Long before crossovers and shared universes populated books, movies, and TV shows, Edgar Rice Burroughs revolutionized the concept. His main characters like Tarzan, John Carter, and Dejah Thoris were in meticulously designed settings that were later revealed to be interconnected in Burroughs’ larger world. Now, the Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe will be launched as a new series of freshly written interconnected novels.
To learn more about the new project, Scoop spoke to Christopher Paul Carey, the Director of Publishing at Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The author of several novels and comics related to ERB’s work is serving as the creative director for the Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe series. He talked about the significance of Burroughs’ groundbreaking work, shared details on the project, what readers can expect, and talked about the importance of continuity.
Scoop: Today, the idea of an interconnected universe is widely accepted, but when Edgar Rice Burroughs began crossing over his characters it was revolutionary. How would you describe his impact on the literary world in general and specially with the concept of a coherent universe of stories?
Christopher Paul Carey (CPC): Edgar Rice Burroughs was not only a groundbreaker in terms of creating a pantheon of iconic heroes and heroines that etched themselves permanently into popular culture, such as Tarzan and Jane or John Carter and Dejah Thoris. He also created many unforgettable, fantastic worlds and settings for his characters to live in – Barsoom (Mars), Amtor (Venus), Pellucidar (the world at the Earth’s core), Caspak (The Land That Time Forgot), the lost cities of fictional Africa, and many more. Moreover, he established the key tropes for entire genres and subgenres, such as action adventure and sword and planet.
During his lifetime, multitudes of writers tried to copy what Burroughs did, but no one could come close to capturing his stylistic panache or the beat and thrum of mythic storytelling he imbued in his tales. And one of the reasons is because his characters and worlds were as intricately woven together as the tapestry of myth. When you have a character like Tarzan who already looms large in his own stories like a latter day Hercules, and then transport him to the fantastical hollow world of Pellucidar, as Burroughs did in Tarzan at the Earth’s Core – how can you beat that combination? But ERB didn’t cross over just Tarzan and Pellucidar. He also put his ape man and hollow Earth in the same universe as Barsoom and Amtor, and connected them with many seemingly standalone tales. Then he went even further and actually put himself as a character in his own stories who received and related the narratives. What the latter did was to impart a verisimilitude to ERB’s universe, to make it feel real and alive in the hearts of his readers in a way that few authors have been able to achieve. When we read his tales, we want to believe his pantheon of heroes and heroines really exists.
Arguably, his groundbreaking impact on literature has changed the entire landscape of entertainment in our popular culture, influencing everything from the Star Wars and Avatar franchises to the whole idea of fictional universes that we see in the Marvel and DC cinematic universes.
Scoop: How would you describe the project?
CPC: The ERB Universe is a new series of authorized novels set in Burroughs’ worlds, featuring his legendary heroes and heroines and written by today’s talented authors. It’s important to note that the new novels are canonical extensions of ERB’s original tales. Though novels by writers other than Burroughs have been authorized in the past, those in the ERB Universe series are the first that Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., has come forward and declared to be official canon. The new novels are also wholly consistent with one another, and a compelling through line, which we are calling the “super-arc,” connects them. The super-arc begins in 1950, the year of Burroughs’ passing, both metaphorically and literally bridging the past and carrying the ERB Universe forward into a new era.
Scoop: How much should new or potential new readers know about the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs before reading these books?
CPC: They can know as much or as little as they want. While the novels are connected by the super-arc, they can also be read as standalone tales with no previous reference needed. The novels will have framing devices, similar to those used by ERB, to introduce new readers to the worlds and characters and make it easy for them to jump right in, regardless of which book they pick up. Of course, we do hope readers who enter the series later in the super-arc will be intrigued enough by all the hints about what’s going on in the broader ERB Universe that they’ll want to go back and see how the journey all started. Hopefully, they’ll want to go back and read ERB’s original tales, too.
Scoop: Will Jason Gridley and Victory Harben appear throughout the series?
CPC: They will. Jason and Victory are the main characters of the super-arc, hurled from their home in Pellucidar through space-time by a mysterious force. Either one or the other character, and sometimes both, will be appearing in some manner in each novel. Jason Gridley – the discoverer of the “Gridley Wave” that allows communication between the worlds of the ERB Universe – is a character from ERB’s original novels who bridged four of his major series: Tarzan, Barsoom, Amtor, and Pellucidar.
Victory Harben, however, is a brand-new character, though she’s derived from the original canon. She’s Jason’s 18-year-old protégé, a prodigy in mathematics and physics who is every bit her mentor’s scientific equal. Victory is also a creature of two worlds: Pellucidar, where she was born, and the surface world, where her mother sent her to study. So she’s an interesting character in that she’ll be trying to figure out exactly who she is and how she fits into the scheme of things just as she and Jason are hurled though space-time.
Essentially, Jason and Victory will be “quantum leaping” from one world in the ERB Universe to another, including new worlds alluded to but never fully detailed by Burroughs. The two characters will also be a sort of vehicle for new readers, drawing them through these wondrous worlds and introducing them to ERB’s classic heroes, heroines, and villains.
Scoop: Tell me about the genesis of this project. When was it conceived and how has the idea developed?
CPC: If you want to go back far enough, I think the genesis goes back to when I was in high school and finding all the little crossover Easter eggs Edgar Rice Burroughs planted in his wide-ranging series and novels. Not only characters like Jason Gridley, who obviously bridged multiple series, but also minor characters, which were often the most fun to pick out.
Nowadays the idea of a fictional universe is pervasive in popular culture. But back then, as early as the period 1913 to 1916 when Burroughs began interconnecting his tales, no one else had created anything like it. Other authors had crossed over their characters and series, of course, but nothing like on the scale or grandness that Edgar Rice Burroughs did. He was really the first to create an expansive universe of worlds and characters.
