The Urban Legend
as told to
Seth Kallen Deitch
You may think it odd, or perhaps even pathetic that an otherwise normal man who leads a normal life should have a near obsession with a half century dead author of pulp magazine stories. Edmund Raynes Burton was a cut above the rest, not merely a creator of fiction, but a crafter of legends. His tales of Bantar of the Forest, have been interpreted (albeit sometimes very loosely) for the cinema over one hundred times and the character is part of the common language of our civilization, the Elvis of pulp heroes, bigger than Jesus. In spite of that, the author is still considered unworthy of being taught in schools alongside other great adventure writers like Kipling or London. Go figure.
Had ERB only penned the twenty-seven novels featuring Bantar, his reputation as a giant of fantasy fiction would be secure, but those books represented only about a third of his literary output. He also had great success with the seven tales of Hadrian Styles of the Jurassic, the adventures of a lost time traveler in the age of the mighty dinosaurs and how he found the love of the beautiful cave girl P’Tarah.
Andros of Thera was the protagonist of a four book series that features an early Hellenic warrior who makes contact, and does battle with the Olympian gods who are actually a super-scientific colony from Atlantis in the Greek isles.
My favorite series, and the favorite of many true ERB fans, was the eleven books of Landoma, the world beside our own. Confederate veteran, James Cooper is transported to another world like, yet unlike our own, separated from Earth by “the merest vibration of an atom”. In the world of Landoma, Cooper encounters humans being held as slaves to a race of green-skinned giants. Over the next three books, James Cooper, using both his sword and his brain, brings peace to Landoma and in so doing becomes its emperor. He wins the hand of the princess Layna Canthis and discovers new races and new lands. His closest friends are a green three-eyed giant and a brilliant scientist who gives him the ability to move back and forth between Earth and Landoma, but only men of Earth may make the transition. If he returns to Earth permanently, his beloved Layna must stay behind. On the last page of the last book, James Cooper destroys the transport device thus keeping himself in Landoma forever.
Of all of Burton’s extended plotlines, Landoma was the one which most captured my imagination. His first published story was the first James Cooper novel, The Captive Princess of Landoma. It was not overly long, but it seemed so sure of its subject matter, so informed. In a mere fifty thousand words, Burton made his readers believe that Landoma was completely real. Every dish of food he described, every exotic animal he visualized seemed absolutely right even if he only devoted a few words to it. The Captive Princess of Landoma was first published in the summer of 1911 and became instantly popular. He followed it with two other books early the next year. The Reeve of Heathershire, an all-but-forgotten medieval epic was well enough received at the time, but Bantar of the Forest was a genuine sensation. In many ways, the introduction of the character of Bantar solidified the market for pulp hero fiction. From then on, the public would consume as much Bantar as Burton could produce. In spite of that, Burton never failed to work on other projects, not all of which were equally creative. The entire series that began with Around the Sun was little more than an ongoing anti-Communist tract that took place on Kodola, the planet where everything is backwards.
Through it all, Burton seemed to devote his best writing to the Landoma series. In 1913 the second book was serialized in Tall Story magazine as Return to Landoma but was released in book form as The Masters of Landoma.
The third book came in 1915, Lord of Landoma. The world of Landoma was rich and complex and every detail Burton depicted for his hero to encounter felt fully envisioned. In spite of the fact that ERB must have had a huge amount of notes in order to construct these stories, even almost sixty years after his death, his heirs have refused to release any of them nor have they authorized any sequels by other authors. Certainly other authors, including myself, have written pastiches based on Burton's work, but the characters must be disguised lest the lawyers of Edmund Raynes Burton Artistic Properties, Inc., show up and put the fear of God into you. While many films have been made about Bantar, and even a couple of very bad Hadrian Styles movies in the early 1970's, they refuse to even discuss the licensing the Landoma books for a screen treatment.
It is for the above reasons, that I was more than a little surprised at the letter I received from Howard Burton-Lynch this last April 5th. It read as follows:
Greetings. I am assured by my staff that you are indeed the Charles Reston who is the author of the very entertaining Internet novel The Sky Castles of Pandona.
