Who Was Edgar Rice Burroughs
At some future date, perhaps twenty-five years hence, perhaps two or three times that, descendants of today's community of literary critics will evaluate the American authors of the first half of the twentieth century. The vast majority will be long forgotten by then, the remainder will be sorted out in the many-years-long process that determines who will survive, who will perish. From the vantage point of 1965 it seems certain that one twentiethcentury American is assured of survival, for his historic impact on narrative technique if for no other reason: Ernest Hemingway.
Almost as secure seems William Faulkner, and not too far behind are Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis. Beyond these, one can guess. John Steinbeck? Theodore Dreiser? Willa Cather? The list might go on, and there is certainly no way of being really sure of who will still be read in the next decade, no less the next century. Authors come and go, their admirers become more and then less numerous, eventually most authors fade from notice while only the few attain a lasting place in the world of books.
Will James Branch Cabell be read in the year 2000? Will James Gould Cozzens? Will Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools be considered an enduring masterpiece or a flash in the pan?1
It may seem impudent to suggest the addition to this list of candidates for lasting literary life of an author whose self-appointed task was mere
1. A note from the twenty-first century: Despite the temptation to update this page and make myself look less foolish than I really am, I have decided to let the text stand. It seems to me that Hemingway is fading badly, Faulkner is holding his own, Fitzgerald and Lewis are seen increasingly as period pieces. Cabell is of interest only to cultists and antiquarians. Katherine Anne Porter, to borrow a sports metaphor, is “on the bubble.” As the great W. Somerset Maugham said in The Summing Up, you can never tell who will be remembered and who will be forgotten. Nevertheless, almost a century after his writing career began and some fifty-five years after his death, Edgar Rice Burroughs is still being read and his works are still being adapted for the amusement of nonliterary fans. He has already outlasted ninety-nine percent of his contemporaries, and he's still in the game.