Thursday, March 21, 2013

Blavatsky News

* A March 18 post on Michael D. Sellers’ blog The John Carter Files essays Blavatsky’s influence on Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875–1950), creator of Tarzan and the Mars adventurer John Carter.

There are also strong, albeit disputed, indications that Burroughs had at least been exposed to the writings of the theosophists, particular Helena Blavatsky, whose various postulations regarding lost races and cultures including Atlantis and Lemuria included a variety of features that would match a great deal of what Burroughs would offer when he conjured Barsoom.  Fritz Leiber wrote of this in his 1959 treatise “Burroughs and the Sword of Theosophy”, as did L. Sprague de Camp.

Neither Leiber nor de Camp postulates that Burroughs actually believed what Blavatsky was peddling; only that the correlations are too great to be mere coincidence, suggesting that Burroughs found in them a certain attractive mythic force which he harnessed to his “pure entertainment” purposes.

* Ronnie Pontiac continues his delineation of the development of the interest in Plato in America outside of academia in the March 19 issue of Newtopia Magazine. In this installment he details the life and passions of Missouri classical scholar, Thomas Moore Johnson (1851-1919) of Osceola, in “Thomas Johnson: Platonism Meets Sex Magic on the Prairie.”

Johnson visited fellow Neoplatonic enthusiast Alexander Wilder in New Jersey in 1876, during the time Wilder was working with Madame Blavatsky on Isis Unveiled.  Wilder became one of Johnson’s steadiest supporters, his most important collaborator, and Wilder contributed many essays and two translations to The Platonist.  On his trip east Johnson also stopped in Concord to meet with Alcott and his daughter, Louisa, the famous author who had published Little Women seven years earlier.

Part of Johnson’s library survives at the University of Missouri’s Thomas Moore Johnson Collection of Philosophy. “The collection spans the centuries from the ancient Greeks to the nineteenth century philosophers, but the emphasis is on the classical authors, augmented by modern philosophy and criticism. The medieval Christian philosophers are also represented. Since the collector was a Platonist, it is expected that the collection of works of Plato and the critical works would be large.” The catalog is available online.

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