While it is clear that the Pandona of your story is a thinly disguised copy of my grandfather's Landoma, I want to assure you here and now that this letter does not concern a copyright issue.
The board of directors of ERBAP, Inc. has made the decision to authorize a new book in the Landoma series and hereby extends to you an offer for the contract to author it. It is a unique opportunity, if you accept the job, to complete a manuscript left unfinished by my grandfather at the time of his death in 1950. You would share authorship with him. If you find this proposal interesting, you should come see me in my office on the afternoon of the tenth of this month. I have enclosed an airline ticket and you will be met by a limousine at LAX. I promise you that this will be rather more lucrative than the sort of jobs you have generally been used to, therefore I urge you to show up for this appointment. I only ask that you not tell anyone of this meeting at this time.
Edmund Raynes Burton
Artistic Properties, Inc.
Number 1 Cooper Circle
Bantara, CA 91335
Well, he was right enough about the payment part. Over the last five years, I had made a grand total of seven hundred dollars for professional writing and most of that was for a set of coffee maker instructions that I wrote while on a temp job for an importer. Right then, I had a pretty good job for city with Animal Control. Stop laughing. Being a dogcatcher is honest and necessary work. We don't only catch stray dogs either. The police often call upon us when they have to remove an exotic pet from someplace. A surprising number of people keep full grown alligators or pumas or pigs in their houses. Sometimes it can get dicey. It pays the bills, I get health insurance and I have enough free time to write fantasy stories. I was pretty well known on the Internet and my web site, (www.Pandona.org, check it out!) was well visited by ERB fans from all over the world. It was going to drive me mad that I couldn't tell anyone about the offer, but I was sure as hell going to make that appointment.
At LAX I was met by a bored looking limo driver holding a sign with my name on it. On the way to Bantara, I learned that his name was Ramon and he was really an actor and also a screenwriter. When I told him I was a writer also, I was rewarded with a copy of his screenplay. I suppose it was a lucky thing that we arrived at the office when we did, although when he becomes world famous, I might regret not having heard the entire lecture on Ramon’s “process”.
A pretty and efficient receptionist guided me to Mr. Burton-Lynch’s office where I waited in a nice wood paneled waiting room. There was an ornate wooden bookshelf against one wall that contained first editions of all of the novels of Edmund Raynes Burton. I personally owned several of these editions, all of which I had paid in excess of one hundred dollars for in much worse condition. These books where in excellent shape having had some respectful handling by visitors, but no abuse or poor storage in basements at all. They would be worth a fortune on the open market. Some of the titles hadn’t been in print in fifty years. Here was The Lion Tamer which I have only otherwise seen as an e-text taken from its original 1916 magazine publication. The very rare The Painted Rider, a superb western that didn’t sell well. His lengthy unpublished mainstream novel, The Foundling was here in a fan press edition that wasn’t scheduled to be available for another six months. I was on a waiting list to get one of the one thousand copies to be printed. I wasn’t surprised by the completeness of the collection, but I was still in awe of it.
As I was paging through the pristine copy of Sword of the Legionary, I was beckoned to enter the office.
Howard Burton-Lynch stood by his desk with his hand extended. We had never met, but I had seen his picture. He was fit and in his mid fifties. He didn’t bear too much of a family resemblance to his grandfather save for the bushy eyebrows and bald head. His mother Jane Burton, had been ERB’s youngest daughter who had been a not-overly-successful movie actress. She had married Waldo Farnham who had been the second actor to portray Bantar on the screen. They divorced and she then married talent agent Oscar Lynch, the father of the gentleman before me. Burton-Lynch, born in 1950, never met his grandfather, but having absorbed all of his father’s business acumen was in a good position to inherit control of his artistic estate.
"Mr. Reston, It's a real pleasure to make your acquaintance!"
"Everyone calls me Chuck."
"I won't, Mr. Reston, I refuse. Great authors aren't known as Chuck. Your byline will be Charles Allan Reston. Although he smiled broadly, I was a little bit offended. For one thing, person just assumes that he gets to be called what he wants, for another my middle name is Arlen. There would be time to deal with these issues presuming I got the job. Burton-Lynch continued. "Anyway, Mr. Reston, I brought you across the country for a reason. The last Landoma story needs to be finished. "
"I thought that the last Landoma story was finished by your uncle John. Didn't he write the final third of James Cooper of Landoma?"
