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“Under the Red Flag”


     Among admirers of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, even the most jaded fan or collector perks up at the mention of those few, fabled tales that have not yet been published. Some find particular fascination in Marcia of the Doorstep, ERB’s only remaining unpublished novel and his longest single work. (Tarzan the Untamed is actually composed of several short stories and a novel.) Others conjecture wistfully about that last, unfinished Tarzan novel. In the last mailing Paul Spencer had some thoughts concerning the untitled final entry in the Venus series, and Alan Hanson expressed interest in ERB’s true original of “Tarzan and the Jungle Murders” (Tarzan and the Castaways reprints the magazine version, which was at least partly rewritten by someone other than ERB).
     While I’d certainly like to read any and all of these, there is yet another unpublished Burroughs’ work—a seldom mentioned one that has haunted my thoughts on this subject since I first read about it—“Under the Red Flag.”
     “Oh, no,” some of you are probably saying, “that isn’t an unpublished work at all. It’s only the original, working title of “The Moon Men”—the middle part of the three-in-one hardcover published as The Moon Maid.
     To which I must reply, “No, that’s not completely accurate.” It is the title of an earlier version of the story we know as “The Moon Men.” “Under the Red Flag” was conceived and written in the winter of 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik revolution. If not the first, it certainly must have been among the earliest pieces of anti-Communist dystopian science fiction, a forerunner to Animal Farm and 1984. It also may be one of the most powerful.
     As ERB described the story in a letter to the U. S. Dept. of Justice, from which he solicited background information concerning the world Communist movement, “I have in mind a novel of the future showing conditions one or two hundred years from now, presupposing a world-wide adoption of Bolshevikism.”
     ERB wrote “Under the Red Flag” between April 30 and May 21, 1919. The tale concerned Julian James, who was born in the thirty-first Commune of the Chicago Soviet. Lantski Petrov is president of the United States, Otto Bergst (aka Comrade General Bergan) the new commander of the Red Guard at Chicago.
     The story was rejected eleven times, by magazines as disperate as the Saturday Evening Post and All-Story. ERB believed the editors were reluctant to reveal the truth about Communism and that the story was too controversial for their publications. At one point he wrote in a letter to Joseph Bray of McClurg, “I intend to try and find somebody to publish it even if I have to publish it at my own expenses, as I am personally sore that none of the magazines would take it for such a silly reason.” (All these details are from Porges.)
     In 1922, in an effort to salvage something from his fruitless labor of four years previous, ERB revised “Under the Red Flag,” transforming the Communists into Kalkars, a race of invaders from the Moon, but apparently he left much of the storyline unaltered.
     As we watch in fascination today, Communism is crumbling around the world. Statues of Marx and Lenin are being torn down throughout Eastern Europe, and the seventy-year reign of Bolshevism is finally coming to an end, even in Russia herself. The veil of secrecy has been ripped aside, and the rest of the world can now see quite clearly just how utterly bankrupt and stultifying that “Kalkar” philosophy was.
     Based on what little we know of “Under the Red Flag,” ERB’s prophetic tale seems as pointed today as ever. Isn’t it time that we and the general public, too, got a look at ERB’s original story? What could be a more appropriate time to issue this “lost” work of ERB’s than right now, as Marx and Lenin finally assume their rightful places on the ash heap of history?

     My interest in Tarzan chronology is limited. I tend to view the Tarzan series not from the Sherlockian point of view that this favorite fictional character is/was a real person, but from a literary and biographical perspective. I’m less interested in explaining away ERB’s occasional inconsistencies than in relating them to ERB’s craft and life. Where the chronologist conjures up various explanations of why Admiral d’Arnot (in Son of Tarzan) apparently has been demoted to Captain d’Arnot in Tarzan and the Forbidden City, I’m more interested in learning that that discrepancy is a telltale remnant from Forbidden City’s earlier incarnation as “Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher,” a 1934 radio serial, when the story served as a direct sequel to the radio adaption of Return of Tarzan and the change of rank indicated a completely appropriate promotion for the former lieutenant.
     Because of this difference in viewpoint, I was particularly pleased to discover that Alan Hanson’s newly published A Chrono-log of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan Series is every bit as fascinating for someone of my temperament as it undoubtedly is for James Michael Moody, our resident Tarzan chronologist. It presents in multi-column format every recorded event in the life of Tarzan of the Apes as well as simultaneous events affecting all the other characters of these books. Attractively produced and graced by three atmospheric drawings by Ceryl Lepper, it also features an intriguing essay on the “missing years” of Tarzan.
     It would require far more space than available to adequately review this publication. Suffice it to say that this is a major work of Burroughs scholarship. You’ll be sorry if you miss it.

     —November 22, 1990
 
Edgar Rice Burroughs'
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