The Barsoomian Oath Of Fealty

14. This is the Barsoomian oath of fealty. The one offering this allegiance first places his sword at the feet of the Jeddak whose high character and chivalrous acts have inspired this enthusiastic sign of love.

"My sword, my body, my life, my soul are yours to do with as you wish. Until death and after death I look to you alone for authority and for my every act. Be you right or wrong, your word shall be my only truth. Whoso raises his hand against you must answer to my sword: (GM 245-246).


On Friendship:

Perhaps the greatest expression of friendship in the works of ERB is between John Carter of Earth and Tars Tarkas, the green man of Mars. Here is a true side-kick worth dying for, and part of the Code of the Warrior is the willingness to lay down your own life for that of your friends.

Moreover, the role of the male-companion is one of the elements described by Fiedler in his chapter on the historical romance.

"All of these books ... have certain characteristics in common; all of them have male protagonists, adult or juvenile; all involve adventure and isolation plus an escape at one point or another, or a flight from society to an island, a woods, the underworld, a mountain fastness—some place at least where mothers do not come; most all of them involve, too, a male-companion, who is the spirit of the alien place, and who is presented with varying degrees of ambiguity as helpmate and threat: Friday, Alan Breck Stewart, Long John Silver, Fagan, Robin Hood. The relation between the protagonists takes various forms: servant and master, foster-father (good and bad) and foster-son, lover and beloved" (Fiedler 181).

On Love:

Women in Cooper’s novels bear some relationship to those of ERB’s heroines at least in the sense of honoring the fair sex.

"The notion of the sacredness of womanhood and the sanctity of every member of the sex, the supreme creed of the female sentimentalists, he (Cooper)accepted as literal truth, ritually portraying all upper-class, white, Anglo-Saxon women as without sin" (Fiedler 185).

However, Cooper held an "ambivalence toward the instinctual life in sex and nature," and in "In an age of Romance, what can one do with the hero who, in essence and by definition, cannot get the girl? (Fiedler 208-209).

ERB was quite modern in this respect, allowing marriage between "alien" races and humans in his Barsoomian series without the taint of miscegenation.

There are undoubtedly further developments and refinements of the warrior’s code with each novel by ERB. He does not remain a static writer; yet he never abandons the firm foundations of his basic code of duty and honor.

ERB extends his code to include women warriors, but that is another story.

This brief study ends with a distillation of the Warrior’s Code as sung by ERB in his first four novels. Curiously enough, the famous cry, "I still live!" does not appear in its famous first-person form until Chessmen of Mars, wherein Tara of Helium recalls her father’s teaching.

"... Tara of Helium knew then that there was trickery in their justice; but though her situation seemed hopeless she did not cease to hope, for was she not the daughter of John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, whose famous challenge to Fate, "I still live!" remained the one irreducible defense against despair?"

"... Tara of Helium knew then that there was trickery in their justice; but though her situation seemed hopeless she did not cease to hope, for was she not the daughter of John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, whose famous challenge to Fate, "I still live!" remained the one irreducible defense against despair?"



Burroughs, Edgar Rice. A Fighting Man of Mars, G&D.

________. A Princess of Mars, G&D.

________. Tarzan of the Apes, G&D.

________. The Chessmen of Mars, G&D.

________. The Outlaw of Torn, G&D.

Fiedler, Leslie, A. Love and Death in the American Novel, Stein and Day, 1966.

Homer. The Iliad of Homer in the English Verse Translation by Alexander Pope, Easton Press, 1979.