Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: Master of Adventure

It's been a while since I did one of these. I'm also reading another book-well sort of book-that I'll write about later. But for now...

First published in 1965 and republished ever since (the most recent being a 2005 edition put out by Bison Frontiers of Imagination), Richard A. Lupoff's Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure was the first serious book to delve into the literary output of one of the most influential and popular novelists of the 20th century. In that respect it's not a standard biography (Lupoff only spends one chapter on Burroughs' life prior to his writing career) but instead a run down of his novels and stories at least until the book's publication (my edition comes from 1975).

Lupoff breaks the book into two sections. The first one deals primarily with Burroughs' science fiction writings, with chapters bouncing back and forth between the Barsoom and Pellucidar series. There is also devoted chapters to such books like The Land That Time Forgot, The Moon Maid and Beyond the Farthest Star, taking a look at the plots and how each book fares. The second section deals with Tarzan, who gets a full five chapters devoted to his adventures, his literary ancestors and "Descendants of Tarzan" which looks at homages and ripoffs of the character and other Burroughs creations.

Having not read this book for a long time I began reading it to see what I had missed in my own reviews and evaluations of Burroughs' books on this site as well as refreshing my memory about some of his lesser known work. Some of Lupoff's opinions I agree with whole heartily. For example he holds up the Barsoom series as Burroughs' most sustained achievement, maintaining a quality that the other series don't (the only one Lupoff dislikes is Synthetic Men of Mars). I also agree with his comments on The Moon Maid and even his picking of Tarzan and the Ant Men as one of the top six in his picks for an ERB library for newcomers to his work. On the other hand Lupoff-at least in this edition-is dismissive of the Carson of Venus series and most of the later Tarzan novels which I don't agree with. But that is part of the fun, seeing which books I would have picked over the ones he does.

The book also spends some time on one of the more debated areas of ERB fandom-the inspirations of his work, in this case Lupoff's oft repeated claims that Edwin Lester's Lt. Gulliver Jones, His Vacation inspired Burroughs as well as the aforementioned chapter on Tarzan. I know some ERB fans have questioned this but until someone has definitive proof it will remain just speculation and will always divide fans.

Concluding this, for those who are new to Burroughs' work after seeing John Carter, this book is a definite recommendation as you can get some information and possible suggestions for future reading. For long time fans I'm sure you've read this and either agree or disagree with Lupoff. Still it's a good book for the new and old ERB fan. Rating: **** out of 4.

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