Sunday, December 18, 2011

Did Burroughs Write Alternate History?

Some have opined that ERB's "universe," and most particularly Tarzan's Africa, represent an alternate reality. Of course, ERB and others wrote in a time before the term "alternate history" had been coined. The "alternate history" genre seems to have had its genesis in the novel The Wolves of Willouby Chase by Joan Aiken, who wrote a Dickensian series of novels that took place in an alternate England, in which King James III was never deposed, and wolves have migrated to Britain via a Channel tunnel (rather than merely survived from Arthurian times). More recent novels of alternate history focus on such questions as : what if Rome never fell? What is the South had won the Civil War? What if aliens had become involved in WWII ? What if the newly discovered Americas had been inhabited not by native human tribes, but by Homo Erectus? Those last two examples are derived directly from the novels of Harry Turtledove, a veteran of alternate historical fiction.

Such writers as ERB and Conan Doyle didn't set out to write alternate history. Burroughs wrote in an era when life on Mars and Venus and even the moon seemed higly probable, however wild their speculations were. But as time has passed, Burroughs novels could easily be classified as such today. The locale for Doyle's Lost World actaully exiists but no prehistoric fauna exists there; Robert J. Sawyer's novel Dinosaur Summer speculates on how history might have preceded had Conan Doyle's story been fact (among other things, the movie King Kong, was a flop!).

As far as Burroughs' Africa goes, he seems to have been drawing on the mythic "Dark Continent" of Western cultural imagination, which in fact, Tarzan's Africa resembles the most. For one thing, the Congo appears to be far more extensive than it on our earth, and the savanna lands, which make up the bulk of the Africa we know, correspondingly smaller. It is generally assumed that Lord and Lady Greystoke were stranded on the coast of the Cameroon; however the first novel suggests that the locale is far south of the there, where technically there should be no jungle.

Another difference is in the fauna. It is fairly obvious that the Mangani are a speciesof great ape absent in the Africa we know. Just what are the Mangani? Most depictions of them resemble the chimpanzee the most closely, but are larger. Like chimps, the Mangani are aggressive, omnivorous creatures. They seem to be considerably more inteligen than any known ape species, and even havea language. However, this last may or may not set tham apart, as other primates such as the Bolgoni (gorilla), and even the Manu (monkey) seem to comprehend and speak the same tongue in Burroughs' Africa, which merely sounds like animalistic gibberish to humans. And speaking of the Bolgoni, the gorilla of Tarzan's Africa seems to be of a more aggressive disposition (and also omnivorous). This corresponds to what was then known (and feared) about gorillas by European explorers, but has little to with what has since been learned. There is also no mention of the chimpanzee (and their smaller, less aggressive cousins, the Bonobo, or pygmy chimps) in Burroughs novels. The bonobo may not have been officially recognized at the time, bu Burroughs may have intentially cosen to eliminate the chimpanzee from his version of Africa. I wrote a pastiche once set in Burroughs Africa in which I gave mention to "Rogani the chimpazee," but that is only speculation; others have speculated that this species may not exist in Burroughs' Africa any more than the Mangani exist in ours.

