If you’re from these parts, you may know that writer Edgar Rice Burroughs forged his inner Tarzan in the turn-of-the-century Magic Valley, punching cows in Cassia County and dredging gold from the Snake River.
What you may not have heard is that his first novel was titled “Minidoka.” And even by Tarzan’s standards, it’s a whopper.
“Certainly, nobody figured Burroughs for a writer, not in 1903-04,” says John Taliaferro, a former Newsweek editor who is Burroughs’ biographer. “His wife and family could only shake their heads, and, if they were in an indulgent mood, smile, for now more than ever Burroughs seemed to have embraced shiftlessness. His niece and nephew loved his funny stories and cartoons, but as far as his brothers and their wives were concerned he was essentially a grown-up kid, unreliable when it came to prolonged or heavy labor. Most likely they barely listened when he announced that he was at work on something more substantial than the hasty nonsense poems or pen-and-ink caricatures he tossed off for the children.”
The book was “Minidoka 937th Earl of One Mile — Series M; An Historical Fairy Tale,” which Burroughs wrote when he was 28.
According to Taliaferro, Burroughs typed the first few pages on the back of forms of the Yale Dredging Company, which ran the Snake River gold dredge.
“Some of the most bothersome nonsense may be excused as family jokes no longer decipherable, but much of the manuscript is clearly just puerile wordplay,” Taliaferro writes in “Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs.”
The story is set in the Bradydom of Smith and the Connerdome of Bil in the land of Bray Pzvrijhk. The hero, Minidoka the Earl of One Mile, must battle a prehistoric monster called the Hookie-Dookie, and another creature — the Rhinogazarium — that lives in the Castle in the Air at the edge of the Earth. He slays both and rescues the damsel Bodine, whom Hookie-Dookie has transformed into a coyote, and Rhi — a prince who had been changed into the form of the Rhinogazarium.
With Bodine and Rhi in tow and guided by a monkey called Anthropop, Minidoka travels to the center of the Earth — a place called Nevaeh — where everything is backwards. Winged fish with halos, for example, angle in a lagoon for little boys, which are hooked through the cheek, reeled in and tossed into a bag.
Following their subterranean adventures, Minidoka and Rhi have a falling-out and battle for 14 days. The earl finally kills Rhi and turns him into a green-eyed monster named Jealously.
Burroughs never tried to published “Minidoka;” it was filed away, forgotten and discovered among his possessions after his death in 1950. But without “Minidoka,” Taliaferro doubts the creator of Tarzan would ever have become a writer.
“(‘Minidoka’) survives as proof that his decision in 1911 to write ‘A Princess of Mars,’ his first legitimate novel, was not simply the impulse of a desperate salesman,” Taliaferro writes.
Dark Horse Comics, a Milwaukie, Ore.-based publishing company, released a graphic-novel version of “Minidoka” in 1998.Though out of print, it’s still available on Amazon.com. Rupert’s DeMary Memorial Library and the Twin Falls Public Library each have a copy.
Steve Crump is the Times-News Opinion editor.
Do say so
If it’s odd, poignant, funny or sad and it happens in south-central Idaho, I want to hear about it.
Call me at 735-3223, or write email@example.com.