Sunday, May 04, 2008

Another Generation Lost

The leading figure of the third generation of the Burroughs family died on April 30th. Danton Burroughs, the son of illustator John Coleman Burroughs and the grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs, passed on in Tarzana, California, the town named after his father's most famous literary creation.

Danton had become the keeper of the Burroughs legacy, overseeing ERB Inc. and working to preserve what his grandfather had created. I only wish that Danton had been able to leave this world knowing that all of his grandfather's works were in print; the absence of the bulk of ERB's canon from bookstores everywhere is a solemn commentary on the state of popular adventure/fantasy fiction today.

I didn't have many contacts with Danton, but I've talked to those who did deal with him professionally, and they said that he was passionately devoted to protecting and preserving what his grandfather had created; he worked diligently to prevent it from being cheapened by second-rate licensors or sub-standard publishers.

A couple of years ago, when Steve Saffel was still at Random House, I asked him why the Burrough material wasn't back in print, alongside the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. He said that there had been talk of issuing definitive editions of all the ERB books, corrected from the author's manuscripts, but nothing had come of it because Random House just didn't think it would sell enough to make it worth the investment. Contrast that with the 1960s and the 1970s, when Ace and Ballantine made fortunes from the release of every major and minor contribution to the Burroughs canon, and you understand the sad state of popular fiction publishing today...

(The photo, by the way, shows Danton with a hand-carved replica of John Carter's sword--a replica carved by Danton's father, John Coleman Burroughs.)

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