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TARZAN AND ME
Now if your knowledge of Tarzan comes primarily from the movies, you don't know zip about Tarzan. Have a look at the beautiful Russ Manning Sunday newspaper strip over there to the left. That's Tarzan. That's what he looks like inside my head. Speaks perfect English. No "Me Tarzan" stuff.
See, Tarzan and me go back to before I was even born. I've been aware of him longer than any other fictional character, I think. My mom absolutely loved Tarzan and in the early 1960s she was reading her way through the 24 recently reprinted Tarzan novels. Yeah, 24. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a ton of them.
Anyway, my mom bought the whole set of Bantam paperbacks, She had read some of the novels in hardback that had belonged to her grandmother, so she had been a Tarzan fan most of her life. About this same time, Gold Key Comics Company, which had taken over the publishing rights to the Tarzan property from Dell comics, was starting a series of adaptations of the novels with art by Russ Manning. Mom began buying these as well. By the time I was born, in 1962, mom had all the Tarzan books and was buying the Tarzan comic every month.
The comic is important because that's my first exposure to Tarzan. I began flipping through those comics before I could read, staring at the images and wondering what the people were saying. I remember that I would make up my own stories to go with the pictures. May have had an influence on my becoming a story teller. Who knows. Over the years, as my reading skills developed, I would return again and again to those comics, and I read them so many times that I can still tell you most of the plots to this day.
Now I saw the movies too. The 12 Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films were rerun constantly on Television when I was a kid. This caused me a little confusion. The movie Tarzan spoke like Tonto (or Frankenstein) and he lived in a tree house and had a brunette wife and a son named Boy. MY Tarzan spoke not only English but French as well. He lived on an estate in Africa and in a manor house in England. His wife was a blonde and his son's name was Jack in England and Korak in the language of the great apes.
Luckily, at about the time I was four years old, new Tarzan movies starring Jock Mahoney and Mike Henry started showing up at the theaters, featuring a Tarzan who was fluent in English. Mike Henry's version, in a nod to the then wildly popular James Bond films, even wore a three piece suit in one movie before shifting to the standard loincloth in the second reel. Plus NBC started a new Tarzan TV series, starring Ron Ely as an articulate and intelligent Tarzan.
All of these versions of Tarzan became merged in my mind, but they never dislodged the mental picture I had of the ape man which was still the Russ Manning version.
I started reading mom's Tarzan novels when I was about nine and pretty quickly read all of them. I spent a lot of time in the woods pretending I WAS Tarzan, running around in ragged cut off jeans and annoying the neighbors with my rendition of the Weissmuller yell. When I was 10 my dad gave me a hunting knife and a 50 ft coil of rope so that I could really get the Tarzan thing down. They remain my favorite toys I ever received.
In a side note, I had a burglary at my old renter house and someone stole my knife collection, which included the small hunting knife dad had given me. That was the only knife out of close to 200 that I really felt bad about losing. A couple of years ago on my birthday, dad presented me with a new knife and a new coil of rope. That' a father right there, folks. The new knife rests in the desk drawer to my right. I keep it handy in case sheeta the panther or numa the lion should come calling.
Speaking of sheeta and numa, Tarzan's creator created a language that the great apes spoke. Tar is white and zan is skin in the mangani language. Mangani is what the great apes call themselves. Oh and in case you saw the Disney Tarzan cartoon, which I really liked, Tarzan was raised by apes, not gorillas. I used to be pretty fluent in mangani (see the 2006 post, Lord of the Aisles) but I've gotten a bit rusty.
As you can see, Tarzan has been a fixture of my life for as long as I can remember and even before. In fact, on the insides the covers of mom's Tarzan paperbacks, written in blue ballpoint pen by my then 22 year old mother, are the words, "property of Doug and Charles Rutledge." Doug (my older brother) never was very interested in Tarzan so he lost out. Those paperbacks reside now on the book shelf in my bedroom. Mom gave them to me when I was about twenty, along with her comics. The comics are here too, some of the very few that I kept. I've added to mom's original collection over the years, turning her fifty or so comics into about 300. Though I'll part with many things, those don't go.
Other interests wax and wane and other characters push to the front of my consciousness, but Tarzan is always there, stalking the shadowed jungle trails in the back of my mind.
LORD OF THE AISLES
5:00 am Saturday morning and I can't sleep. I need a couple of things so I decide to go to the 24-Hour Super Wal-Mart. I hate Wal-Mart because it's usually crowded, but I've found that at 5:00 there's hardly anyone shopping. One of the few benefits of insomnia.
It is a cold gray morning with a thin line of sunlight just edging the horizon. I reach Wal-Mart without incident. I wander about the store, wishing I'd made a list. As I turn a corner I come face to face with Tarzan of the Apes.
Tarzan is moving in a stalking crouch, his jungle hardened thews rippling beneath his bronze skin. He clutches his father's hunting knife in his right hand. He glares at me for a moment with his iron gray eyes, then straightens up and says, “Sorry, I thought you were Numa, the lion.”
“Um, no. Just doing a little early shopping. Do they get a lot of lions in here?”
“You'd be surprised where Numa stalks his prey.”
There's a slight noise from the next aisle over and Tarzan glides in that direction. I follow, along. A small herd of zebra duck from the cover of the paper products aisle. “Bah,” says Tarzan. “It is only pacco and his brothers.”
“Rak,” I say, getting into the spirit of things.
Tarzan glances over at me. “You speak the language of the great apes?”
Tarzan nods. We stroll for as bit, chatting amiably. I ask about Jane. About Miriam and Korak, and has Tarzan heard from Jason Gridley since he returned from Pellucidar? Tarzan answers most of my questions but then there's a flash of amber fur and a tawny mane over near the frozen food section.
