Lost Virgil Finlay Tarzan Illustration Found!
by Robert R. Barrett
The Dean of Science
Fiction Illustrators, Virgil Finlay, executed four illustrations for one
of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan serials, "The Quest of Tarzan," including
one cover and one interior drawing for each of the three parts, and published
in Argosy Weekly, August 23 through September 6, 1941. It was the first
and only time that Finlay would illustrate one of Burroughs' stories, and
it would not have occurred if not for fantasy writer Abraham Merritt.
A. Merritt became familiar with Finlay’s work through the pages of Weird
Tales magazine. As a result, Merritt, editor of the popular newspaper supplement,
American Weekly, hired Finlay to illustrate for the supplement. In 1938
Argosy Weekly reprinted Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, voted by readers
as the best story they had run in 58 years. The reader response was so
positive that Argosy Weekly decided to reprint another Merritt fantasy,
Seven Footprints to Satan. Merritt asked that this serial reprint
be illustrated by Virgil Finlay, having convinced them that no story
of his could be properly presented unless Finlay illustrated it. Later
that same year, Merritt’s novels began appearing in Munsey’s new reprint
magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries, with Finlay illustrations. Finlay
continued to illustrate stories in Argosy Weekly until it was purchased
by Popular Publications. Finlay produced illustrations for Famous Fantastic
Mysteries and its sister publication, Famous Fantastic Novels, as well
as A. Merritt’s Fantasy until their demise in the early 1950s.
The interceding by Abraham Merritt to Argosy Weekly's editor to allow
Virgil Finlay to illustrate his stories proved a boon to Finlay, a breakthrough
which gained him entry into a prestige publication.
Until now, Finlay's Tarzan illustrations have been presumed lost. However,
recently a well-known auction house (Hake's Americana) offered his double-page
illustration for part I of "The Quest of Tarzan." Interestingly, the auction
house was unaware of what the original illustration was for, offering it
only as a Virgil Finlay illustration. The 7-1/8 x 15-1/8 inch original
is now a part of The Howard Otis Barrett Memorial Collection of Edgar Rice
THE QUEST OF TARZAN
Notes On "The Quest Of Tarzan"
The editor of Argosy Weekly, A. Worthington Post, not only changed
ERB’s title of Tarzan and the Castaways to The Quest of Tarzan,
but he rewrote sections of the story, including the scene of Tarzan fighting
the snake which was illustrated by Virgil Finlay for the first installment
of the story on August 23, 1941. I was curious to know if the artist had
included Tarzan's left elbow in the original drawing, so I called Bob Barrett
to find out. He said the artist had left out this detail because it came
in the middle of the two-page illustration and would not be published if
included in the original. The other Finlay illustrations for this ERB serial
have never come up for sale on the market, so their location is still unfortunately
Back in May, 1989, Mike Conran, editor of ERB News Dateline,
published a reprint of The Quest of Tarzan as a supplement
to issue #34 of his fanzine. It is a fine reprint, with a new color cover
by Mike Cody (above), but including the Argosy Weekly serial and
all of the Finlay illustrations. In searching for additional samples of
Finlay's pulp magazine art, we found his cover for Famous Fantastic
Mysteries for July, 1942 which illustrates Charles Stilson's "Polaris
of the Snows," a story originally published on December 18, 1915, with
cover art by P. J. Monahan (see Roger Hill's excellent article on Monahan
in Burroughs Bulletin #8, October, 1991).
... "Ye Editor"