Then there is the matter of African tigers. In Tarzan of the Apes Burroughs intended the mangani term "Sabor" to refer to the tiger. It was originally a tiger, not a lioness, from whom Tarzan rescued Jane. This error may well exist in the origianl pulp publication. The only thing, of course, is that no tigers exist in Africa. Burroughs simply did not know this, so there was no intent on alternate world-building here. He corrected this error his later drafts, and the African tiger disapeared from Tarzan's Africa. This ommission may be, in general, for the better, as evidenced when Tarzan encounters a Sumatran tiger in Tarzan in the Foreign Legion. However, the possibility of African tigers remains enigmatic. Professor Louis Leakey, famous for his discover of mankind's ancestors, speculated that tigers did indeed once roam Africa's plains and jungles in his book Animals of East Africa. This book includes a fascinating chapter on the prehsitoric fauna of Olduvai Gorge, incuding pelorovis, a giant relative of the cape buffalo with sweeping horns, giant bison-sized pigs with four tusks, libitherium, an extinct girraffid crowned with antlers, giant baboons, elephant-like deinotherium, calictotheres---and Afria tigers. But were they truely tigers? Leakey writes that the skulls of lions and tigers appear virtually indentical, but when placed on a flat surface, the skull of a lion can be rocked back and foreward, while the skull of a tiger will remain flat. The "African tiger" skulls remain flat. However, Leakey cautions, "there exists no evidencd for he cat's striped coats." The jury appears to still be out on the existence of African tigers. But had Burroughs not corrected his error, Tarzan's Africa would be all the more identifibale as an alternate historical account.
Perhaps the most profound difference between ERB fictitious africa and our own is its apparent human history. Tarzan encounters many lost civilizations tucked away in its vast jungled reaches. This, in itself, indicates a far more extensive rainforest tha in our own world. Some of these lst colonies are from identifiable historical periods. The colonists ventured into the depths of Africa, put down their roots, and were subsequently cut off form their parent civilization. But other lost colonies-such as the warring cities of Athne and Cathne in the lost valley of Onthar--have a much more enigmatic origin. They resemble no known civilation from recorded history. What, then, do they represent? Opar is identified as a colony of lost Atlantis. But why are no native civilizations represented? Only Ashiar, which is possibly of Egyptian origin, would be a exception. Some might count the lost city of Ur, in the semi-pastice by Joe R. Landsdale, as canon, but other than it, no civilzation of subSaharan African origin exists. Burroughs invented the city of Ur, but never got around to describing it. In all likelyhood, it would have turned out to have been of near-Eastern origin, as its name indicates, not sub-Saharan African, as Joe Landsdale describes it (I really don't think the Landsdale portion of ths story should be considered canon, inventive and Burroughsian as it is).

The fact is that the inhabitants of cities like Athne may, in fact, be of true African origin, only it is NOT the Africa of our own history. In The Eternal Savage, Burroughs discribes a fictional, prehistoric Africa inhaited by white prmitives and primeval monsters. Nu, the hero of the tale, is in fact, astonished that some of the inhabitiants of modern Africa are Black! In Phillip Jose' Farmer' Hadon of Ancient Opar novels, and in Time's Last Gift, he strongly suggests that Africa's first human inhabitants and original civilizations were white rather than black. So did history proceed on a radically different course in Burroughs' Africa? Farmer may not be canon, but one look at the Niocene Africa, with its Pellucidar-type fauna and humans idicates, the answer, at least in part, is yes.
Are there any thoughts on this?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beasts of Amtor

There are a number of fierce beasts that roam the forests and seas of Amtor (oERB's version of Venus). Here are some of them.


Tharbans, or "peppermint tigers" are a ferocious species of Venusian carnivore. Sleek after the mnner of the great cats, they are striped logitidally in white and red. They have pointed ears and stiff, bristly mans along their spines. The tharban obviously evolved paralell with the great cats of earth, in order to fill an equivelant ecological niche. That is what is known as paralel evolution, and it takes place upon many worlds.


The basto is the mighty bison-boar of the forests of Venus. Like earthly swine it is omnivorous and very fierce. The animal sports the boar-like tusks, and also the horns and great humped back of a bison. It is similar to the giant eltelodonts of primeval earth, but is of the prportions of an elephant. Bastos are hunted by he Venusians for their meat, which is considered excellent: "there is nothing like a basto steak grilled over a wood fire." Of course, this is only obtained at great personal risk to life and limb.


Targos are giant spiders of the Amtorian forests. Their web-silk (called "tarel") is greatly prized by th Amtorians, who use it for a variety of purposes.


The rotik is the most numerous of the Amtorian marine saurians. Growing up to the size of small ocean liners, the rotik possesses a fleshly extension growing up from its skull. This terminates in a third eye, which the beast can uses as a natural perioscope.


The tongzan is a bizarre, arboreal predator the size of a panther. It has grasping claws, a single, scarlet eye, sharp fangs, and a air of chelae, or lobster-like claws with which it siezes its prey. Its yellowishish fur is marked longitudaly with crimson stripes. It hunts among the giant trees of the Venusian forests.


An arboreal reptilian predator of the Amtorian treetops. It is something like an oversized gecko with a crocodilian head. The vere has a striking pattern of crimson, yellow, and black scales. A series of ivory horns protrude from either side of its head. Its gaping jaws are toothless. It has a single, huge eye in the center of its foreheead, and sticky, chemeleon-like togue with which the vere captures its prey. It then incapacitates its victim with its foul, vaporous breth.


