The late, great, Forrest J. Ackerman – legendary science fiction fan; originator of the phrase ‘sci fi’; editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland; unstoppable collector of memorabilia, and creator of Vampirella – once wrote a charming letter to novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ackerman was 14 years of age at the time, and had just spent the day arguing with a teacher on the subject of Burroughs’ writing. That evening, full of pride following his commendable, spirited defense of the author, Ackerman put pen to paper in order to inform him.
That letter, along with Burroughs’ reply, can be read below.
530 Staples Avenue
August 25, 1931
Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs
My dear Mr. Burroughs:
I have something to tell you which I think you will find very amusing.
I am a fourteen year old boy and am a low Junior in High School. Today at school our teacher was discussing “good literature.” I asked if Edgar Rice Burroughs was all right for a book report. I knew she’d say “no” (teachers always do) but I didn’t expect her to lecture to the class for the whole period about how terrible your books were!
The discussion was as follows (as nearly as I can remember): Teacher speaking: “His first Tarzan book was all right. I’d advise you all to read it. Why when I read it I actually imagined I was a monkey hanging by my tail in a jungle. It was very real. But all his stories since then have been just repitions.” I cut in with: “Oh, I don’t think so. I’ve read everyone of ’em and I’m goofy to read every new one that comes out.” Well with that she burst into a perfect tirade! “If I were to buy the highest priced box of chocolates obtainable,” she said, “and were to offer it to you along with a box of old cheap stuff, which would you take? Why the good candy of course! Yet you’ll go to extremes to pick up this horrid literature out of the garbage cans such as Burroughs writes.” — and she went on for hours and hours and hours. I got in a good word for you every chance I could.
Then came the last straw when she said: “Now if he’d write like Verne his stories would be more acceptable. Verne had something. He could write of a submarine, something that didn’t exist in his time. He had imagination. Burroughs doesn’t.” Now I ask you: is Verne’s sub. any better example of imagination than your machine that went to the center of the earth? Not as far as I can see!
Another thing: she said she’d be in jungles many times and your conception of them was “all wet”, so to speak. She says you don’t know what you’re talking about. Claims there are no such jungles of trees as Tarzan goes thru and a lot of other nonsence. Who cares about that? All you speak of is real to me. Hawthorne, Cooper and others may have written “Classics”, but I’ll take one of your fast-moving novels any day to those dead old things that ought to have been buried years ago.
Now, to get off the subject. The first story I ever read by you was “The Mastermind of Mars” in AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL. I read that magnasplendent story when I was living in Hollywood. Shortly after that I moved to San Francisco. Then, for the first time in my life, I went to a library. I asked if any such person as Edgar Rice Burroughs had written any books that were in the library. Well you can imagine my joy when I found you’d written stacks! I grabbed “Chessmen of Mars” and a “Tarzan” book and home I flew. Oh boy! What a time I had for the next year reading your stories. Now I’ve read every one. I’m trying to save up some money to buy your “Fighting Man of Mars” but I don’t seem to be getting anywhere.
I don’t expect you’ll bother to answer this–maybe you haven’t even read it–but anyway will you please autograph the enclosed card and return it to me. Thank you, so much!
And now I’d better sign off. I certainly envy the fellow–if there is such a fellow–that is friendly enough with you to call you Eddie!
Yours very respectfully,
(Signed, ‘Forrest J Ackerman’)
Forrest J. Ackerman
August 27, 1931
Mr. Forrest J. Ackerman
530 Staples Ave.,
San Francisco, California.
My dear Forrest:
Thanks for your letter. Tell your teacher that, though she may be right about my stories, there are some fifty million people in the world who will not agree with her, which is fortunate for me, since even writers of garbage-can literature must eat.
My stories will do you no harm. If they have helped to inculcate in you a love of books, they have done you much good. No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature, or its kind. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.
Last year I followed the English course prescribed for my two sons, who are in college. The required reading seemed to have been selected for the sole purpose of turning the hearts of young people against books. That, however, seems to be a universal pedagogical complex: to make the acquiring of knowledge a punishment, rather than a pleasure.
Again thanking you for your letter, I am
Very sincerely yours,
(Signed, ‘Edgar Rice Burroughs’)