The Dream Vaults of Opar

The Two Edgars

    The other Edgar of my teens and early twenties was Edgar Allan Poe. In between the Burroughs titles that were appearing regularly in paperback from Ace, I began to explore Poe’s stories and poems, and eventually went on to search out his little known efforts, such as Eureka (a fascinating work of cosmology, which uncannily anticipates the Big Bang theory in some ways), as well as his more obscure works of literary criticism. What I admired most about him then, and continue to admire today, was the extraordinary scope of his interests. The Father of the Mystery Story and Grandfather of Science Fiction (through his influence on Jules Verne), he was also the writer most responsible for the development of the modern short story as a recognizable art form. His poetry spawned a poetic school in France (the Symbolists), which in turn inspired much of modern poetry, and his thoughtful, analytical book reviews were among the first that could be considered genuine literary criticism.
     One of the first literary men to attempt to support himself with his pen, Poe actually earned his living, meager as it was, by working as the editor of various magazines, where he published and republished the astonishing products of his imagination. Copyright law in the U.S. was primitive, and he was poorly paid for both his creative efforts and his editorial work, so that he and his family were always forced to live hand-to-mouth. He was plagued, too, by alcoholism; the pattern of his later years was to take over a publication, increase its circulation dramatically, then go on a drunken spree and lose his job. Finally, following the tragic death of his wife, he achieved national notoriety with the publication of poems such as “The Raven” and “The Bells.” His triumph was short-lived, though, for drink seduced him a final time and he was found dead in a strange city after a three-day spree. (Or so one version of that day goes; the exact events leading to his death are unknown.)
     I see Poe as a tragic figure—a high-minded man of extraordinary intellect whose imagination soared far beyond the norm of humanity, but a man who was repeatedly dragged down by the harsh realities of his life and the weakness of his character.
     I was reminded of this other Edgar again recently while reading reviews of several CD-ROM discs. CD-ROM refers to the variety of compact discs used by computers. They look like music CDs, but contain computer code—as much as 650 megabytes on a single disc. That translates to some 650,000,000 characters, or about enough space to store 1,350 average-length novels. Among the more interesting discs that have already appeared are several competitive “great literature” collections, which feature the complete texts of a large number of famous public domain works. (One claims to contain more than 1,200 titles!) These works range from Homer and the Bible to the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence . . . and the “complete works” of Edgar Allen Poe.
     Frankly, I was emotionally moved to find Poe included. That poor, impoverished man, who struggled so intensely all the years of his short, wretched life to establish and promote his unique literary vision, had died as near a failure as anyone, without any reason to think that a single one of his works would long survive him. Yet here he is today, surrounded by Sophocles, Dante, and Shakespeare, his “complete works” (not really, but near enough for most readers) translated into electronic dots and dashes and ready to be carried to the stars.

    Computer terminals aren’t a very comfortable way to explore great literature (these literature discs are used mostly for reference purposes), but I’m personally convinced that the time is not very far away when advances in technology will make possible a handheld “reader” about the size of a hardbound book that will display computer text in a form just as pleasant to the eye as the printed page. You’ll even be able to select your favorite type size and face.
     CD-ROM actually constitutes a new medium, since the discs can combine text and illustrations with sound recordings and full-motion video. (I have a dictionary that pronounces words for me if I ask it to.) Twain’s World contains the complete works of Samuel Clemens, including letters and speeches, as well as photographs, readings, and motion picture footage.

     By now I’m sure you see what I’m leading up to: Eventually Edgar Rice Burroughs will be represented in this new medium. Imagine such a collection: all the Tarzan, Mars, Venus, Pellucidar, and assorted stories; all the occasional nonfiction, the odd snippets of poetry, and letters; photographs, artwork from editions published around the world; Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man who Created Tarzan, Under the Moons of Mars edited by Sam Moskowitz, and all the other basic reference works and scholarly articles on ERB—everything of significance, all on a single disc where it can be computer searched in an instant. And once these works are put in digital form, they will be readily available for use with whatever technology comes along, such as the “reader” I described above.
     But don’t hold your breath waiting for this disc. CD-ROM publishers are reluctant to pay high royalties, and copyright holders are reluctant to authorize any form of publication that might lessen their income from traditional books. Eventually, though, all copyrights will expire; a hundred years from now such a compilation could even contain the complete run of ERB-APA!
     Also on disc is an interactive game based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, in which the player is able to explore not only areas described in the trilogy, but unexplored regions as well. If Tolkien, why not Barsoom? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to retrace John Carter’s adventures, explore the dead sea bottoms with Gahan and Tara, and even strike out on our own to see what lies beyond the next dead city? A whole avenue of commercial exploitation of ERB’s works is being ignored here. And there’s no need to stop with Barsoom: Pellucidar and Venus offer ample area for exploration and game-playing, and certainly all the lost cities of Tarzan’s Africa could be included in this new medium. (Well, we can daydream. . . . )
     One more note on the subject of CD-ROMs: The Associated Press reported on June 22, 1993 that the Planetary Society is putting together a CD filled with science fiction stories about Mars, including works by Asimov, Bradbury, Wells, and others. The disc will be sent to Mars aboard a Russian probe. Carl Sagan announced the project. “Many scientists and rocket engineers were inspired as kids by reading science fiction about Mars,” he said. “This seemed to be a way to express our thanks to the science-fiction community, to give them a little immortality.” Given that Sagan has often credited ERB for his interest in astronomy, it’s likely that Burroughs will be represented on the disc.*

    I want to take this opportunity to thank Alan Hanson for the fine job he has done as OE, and to welcome Henry Franke as our new Official Editor. I would also like to add my support for the nomination of Darrell Richardson to honorary membership. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

—March 17, 1994

* I understand that the Planetary Society disk did contain A Princess of Mars. Unfortunately the text was probably taken from the Project Gutenberg version, which omits ERB's "Foreword," without which the book's ending makes little sense. Of course the Barsoomians already know all about John Carter anyway, so that probably doesn't matter.

Edgar Rice Burroughs'
Martian Series
<Dream Vaults Contents><next>
Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.