"He did, but James Cooper was in fact originally completed by my grandfather, however we didn't use his ending following his, er, passing." I was perplexed. The next Landoma novel had been hotly anticipated in 1950 when Burton, alone in his sailboat, the Lady Joan Brownwood, disappeared off the coast of Hawaii. The Boat was found two weeks later with no sign of ERB on board. He had been seventy-five years old at the time. “Before we go any further, I’m going to have to ask you to sign a confidentiality agreement. You must sign it to get the job and it stipulates that you will forfeit any money and/or other considerations that you receive for this job should you divulge details of this meeting. While it is not covered in the language of the agreement, you should also know that if you publicly or privately reveal any of this, certain previously irrelevant copyright violations that you may be responsible for will suddenly be of great interest to the legal staff of ERBAP, Inc., are we understood, Mr. Reston?”
“Nothing left to the imagination there, Mr. Burton-Lynch.” It was my choice, I could turn around and leave right then and enjoy my first class flight back to Boston, or I could hear what the man has to say and keep my trap shut. If you knew me, you would know that it wasn’t that easy a decision. “I’ll sign.”
After signing the agreement that also required me to initial certain paragraphs, I was conducted into another office. This one had a more homey quality. The walls were papered with flowered print and there was an old, but very nice wooden desk with a matching wooden office chair. An old, but well cared for manual Royal typewriter sat on the desk. I suddenly recognized the place from photographs I had seen. It was ERB’s office in which he had written almost all of his later novels. All of the Andros books, all of the Jurassic books, all of the Landoma books after Mysterious Landoma, all of the Bantar books after Bantar, the Mighty, and a multitude of others. I had found my temple.
It took me a second to respond to my name being repeated by Howard Burton-Lynch. “Mr. Reston. Mr. Reston?”
I focused. “Yes?”
“There is somebody I want you to meet.” He walked over to the wall and flipped what appeared to be a very ordinary light switch. A section of wall moved inward and slid silently aside to reveal yet another room. This room was a little different. The walls were concrete or stone and had been painted a matte powder blue. A man stood in the room, a man I recognized. It was Edmund Raynes Burton.
Of course it couldn’t have really been him. The man before me was in his early forties, if that, while Edmund Raynes Burton, should he be still living at all, would be one-hundred and twenty-nine years old. I think there may be some Russian lady that old, but I’ll bet she’s not as well preserved. I jumped a little when he spoke. “Chuck! I’ve been dying to meet you!”
Burton-Lynch heaved a sigh. “We’re calling him Charles, grandpa.”
ERB rolled his eyes. “And you can call me Ed. I’d shake your hand, but I can’t cross the threshold.”
For the first time I noticed that the doorway between us was surrounded by a glow like that of gas in a Neon tube. “What’s going on?” I asked in a very small voice.
“I’m in Landoma, the world beside.”
“This has got to be a put on!”
“I figured you would need some convincing, son. I invited some guests.” He called over to a part of the room I couldn’t see. “Jim, Layna, Kas can you step over here please?” A nearly naked man, his dark hair cut in a “Prince Valiant” bob, with a sword hanging from his belt joined him with an equally nearly completely nude copper-skinned woman of extraordinary beauty. They were followed by a pair of huge green legs. The owner of the legs squatted down and I then saw that the owner of the legs was at least twelve feet tall. He was completely hairless, his ears were tubes curled like ram’s horns and he had a row of three eyes. It was unspeakably weird. ERB gestured to the man and said, “This gentleman is James Cooper. He is the reigning emperor of all of the civilized parts of Landoma. The lady is empress Layna Canthis. That tall fellow is...”
“Kas Kastona, rodas of Kovark!”
“Hey, that’s right!”
The giant spoke in an impossibly low basso register. "Sar nau e Kangak ada Stomank Landoma!"
"'And Supreme General of all of the warrior armies of Landoma.' " Translated James Cooper. "The only man I even considered for the job."
