Edgar breaks bad

>> Friday, November 13, 2009

If you're not following the blog Letters Of Note, well, why the hell aren't you following the blog Letters Of Note. The blog is exactly what the title says: reproductions of interesting and/or notable letters, often from notable historic figures like Einstein and Lincoln. It's worth adding to your RSS feed.

Today's addition, a letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs to his daughter, written in 1941, made me crack up with a wonderful string of invective directed at people dismissive of his novels and stories, and also a little sad at a writer's decline in status; it's a bit poignant while being funny, since of course Burroughs is one of the most significant genre writers of all time and yet is dismissed as exactly that, a genre writer. I'd be willing to bet that more people know who Tarzan is than have heard of most literary protagonists; that isn't to take the reverse, anti-intellectual tack that literary fiction is over-rated in any way; for all his accomplishments as a writer, I don't know that Burroughs ever wrote a piece of truly deathless prose in his life, or otherwise wrote a sentence that really bit into the reader and got its teeth in. Genre fans who dismiss literary fiction do so at their peril. But the dismissive attitude of some towards genre literature is no better, really--pop culture is the backbone of culture, and Tarzan part of our collective soul. They're not equals, literary and genre fiction, but neither is indispensable and the well-rounded individual perhaps partakes of both.

Anyway, who can pass up a nice choice piece of invective like that which closes this somewhat touchingly sad passage:

If anyone says a kind word about my work nowadays, as you did, I nearly break down and cry. I have had so many refusals lately and had my classics so gratuitously insulted over here that I have lost confidence in myself. I am getting damned sick of hearing people apologize to me for reading my stories, or pretend to grouse because they have had to read them to their children, or say that they used to read them while they were in kindergarden but have not read any for years and years. It used to amuse me, but I guess I must be losing my sense of humor. I think I shall come right back at the next one with a retort courteous, such as: "Well, you homely looking abortion, if you had the brains of a cross-eyed titmouse you'd keep your fool mouth shut instead of knocking inspired literature that has entertained a hundred million people for over a quarter of a century !!!" Do you think that would stop 'em? or is it too courteous?

This is followed by Burroughs describing his next story--which he himself calls "goofy."

Thanks for being there, Mr. Burroughs, wherever you are (hopefully Mars; maybe you were shooting down all those probes that couldn't land), and no apologies from me.


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