The gantor is gigantic, herbivorous ox-like animal larger than a terran elephant. It bears a single horn in the center of its forehead. It is used as a draft animal by the Amtorians.
The kazar is bizarre quadrepedal avian, with a parrotlike head. They run and herds (or flocks), and as such are highly aggressive and dangerous. However, they can be tamed.


The klangans are a semi-sentient race of bird-like humanoids; their name literally translates to "birdmen." They often serve as slavers for human villains such as the Thorists, or Amtorian Communists, lassoing their victims with ropes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Niocene Era

NOTE: The B and W artwork on this page is by Steve Gordon for the upcoming graphic novel by Martin Powell and Steve Gordon , based on the Burroughs noevle The Eternal savage. Cool, ain't it? There's a number of other ERB graphic novels due out this year, including At the Earth's Core and Tarzan At the Earth's Core, in celebration of ERB's 100th aniversary.

Edgar Rice Burroughs invented the fictonal Niocene Age for his novel the Eternal Lover, subsequently retitled The Eternal Savage. It's hero was Nu, a Cro-Magnon warrior whose beloved was Nat-ul. Nu seeks the head of the great sabertooth tiger Oo, much as the primitives of Pellucidar seek the head of a tarag to awin the mate of their choice. He successfully slays the beasts after a battle royal, but ends end gettig thrust back into present-day Africa where he meets with Victoria Custer, who is Nat-ul's modenr incarnation. Later, Custer expereinces life in the Niocence as Nat-ul, and Nu rescues her many more times. This the one notable "prehistoric" novel set not in a Lost World locale, but in the ancient past. While it supposedly takes place in Africa, it is not the Africa of actual history. If anything, it takes place in a mythical prehistory similar to One Million B. C. or Joe Kubert's Tor, where the Age of Reptiles has over lapped into the dawning ages of Man, and beasts of differnet prehistoric ages intermingle. Niocence Africa very much resembles Pellucidar, and many of the same species predominate. Ice-Age fauna seems the most common, with a few Mesozoic holdovers, mainly marine and flying saurians. ERB mentions, "from the distant sea and swamp came the hissing of saurian and amphibian." Surviving dinosaurs may lurk in the swamp, and labyrinthodont amphibians, like Pellucidar's sithic, may lurk there as well. The human inhabitants seem to be all white Cro-Magons, though with an inhanced ability for swinging through the trees. There exists on an island a race of hairy beings called "tree-people", with pig-eyes and worlf-fangs, which may be a relic populartion of Homo Erectus.


The great saber-tooth tiger, whom Nu slays and beheads for Nat-ul. He represents essentially the same species as the giant tarags of Pellucidar. The body as as huge as a full-grown bull, gorgeously striped in brilliant gold and glossy black. The ivory slashers are fully eighteen-inches long. Burroughs greatly inflated the beast's proportions for dramati effect.

The great cave-bear of the stone age, Ursus Spaleus, the mortal enemy of Oo.


The wooly mammoth of the ice age, not native to Africa in our own history.

The great wooly rhinoceras, Coleodonta, a native of Plesticene Eurasia, but not Africa, in our own history.


The mighty cave-lion of the Plesticence. Burroughs describes both sexes as being maned.According to actual cave-paintings, this species was in fact maneless.


Giant bovines, common to Europe up into historical times. Did in fact roam Afica in prehistoric times.

Cave Hyena
Giant relative of the modern hyena


A giant flying reptile, possibly actually a pterandon, possibly synonomous with the thipdars of Pellucidar. One bore Nat-ul to its nest on the island of the tree-people. Burroughs remarks that "even in Nat-ul's day they were practically extinct."

Marine Saurians

Marine reptiles still proliferate in the Niocence oceans, such as the plesiosaur that attack's Nu's boat, as he crosses the water to save his beloved. The artist above protrayed a rather fanciful representation of the beast.