I tried to hide the involuntary reflex that was set off by my seeing the exposed flesh of Layna Canthis. “Holy shit!”
“Are you a longshoreman, pal? Where’d you get that mouth?” Inquired ERB.
“That’s the point I’m trying to make. I decided to come and live in Landoma. The life expectancy here is a thousand years. Something to do with the twelfth Landomian vibration. I was getting old. I came here and I grew young.”
"You faked your death."
"Guilty as charged."
"This is the gateway to Landoma." Said Burton-Lynch.
"Duh!" Said I. "how does it work?"
"It's a modification of the process that Simon Hadley used to communicate with Landoma." Said Burton.
"The Hadley wave!" I was actually starting to get dizzy. This was a lot to take in. "Can I come over?"
"You can, but if you stay for more than a few days, you won't be able to survive the transition back. Up until five years ago, I was able to make brief visits to Earth, but my last one made me so ill, that I dare not return."
"So is Bantar real too?"
"He's real enough to me, of course, but in a practical sense, John Cranston, Lord Brownstone is no more than a product of my imagination. Once I had a success with the first tale of Landoma, I had time to indulge my passion for writing and I had a family to support. Jim's tales of his adventures could only fill so many pages. Even so, I cheated a little. A Swordsman of Landoma is a just slightly modified translation of a popular Landomian epic."
I tried very hard to keep my cool, but even so my voice cracked a bit when I asked, “So what would you like me to do?”
“Getting straight to the point, eh? I told you he was my kind of fellow, Howie! Lookie, I have an unfinished book, the last in the Landoma series, that is the real last book, not the one Johnny finished for me. That was written right around the time I decided to cross over permanently and I thought I would lose interest in composing fiction. As the years have passed, I have grown less satisfied that James Cooper of Landoma has stood as the finale to the series. I have written the new book, but it just doesn’t look right, my style looks old-fashioned next to the newer books out there. I want you to rewrite my manuscript in a twenty-first century style.”
“I’m sure I can do that, but I think a lot of your fans like your stories and your style.”
“You see, Howie? I told you that stuff of yours about ‘modern style’ was all wet!”
“Grandpa, we have to saleable to more than just the hard-core fans. We need a marketable cinematic property.”
“He may have something there.” I said. “The reading public isn’t what it used to be.”
“Yeah, so I hear. Television and…what do you call ‘em? Electro games?”
“Electronic games, video games.”
“Yeah, them. Video games. Turning pages makes ‘em work up too much of a sweat.”
“Not all of us.”
“You don’t count, Chuck, you’re a queer duck and you know it, but I want to take another stab at it. I have seen some of the new films. I know that Landoma can be done now so it wouldn’t be embarrassing.”
“So you want a screenplay?”
“I want the book first. We have another guy who will write the adaptation once the book is done and in the stores.”
“Yeah, he seems perfect, another ‘Chuck”, or does this one call himself Charley? Anyway, he actually wrote a screenplay called Adaptation, and Howie said it was pretty good so I figured he was the guy.”
"Oh him. Doesn’t seem like his kind of thing, but you never know.” I paused. “So, can I come over?” I suprised myself with how eager I was to risk my life by stepping into another dimension.
“If you want.”, Said ERB, “But you can’t take anything with you. Nothing that isn’t alive can make the transition, you’ll arrive baby naked. Not even the fillings in your teeth will come through.”
I was willing to get naked if that’s what it took, even give up my dental work, but I also had an artificial heart valve. If I stepped through that door and it were to vanish, I would be dead in seconds. Good thing I asked questions first. “I’d better not.” No one present seemed too concerned with details, so I assume that my making the trip to Landoma was not essential to the deal.
Burton-Lynch said, “I have a copy of the manuscript for you as a WORD file. You are to show it to no one. You are to work directly on the disk and not copy it to your hard drive. If you need a copy in a different format, ask me. Do not copy the file.” He handed me a zip disk that I pocketed.
ERB said, "Look it over and see what you can do. We'll expect you back in a month with a progress report." with that he bid me goodby and the door suddenly became a solid expanse of cinderblock wall.
Burton-Lynch wrote me a check for about half of what the city of Chicago pays me in a year and walked me to the limo. "We're counting on you, Mr. Reston. This could be a big day for ERBAP!"
