Racist writers of yesteryear

I was re-reading an old novel from Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of my favorite writers when I was a teen. He was perhaps the most popular writer of his day, selling more books than almost anyone before him, tens of millions of copies in at least a dozen languages. You may know ERB as the author of the Tarzan books, or the “Barsoom” Martian series, which were made into the movie John Carter of Mars.

He also wrote adventure novels about Venus, the Moon, Jupiter, and perhaps most interesting of all a series of adventure novels about “Pellucidar”, where he postulated a world inside the Earth. This world had stone-age people, animals now extinct on the surface, and seas and mountains all held by gravity to the inside of the Earth’s crust where the horizon always curved up into mist instead of down into nothing as on the surface of the Earth. This world had no night but was permanently illuminated by a bright sun that hung where we believe the Earth’s core to be. Pellucidar could be accessed through a gap near the North Pole, or by drilling directly through the Earth’s crust. ERB had a fantastic imagination.

Of course ERB lived in a different era and his novels were and are typically dismissed as mere popular entertainment. But on occasion he had flashes of brilliance and did not hesitate to use his books to “pellucidate” modern society. Here is a passage from “Land of Terror”, one of the Pellucidar series:


Closer and closer [the stone-age warriors] came, until I [David] could see them quite plainly. They were heavy-built, stocky warriors with bushy beards, a rather uncommon sight in Pellucidar where most of the pure-blood white tribes are beardless.

When they were about a hundred feet from us, their canoes all abreast, a number of warriors rose in the bow of each boat and opened fire on us…

[The stone-age warriors overcome David.]

When I regained consciousness, I found myself lying bound in the bottom of a canoe among the hairy legs of the warriors who had captured me… they were discussing the battle in loud, gruff voices, shouting back and forth the length of the boat… the warrior who had kicked me in the face said, “The prisoner has got his senses back. He can tell us how sticks can be made to give forth smoke and flame [i.e., David’s gun]…”

“We can make him give us the secret,” said another, “and then we can kill all the warriors of Gef and Julok and take all their men for ourselves.”

I was a little puzzled by that remark, for it seemed to me that if they killed all the warriors there would be no men left; and then, as I looked more closely at my bearded, hairy captors, the strange, the astounding truth suddenly dawned upon me. These warriors were not men; they were women.

“Who wants more men?” said another. “I don’t. Those that I have give me enough trouble–gossiping, nagging, never doing their work properly. After a hard day hunting or fighting, I get all worn out beating them after I get home.”

“The trouble with you, Rhump,” said a third, “you’re too easy with your men. You let them run all over you.” …

“Well, Fooge, … if I had such a mean-spirited set of weaklings as your men are, I might not have as much trouble; but I like a little spirit in my men.”

“Don’t say anything about my men,” shouted Fooge, as she aimed a blow at Rhump’s head with a paddle…

“Sit down, and shut up.”

I looked in the direction of the voice to see a perfectly enormous brute of a creature with a bushy black beard and close-set eyes. One look at [Gluck, their chieftain] explained why the disturbance ceased immediately…

As they paddled, they got to discussing me… The consensus of opinion seemed to be that I was too feminine to measure up to their ideal of what a man should be.

“Look at his arms and legs,” said Fooge. “He’s muscled like a woman.”

“No sex appeal at all,” commented Rhump.

“Well, we can put him to work with the other slaves,” said Gluck.

[At the village] a number of warriors had come down to greet us, and behind them huddled the men and the children, all a little fearful it seemed of the blustering women warriors.

I aroused only a mild curiosity. The women who had not seen me before looked upon me rather contemptuously.

“Whose is he?” asked one. “He’s not much of a prize for a whole day’s expedition.”

“He’s mine,” said Gluck. “I know he can fight, because I’ve seen him; and he ought to be able to work as well as a woman; he’s husky enough.”

“You can have him,” said the other. “I wouldn’t give him room in my hut.”

Gluck turned toward a man. “Glula,” she called, “come and get this. Its name is David. It will work in the field. See that it has food, and see that it works.”

A hairless, effeminate little man came forward. “Yes, Gluck,” he said in a thin voice, “I will see that he works.”

I followed Glula toward the village; and as we passed among the other men and children, three [men] and three children followed along with us, all eyeing me rather contemptuously.

“These [men] are Rumla, Foola and Geela,” said Glula; “and these are Gluck’s children.”

“You don’t look much like a man, said Rumla; “but then neither do any of the other men that we capture outside of the valley. It must be a strange world out there, where the men look like women and the women look like men; but it must be very wonderful to be bigger and stronger than your women.”

“Yes,” said Geela [one of the effeminate men]. “If I were bigger and stronger than Gluck, I’d beat her with a stick every time I saw her.”

“So would I,” said Glula [another effeminate man]. “i’d like to kill the big beast [Gluck the woman chieftain].”

“You don’t seem very fond of Gluck,” I said.

“Did you ever see a man who was fond of a woman?” demanded Foola [the third effeminate man]. “We hate the brutes.”

“Why don’t you do something about it, then?” I asked.

“What can we do?” he demanded. “What can we poor men do against them? If we even talk back to them, they beat us.”

[David meets another captive from the outside world.]

“To what woman do you [Zor] belong?” I asked.

“To Rhump. She’s a she-jalok, if there ever was one; and you?”

“I belong to Gluck.”

“She’s worse. Keep out of the hut as much as you can, when she’s in it. Do your sleeping while she’s away hunting or raiding. She seems to think that slaves don’t need any sleep. If she ever finds you asleep, she’ll kick and beat you to within a inch of your life.”

“Sweet character,” I commented.

“They are all pretty much alike,” replied Zor. “They have none of the natural sensibilities of women and only the characteristics of the lowest and most brutal types of men.”

“How about the men?”

“Oh, they’re a decent lot; but scared of their lives.”

[While working in Gluck’s garden, David is attacked by one of the muscular women and strikes her in self-defense.]

Gluck turned to the woman I had knocked down. “You tried to beat one of my men?”

“He stole food from the garden,” replied the woman.

“…nobody can beat one of my men, and get away with it. If I want them beaten, I’ll beat them myself. Perhaps this will teach you to leave my men alone,” and with that she hauled off and knocked the other [woman] down. Then she stepped closer and commenced to kick the prostrate woman in the stomach and face.

Gung seized one of Gluck’s feet and tripped her. Then followed one of the most brutal fights i have ever witnessed. They pounded, kicked, clawed, scratched and bit one another like two furies. The brutality of it sickened me. If these women were the result of taking women out of slavery and attempting to raise them to equality with man, then I think that they and the world would be better off if they were returned to slavery. One of the sexes must rule; and man seems temperamentally better fitted for the job than woman. Certainly if full power over man has resulted in debauching and brutalizing women to such an extent, then we should see that they remain always subservient to man, whose overlordship is, more often than not, tempered by gentleness and sympathy.

[Gluck finally kills Gung. Gluck the enormous woman chieftain turns to David.]

“You are the cause of this. Gung was a good warrior and a fine hunter; and now she is dead. No man is worth that. I should have let her kill you; but I’ll remedy that mistake.” She turned to Zor. “Get me some sticks, slave,” she commanded.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I am going to beat you to death.”


We can each think our own thoughts about ERB’s views expressed in Land of Terror. But when I see Social Justice Warriors enthusiastically promoting violence and calling for an end to long-established international legal norms such as free speech, the rule of law, and democratic processes, I can’t help but think that I see some similarity to Gluck and her woman warriors.