Edgar Rice Burroughs and A Princess of Mars

"It's a great life," Burroughs used to say, "if you don't weaken." A master of escapist fiction, he wrote almost 70 novels, which in turn launched hundreds of movies and comic books. His Tarzan tales alone sold over 30 million copies. But he owed it all to John Carter of Mars.

Chicago, 1911. Burroughs was 35. Expelled from prep school. Avoided college. Married, two children; a failed cavalryman, a failed ranch hand, and now failing as a salesman of corsets and pencil sharpeners. In his ample free time he read pulp fiction, complaining to his wife that it was all rot. She told him: Write something better. We could use the money. Burroughs pawned his watch, and set to work.