I resisted the impulse to put the disk right into my laptop on the plane. I wanted to be in my own apartment before I even attempted to digest the experience I had just been through. I enjoyed the fluffy romantic comedy that was the in flight movie and tried not to think about it.
I read the book when I got home and was totally knocked out by it! It was completely different from James Cooper of Landoma. It was clear that the present work was intended to replace James Cooper in the chronology. I had best not relate any of the plot. I'm walking on thin enough ice telling this story at all even though I have changed virtually every name and every particular in the telling. In spite of that, I'm sure that the astute (or even dull-witted) reader can tell to which writer and what tales I refer in these pages.
The fact is that both ERB and his grandson badly misjudged my personality. I can't keep my mouth shut about anything. I got drunk and told the story at a party about meeting the dead author in another world and started talking about the unpublished book. Everyone thought it was an entertaining story, but no one seemed to believe it, why would they? I wouldn't if someone told it to me.
Within a week, I had another letter from Howard Burton-Lynch. I don't know where he gets his information, but what was called an urban legend was circulating on the ERB fan network that told the story of our meeting pretty much verbatim with some embellishment that varied from telling to telling. My name wasn't mentioned in most of them and that at least is a small blessing. It did not bode well that the first line of the letter was, "Have you gone insane?"
They were going to sue me, but the fact that I had no money combined with their desire not to have the real story made public record deterred them. They demanded repayment of the advance, which I will have to do in small installments because I immediately spent it on a fancy new computer, Plasma screen TV and thirty year old single malt scotch. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I ever wrote anything that used their copy written characters or characters that resembled them, they would land on me with both feet. So basically, I had blown what would have been an easy gig that would have put me on the map forever.
A month passed. I read on the Internet that plans for the Landoma film had been indefinitely shelved, presumably because the director had backed out, but of course I knew different. I still had the WORD file, but I didn't dare do anything with it. I printed out a copy to put on my ERB bookshelf, but I hid it behind other books so visitors wouldn't see it.
Yesterday, a wall of my living room suddenly disappeared and the space it once occupied was outlined with a neon glow. ERB sat in the same room I had seen before. "You really SNAFUed this one, buddy boy."
"I feel like shit about it, if that matters to you."
"There you go again! Seriously, do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"
"Sorry. Why are you here?"
"I wanted to tell you not to worry. I told Howie to stop bothering you about the money and about the copyright."
"Why would you do that?"
"Even though I'm still alive, I'm not in your world. People on Earth shouldn't live forever. I made a big mistake thinking that I could bring out a new book at this point."
"It's a good one. One of your best."
"Nonetheless, if I were wiser, I would have realized that when I decided to live here, I gave up my life there. I am an official historian on Landoma, not a writer of pulp fiction on Earth. Not anymore."
"I don't see why you can't be both, but that's for you to decide. Is there anything I can do?"
"Take that thing that Howie gave you, that memory widget..."
"Yeah, zip disk. Get it and toss it to me." I went and found it and gently lobbed it in his direction. He made no move to try and catch it. When it struck the divide between Earth and Landoma, it exploded into a cascade of sparks. "It can't come through, but it is completely destroyed. As long as that story doesn't exist, we are square."
I tried hard not to glance over toward the bookshelf. "Sounds good to me." I said. Without any visible transition, my wall was restored as it had been. Perhaps when I'm gone, some relative will be going through my effects and find my printout of the last volume of the Landoma series. No doubt, if they even bother to think about it at all, they will assume that I wrote it myself as a pastiche and it may end up in a garage sale or a pile of books going to Goodwill. I tell myself that I have learned my lesson and that I will never attempt to publish it, but I also can't bring myself to throw it away. So there it sits until fate decides its destiny.
I now live with the knowledge that Landoma is real and that my idol, Edmund Raynes Burton lives on there alongside James Cooper and the incomparable Layna Canthis. In the meanwhile, I have my own fantasies to write about and I am free to do so since I can no longer play in ERB's worlds. Perhaps the name of Chuck Reston, no...Charles Arlen Reston will become well known for his own creations.