One element that fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs and of the John Carter of Mars series is the unmistakeable style of Burroughs. This style carries through all 11 of the books, except for the first half of the last book, John Carter of Mars. This is the story John Carter and the Giant of Mars.

While the story was originally written by Burroughs' son, Burroughs himself edited and re-wrote it. But the style is pedestrian and boring compared to the other books. Is there a reason Burroughs didn't make more of an effort to bring the style of this book more in line with his own style, which is the style fans loved so much?

NOTE: Yes, his son did the writing, but it was published under the name Edgar Rice Burroughs, not under his son's name. He's the one that is getting credit and claiming authorship as well as dealing with the blame and fallout if it's bad (which it was, by almost any measurement). Anything published under an author's name effects his reputation and his future sales as well as his popularity, so it's quite reasonable to ask why he let a book with his name go forward when the style was so weak. That all he did was edit is not a clear reason. If it was to be left as is, why not publish it under his son's name?

I have yet to see anything here that answers why an author with a reputation based, in large part, on his style, would allow publication of a book under his very own name that does not maintain the quality of the product people would have come to expect from a book with his name on it.

  • 4
    I think you've answered your question: Burroughs didn't write the story. There's only so much you can do via editing.
    – Martha
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 18:48
  • @Martha: It depends on how much you want to edit -- which raises the question why more wasn't done to bring it in line with the rest of the series, when the style is such a major element of the series.
    – Tango
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 18:51
  • 2
    Were it my Dad editing my work and he changed it substantially, I'd be pissed.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 19:21
  • @DampeS8N: That's you. And it also would depend a lot on other factors, such as the relationship between the writers involved. Was he starting his career? What was the agreement? The other point is that ERB is cited as the actual author, which means it goes out under his name and is part of his reputation. To authors, that's extremely important. While people think it's obvious, I still don't see anything on here that actually answers the question.
    – Tango
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 20:15
  • @DampeS8N: I'll put it another way. You're a developer. If your son wrote substandard code for a site that would be widely published and it was going to bear your name, and the quality of that code would effect your reputation, including your ability to get future contracts, would you willingly let poor code go out with your name and reputation on it, even if it was your son's? After all, he can't use it in his resume, but you have to, bugs and all.
    – Tango
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 20:25

1 Answer 1


Well, as you mention, Edgar Rice Burroughs edited / revised it, after his son wrote it, so his name is all over it. I don't think, however, that that is how it was meant to be.

The book was originally written for Big Little Books, which had a picture opposite each page of text. (In fact, John Burroughs is credited with the art for the story.) The story itself was a Juvenile work, and with the limit of having to have a picture for every page, is unlikely to have been something Edgar Rice Burroughs intended to become part of his body of published works; he just edited it.. His son wrote it.

Although the story, taken as is, isn't impressive, if you consider the target audience was probably much younger (think how old you would have been when you needed a picture next to every page) it's not that bad; it's just not written for even close to the same audience as the rest of his stories.

It was later printed in Amazing Stories, and I'd guess that they jumped at it, simply because it was John Carter of Mars related and had Edgar Rice Burroughs name associated with it. My guess would be that either Whitman Publishing (owner of Big Little Book) or Edgar Rice Burroughs agent sold it to Amazing stories without his knowledge / approval / whatever... But that's just my guess; I can find nothing to support it, so far.

Still, after it showed up in a mainstream SF mag like Amazing Stories, it was forever welded into the canon, despite the initial intent.

  • Thanks, Keith! That explains a lot. As I thought, there were more factors involved than just, "I'm helping my son out."
    – Tango
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 21:14

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