“Kreegah, Numa!” Tarzan shouts, sprinting away,”Tarzan Bundolo!”
This translates roughly to 'Beware, Numa. Tarzan kills.' I'm not even going to try to keep up with the lord of the jungle in his relentless pursuit of Numa the lion, so I find the things I need and head for the parking lot. Starbucks should be open now, I think. Vando. (good)
BARBARIANS AND JUNGLE LORDS
I have a pen and ink illustration on my wall by comics artist Thomas Yeates. It shows Conan the Barbarian, holding an axe and pointing off camera. Beside him stands Tarzan of the Apes, looking at whatever Conan is pointing to and nocking an arrow into his bow. Many times I have looked at that drawing, wondering what these two iconic characters are looking at. When I commissioned the drawing from Yeates, I simply told him I wanted Tarzan and Conan, two characters he had drawn for the comics, and that I didn't want them fighting each other, a standard comic book cliche. What I got back was an amazingly detailed black and white illustration.
I have often thought to write a story explaining what brought these two heroes together, across thousands of years, and what menace they are facing. Of course Tarzan and Conan are both trademarked characters, so anything I wrote using them would be fan fiction at best, but recently I've begun to think of Philip Jose Farmer's Lord of the Trees, which teamed thinly disguised versions of Tarzan and Doc Savage, and it occurs to me that I could create my own jungle lord and barbarian savage. Today I thought of an opening scene. We'll see where that takes me.
READING. . . READING. . .
Tarzan and the Castaways. One of the last Tarzan books that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote. Basically as Tarzan books go, everything after Tarzan at the Earth's Core, book 13 of 24, is downhill. ERB was reportedly tired of chronicling the adventures of the jungle lord and the books became more and more formula ridden and uninspired.
Burroughs seems to have gotten a second wind with The Castaways, However. He takes a captive Tarzan out of Africa and into the South Seas where he tries to help the survivors of a ship wreck survive on a dangerous island. There's a lost city, of course, but this one is populated by the remnants of an Aztec colony, which is a bit more plausible than some of ERB's other lost race stories. A lot of fun.
FACTS AND FICTIONS
This weekend I've been reading the works of Philip Jose Farmer. Farmer is a science fiction writer, probably best known for his Riverworld series. He's also a dyed in the wool fan of pulp characters like the Shadow, Doc Savage, and most of all Tarzan. So great is Farmer's obsession that he even wrote a full scale biography of the jungle lord called Tarzan Alive. This book, patterned after William S. Baring-Gould's Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, adopts the idea that Tarzan was a real person and that the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs were fictionalized accounts of Lord Greystoke's life.
Farmer works his way through all 24 of the Tarzan novels, explaining what events 'really' happened and what were fictional, revealing the real world identities of various characters in the books and explaining away many of the internal inconsistencies in the series. There are maps and charts and family trees and long involved timeliness of the life and times of everyone's favorite ape man.
Farmer also gives a huge extended family tree of the 'Wold Newton Family.' Wold Newton is a spot in Yorkshire County in England where a meteor struck in 1795. At the time that the meteor landed, two large coaches, containing fourteen passengers and four coachmen were passing by. The radiation from the meteor changed the genetic structure of these passengers who went on to be the ancestors of most of the fictional supermen of the next several decades, including Tarzan, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Captain Nemo, and many others. Thus most of the pulp characters and heroes of popular fiction are related and owe their super human mental and or physical abilities to the Wold Newton event. This has become a sort of huge game played by writers and artists ever since Farmer introduced the idea. For more about it, see Win Scott Eckert's exhaustive Wold Newton site. http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Pulp.htm
Anyway, after re-reading Tarzan Alive, I also read Farmer's two novels about Opar, Flight to Opar and Hadon of Ancient Opar. As every school boy knows, Opar is the lost city that Tarzan visits in several of the novels and where he meets Queen La and her beast-men servants. Opar was an Atlantean colony, abandoned when Atlantis sank. Farmer's two novels take place 12 thousand years ago when Opar was still a thriving city, in fact only one of several Atlantean cities that once existed in Africa. I'm always amazed at the amount of anthropological detail Farmer puts into works such as this. Flight to Opar has an appendix explaining much about the culture of Atlantean society, and the narrative itself is written with sufficient 'historical' details to make one almost believe that Farmer was writing about a real place and time.
The two Opar books are out of print, but Tarzan Alive has recently been reprinted by Bison books with some new material, and Monkey Brain Books has recently released a volume about the Wold Newton Family titled Myths for the Modern Age. Well worth checking out.
SECRET MASTERS OF CALLISTO
My novella, Secret Masters of Callisto, is being serialized at ERBzine.
The introduction tells how and why I came to write this story, but it doesn't tell how proud I am to have the novella up on the official webzine of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs, through his books about Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, Pellucidar, and all the rest, was one of the bright spots of my childhood. At some point I'll talk more about Burroughs and me, but it's a long, involved story and I'm not quite up to writing it today. For now I'll just reiterate that I'm absolutely thrilled to have a sword & planet story up at the site of one of the men who gave me my 'sense of wonder.'
Also I guess I feel that in some small way I'm paying back Lin Carter, the author of the Callisto series, by writing this story. Carter is another of my favorites, but his story too is one that will require a mini-essay. I'll get to it at some point. Anyway, if you want to read some of my fiction, zip on over to ERBzine. Take your cloak and your sword, and prepare to travel to the Jungle Moon of Jupiter. To Thanator. To Callisto...
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