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.
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.
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.