The people of the Niocence, called "troglodytes" by Burroughs, are white-skinned Cro-Magnon people. There are two main cultures where Nu lives, the cave dwellers, Nu's people, and the boat-builder's Tur's people, who live on the edge f the paleolithic sea. Nu's people dress in the hides of carnivores slain in battle, while the boat-builders wear the hides of aurochs and other herbivores.

Tree People
The Tree people are a relic popultion of some former stage of human development, who have manage to persist one of the islands. They are hideous race ofcreatures with fur and fangs.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Beasts of Barsoom


The banth is a ten-legged Barsoomian"lion." Of course, the banth is not a true lion, or member of the feline family. They naturally prey upon the thout, but anyanimal or being is a potential meal for the giant banth. Banths have protrubing green eyes, hairless bodies, and stiff-bristling manes. They are sleek in the manner of earthly felines. Their long jaws house a double row of hooked teeth, like the smaller calot, suggesting a common ancestry somewhere in the dim Barsoomian past. Obviously, it is a separate (non-feline) family of mammalian carnivores unique to Barsoom. All life-forms on the planet apparently began with ten legs; those with less evidently dispenesed with those limbs durng the long course of Barsoomian evolution. It may, in fact be mere comi coincidence that Earth's vertebrate lifeforms sport four limbs. Other six or more legged plans may exist throughout the universe.


Thoats are eight-legged Barsoomian "horses." Again, they are not true equines, or related to anything else on earth. They are often vicious and foul-tempered, but the sentient Martian races can train them as steeds, and use them in gladatorial jousting. Their powerful legs sport great padded toes, the hoof never having evolved upon Mars.

White Apes

The monstrous white apes of Barsoom are an anomaly. They have the multiple limbs as the majority of other lifeforms indicating a common ancestry with all other life on the planet; however unlike the thoat, banth, and others, they apparently share the same family as the true primates of earth. John Carter even describes the face of the white ape as being strikingly similar to the African gorilla. So...why are primates represented both on Earth and on Mars? It seems very unlikely that identical families should evolve--but apparently, it happened. The copper-skinned humans of Mars are also primates, and though they lack an extra set of limbs, they share the same basic reproductive system with other Barsoomian lifeforms. The primate family it seems, is found throughout the ERBs universe on trillions of worlds. Tarzan was able to communicate with the first white ape he stumbled upon being attacked by a swarm of ulsios in Tarzan,Jahn Carter: Warlords of Mars: "I speak the language of all mangani!" Mangani must be a universal tongue among Burrouhgs' primates, even on distant worlds. White apes roam in bands throughout Barsoom, but especially are encountered among the ruins of abandoned cities.

Plant Men

The bizarre "plant-men" of Barsoom are perhaps the wierdest lifeform to have evolved upon the planet's surface. They are virtually unique to the Valley Dor, the (dispointingly hellish) Martian version of heaven. Vaguely humanoid in outline, the plant-men are a nonsentient herding species. They perhaps are an example of a protist (kingdom of lifeforms that exhibit both plant and animal characteristics) that has developed into a large multi-cellular species. They sport a crop of angleworm-like tendrils for "hair,", a single, whitish eye that takes up their entire"face",a single nostril-like orfice for breathing, arm-like appendages which terminate in mouthlike orfices (through which the creatures graze), and massive, powerful tail. Their entire bodies are a weird, ghoulish blue color. Though they are "normal" four-limbed creatures, the plant-men have undoubtedly evolved along as separate trajectory then the other of Barsoomian species.


Reptiles on modern-day Mars are exceptionlly rare, though they were common during the planet's infancy, although whether the planet experienced a true Mesozoic era is unknown. And it is easy to understand why. Once Barsoom was warm and wet, with great oceans teaming with scaley life, and vast regions of rainforest. Creatures like the great albino cavern-dwelling lizard pictured above have lingered in forgotten pockets here and there, and are essentially prehistoric survivors. As monster's such as Pellucidar's zarith are generally considered extinct on Jasoom (Earth), surviving reptilian giants persist in realms such as Pal-ul-don and Caspak, as well as the inner earth. And so it is on Barsoom as well. John Carter noted a number of reptiles that bore resemblence to prehistoric fossil remains in the infamous pit of serpents. Like the mammals, Barsooms reptilian species (excluding serpents) sport multiple legs, indicating that reptiles gave rise to the mammals on Barsoom, just as they did upon earth.


