One of only two historical fictions written by Edgar Rice Burroughs the story of The Outlaw of Torn was first published in 1927 as a five part serial for New Story Magazine. Though the story maybe fictional it is set amongst the true events of 13th Century England where King Henry III was greatly abusing his powers, much to the detriment of the common man, and which caused Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester, to lead the rebellion against him in the Second Baron’s War.
The plot of The Outlaw of Torn deals with the mysterious and fictitious Prince Richard, who as a small child is kidnapped by the King’s French fencing master de Vac. The reason for the abduction is that the King insulted and spit upon de Vac during a fencing match that the King fairly lost due to the incredible prowess of the Frenchman. Already not a fan of the English Monarch de Vac hatches a diabolical plan to avenge this affront. He kidnaps three year old Prince Richard and then proceeds to raise him as his own, teaching him to be the world’s greatest swordsman as well as to hate all Englishmen and to become the greatest outlaw in the land. The final stage of the plan will be when the King unknowingly places his own son on the gallows.
Going by the name Norman of Torn the lost prince does become a most feared outlaw and with a band of one thousand of the toughest knaves and cutthroats in the land as his army no noble manor or castle is safe. The only fly in the ointment of de Vac’s plan is that even though he has spent twenty years teaching Norman to hate the English he can’t turn Norman into a true villain, as his very nature fights against it, and helping this attitude along is a local priest who teaches Norman to read and write as well as the arts of chivalry. Think Robin Hood in full body armor, leading a marauding army.
The battle of Nature versus Nurture is a theme that pops up in many of Burroughs books, The Mucker a perfectly example of this, and one of the things that makes him stand out among other pulp fiction writers. The other surprising element in his books is his characters views on religion; in the Barsoom books John Carter discovers that the religion of Mars is all a huge scam, while in The Outlaw of Torn the hero derides the existence of God and refers to the almighty as “Man’s scapegoat.” These are ideas you don’t expect to see in an adventure book written in the early 20th Century.
Norman of Torn is your classic Burroughs hero; his sword arm never fails him, women can’t help fall in love with him and his enemies tremble in his very presence. This story contains much of what you will find in many of Burroughs novels; a savage hero with a noble past, a damsel that loves him despite his station, great escapes, mistaken identities, cruel and reprehensible villains, and of course a heaping helping of sword fighting and swashbuckling. Any fan of the genre must put The Outlaw of Torn on the top of their reading list right next to Robin Hood and Ivanhoe.