Edgar Rice Burroughs’ "The Mucker"
Continuing here the sporadic series discussing the works of Appendix N. Well, sort of. The entry for Edgar Rice Burroughs lists Tarzan, the John Carter books, the Carson of Venus books, and the Pelucidar books. I’m not going to discuss those. I doubt they need much more digital ink spilled on them. Instead I’m going to discuss one of ERB’s lesser known books, “The Mucker.”
“The Mucker” features a bona fide anti-hero. The main character is utterly unlike the standard ERB lead: a virtuously noble paladin. Instead we have Billy Byrne, the eponymous Mucker, a term apparently describing a certain class of criminal lowlife with no redeeming characteristics. And ERB writes Billy Byrne as living up – or down – to that label. He’s a thief, a drunk, and an overall bounder. For the first third or so of the novel. It’s kind of refreshing.
It probably won’t come as a shock that his redemption comes in the form of true love. But I don’t intend to rehash the plot. The plot itself displays the typical ERB fingerprints. Well, to be fair those fingerprints are common to the sort of serialized pulp written at the time: conflict and resolution rely heavily on rather dubious coincidences. But it is a testament to ERB’s skills as a writer that he carries you right through. There is a muscular vivacity to his storytelling that allows you to just shrug at the chance encounters and the superhuman ability of lead characters to absorb bullets, spears, and sword blows without lasting consequence.
It is fun, though episodic. The serialized nature of “The Mucker” is obvious. Billy Byrne jumps from adventure to adventure like a character from a Dicken’s novel – if Dickens wrote two-fisted adventure tales.
Other than the anti-hero lead character, what sets “The Mucker” apart from ERB’s more famous yarns is the relatively mundane setting. We have no distant planet, no swinging from trees or talking to animals, no science-fiction set dressing. Though he does manage to toss in a lost civilization of sorts. Instead we have a bit of a travelogue, departing from Chicago and making stops in California, Hawaii, the South Pacific, New York, the Midwest, and northern Mexico. All of which shimmer with the romance of the early twentieth century.
Of course the usual caveats apply when reading ERB: if you are easily affronted by ethnic stereotypes and the casual employment of racial perjoratives then this – or pretty much any other ERB novel, for that matter – is probably not for you. But if you are looking for a throwback, manly-man’s adventure that you can read piecemeal – dipping into a chapter here, and a chapter there – then “The Mucker” might fit the bill.