The calot is something of an equivalent of a Martian canine, as the banth has evolved paralel with the great cats. Calots chase down their prey on ten powerful stout legs, and latch onto it with their multiple rows of hooked teeth. Calots are often trained by the red and green Martians and are fiercely loyal, bonding with their owners after the same manner as earthly canines. The most famous calot is Woola, who remained loyal to Carter after saving him from a Martian ape.


The apt is a monstrous, white-furred denizen of polar Mars. It sports six limbs, four o which carry it over the glaciers, the other two it can grasp prey with. It shead is described as something like the earthly hippopotomus (though the Whelan illusration above depicts it as a bit more rhinocerine), with mighty fanged jaws. Two horns of bone depend on either side of the great lower jaw. Its huge, insectasoid eyes encompass the majority of the apt's face. Each eye is composed o thousands of ocelli, all of which it can open or close independently and at will.


The orluk is another arctic monster, described as "a great elephantine beast of prey." it has yellow and black striped pelt. It conjurs up the image of a giant, furred, multi-legged carnivorous mammoth striped in gold and black. I could find no image (so far), but in the Thomas Yeates illustration above, some men appear to be clothed in orluk hides.
Update: Here is an actual drawing of an encounter with orluks at Barsoom's boreal pole. This from the new dynamite Warlord of Mars series, story arc "Savages of Barsoom." The beasts are striped, as they should be. But they should be yellow and black,and Burroughs describes them as "elephantine"suggesting that they may have sported trunks. Perhaps, though, he was merely referring to their size.


The sith is monstrous wasp-like insect-creature common to the Forest of Kabool, the size of a hereford bull. It has thrumming wings and deadly tail-stinger. The huge compund eyes are its one vulnerability. In the T. Yeates illustration above, Woola attack's this weakness, during his rows fangs deep into the eye. The insect in the Whelan painting may, in fact, be a related species native to the Tantolian marshes.


A giant, "prehistoric" Martian bird with a 40-ft wingspread. They are used as beasts of burden in the country surrounding the Tantolian Marshes. A relic from Barsoom's primeval past, the malagor combines features both avian and reptilian, much like the dinosaur ancestors of birds on earth.


The ulsio is a repulsive scavenger found underneath barsoomian cities, rather like a large, mulilegged rodent. The term "ulsio" is not one of endearment.


The zitidars are gigantic draft animals used by the red and green races of Barsoom. They are proboscidian in form, resmbling a Terran elephant or mastodon, though unrelated.


A small reptile with powers like the earthly chameleon.


A small six-legged mammalian carnivore kept as a pet by Barsoomians, and to kill small vermin. It is possibly a diminutive relative of the much larger banth.

Spiders Of Ghasta

Monstrous, upside-down-hanging arachnids native to the jungles of the Valley of Ghasta.


Other animals have been added to the Barsoomian fauna in comics and pastiches, most notably in the DC comics Tarzan family series. There was a one-shot story called "Amazon of Barsoom," which told the story of Martain princess. A predatory lizard-beast is pillaging the eggs when th princess hatches. Before she is eaten herself she slays the creature with his own sword. The "cannibal lizard" seems more than a mere beast however, as he wears both a tunic and a sword with scabbard! Later the Amazon of the title saves her Jeddak father from the "demon apes of the misty caves." She slaughters the red-furred simians en masse, proving herself as worthy to her father as any son would have been. Now about those apes--now we have TWO primate species (other than the red, yellow, black-skinned humans) native to Mars!

Another, separate, storyline involves a series of "lost journals" or John Carter. They are discovered in a trunk by a member of the aquatic Myopsian race (which are, in fact, native to Amtor (Venus), NOT Barsoom!

The first journal sees John Carter rescuing a beautiful princess who is trapped within a giant green gemstone. While searching for an implement to cut the crystal, he encounters a multi-legged styracosaurus-like beast that is unnamed in any of the canonical tales. The beast charges the gemstone, shattering it and freeing the princess. Carter then slays the beast with his sword. Later, the two are menaced by "the scavengers of Barsoom," flying reptiles which resemble three-headed pteranodons!

The "Amazon" story also shows flying reptiles which it refers to as "sky-kites."