So that was really the seed of the idea: since Burroughs had already carefully constructed a cohesive universe of adventure, why not carry it forward and expand upon his grand legacy in the same manner that he did when he was writing his tales fresh? I talked it over with ERB, Inc., President Jim Sullos and he loved the idea, and so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
Scoop: With this project, how do you plan on adhering to the existing canon and creating consistency with the new works?
CPC: Very carefully! Fortunately, I’m working with an amazing team. Win Scott Eckert, who wrote the massive, two-volume Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World, is an expert in fictional timelines and provided the initial framework for the ERB Universe chronology that we are using in house to track much of the continuity. Geary Gravel is a master of Barsoom canon, in particular, but also ERB canon as a whole. We all spend hours on the phone working out thorny questions of canon, such as how seeming contradictions in ERB’s original tales aren’t really contradictions at all. We all care deeply about the core canon and we’re working together to ensure that it’s expanded upon in a consistent and respectful way as we take it in new and exciting directions, as ERB himself did as he continued to write new stories.
Scoop: At this point, there are four books by four authors planned for the series. Have the writers worked together to create the overall story or is that being overseen in a different way?
CPC: As the creative director of the ERB Universe, I’m overseeing the storyline for the super-arc, but I’m working very closely with the authors, both individually and as a group, to coordinate how it fits in with each of the novels. It’s definitely a group effort, and we’re all aware that we’re in this together. It’s a really wonderful thing to see it all come together, and it’s been one of the highlights of my career in publishing to work with such an experienced and knowledgeable team of professional writers and creatives.
Scoop: Can you tell me about the storylines in each book?
CPC: In Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds, author Matt Betts teams up Carson Napier with some unlikely allies as an insidious new threat emerges on Amtor. Tarzan: Battle for Pellucidar by Win Scott Eckert takes the Lord of the Jungle back to the primeval world at the Earth’s core where he will go up against Nazi’s riding dinosaurs! Geary Gravel’s John Carter of Mars: Gods of the Forgotten resurrects the ghosts of the past as the Warlord of Mars plunges headlong into adventure beneath the surface of Barsoom. The super-arc really heats up in my novel, Victory Harben: Fires of Halos, which will take readers to both familiar worlds in the ERB Universe and strange new ones.
Scoop: Was there anything in particular that led to your decision in terms of writers and which characters they would be working on?
CPC: From the beginning, I had Matt Betts in mind for a Carson Napier novel. Carson is a little bit more “human” of a character, a little bit more fallible and lighthearted than, say, John Carter, who is almost a demigod alongside Tarzan in the ERB canon. Having read Matt’s work, I felt he would have just the right touch for the character.
Win Scott Eckert has been a friend and colleague of mine for a couple decades. I knew Tarzan at the Earth’s Core was one of his absolute favorite ERB novels, so I just let him run with it because I knew from his prior work what a fantastic job he would do – and he’s doing it.
John Carter was a no-brainer for Geary Gravel to handle. Geary had actually written a proposal and sample chapters for a Barsoom novel back before the John Carter movie was released, but for various reasons related to the film, the project never moved forward. When I reached out to Geary about writing a novel, I had him send me his sample chapters from that proposed novel and they just blew me away. A perfect combination of ERB’s voice, world building, and knack for fantastical storytelling.
I wanted to write the character of Victory Harben because she was the new ERB heroine who would be deeply enmeshed in the super-arc, the plot of which intensifies considerably in her novel. She’s actually related to a character from a novel by ERB, and I was taken by the idea of exploring how she might bridge the core canon and the extended canon, taking the ERB Universe into regions yet unexplored. I’m hoping to turn over the character to other authors in the future, because I think she’s too big for one author alone.
Scoop: Each book stands on its own but is also part of the larger arc. Why was it important to keep them connected but also individualized?
CPC: It’s a way of bringing new readers into the series who might not be familiar with all of ERB’s original characters or worlds. You’ll be able to enter the series at any point because of each novel’s framing device, which sets up that tale’s chapter of the super-arc and gives a sense of what has gone before. Then the mystery of the super-arc will pull you from one book to the next, introducing a variety of classic and new ERB heroes and heroines.
Scoop: Over the years, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work has been adapted extensively into various forms of media. Why is now the time to launch an interconnected, canonical Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe?
CPC: It’s hard to go a single day at my job without hearing from a fan about how this or that film or novel or comic book doesn’t align with Burroughs’ original stories. It’s in the zeitgeist right now. Fans today care about continuity, consistency, and quality as much as ERB himself did when he artfully constructed his interconnected universe. So why not give it to them?
Along those lines, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., has partnered with American Mythology Productions to produce the first-ever canonical ERB comic book miniseries: Carson of Venus: The Eye of Amtor, a prequel to Matt Betts’ novel Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds. The three-issue miniseries is scripted by Mike Wolfer based on a plot by Matt Betts. Its back pages will feature a special bonus comic that I scripted, Pellucidar: Dark of the Sun, which launches the super-arc and hurls Jason Gridley and Victory Harben on their epic adventures. The first issue of Carson of Venus: The Eye of Amtor releases winter 2019.
Scoop: When and where will the books be available?
CPC: Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds will be available for preorder in late 2019 and releases in Spring 2020, with the subsequent novels following every few months. The ERB Universe novels will be available from ERBurroughs.com and bookstores everywhere.
Scoop: Can you offer any teasers for what fans can expect from the subsequent novels yet to be announced?
CPC: We just brought on board Heidi Ruby Miller, a fantastic author of science fiction adventure, to handle a character she’s perfect to write. Stay tuned to ERBUniverse.com for more details, where you can sign up for our newsletter and keep up with all the latest announcements about the new series.