The First and Only Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Sinbe 1996 ~ Over 10,000 Webpages and Webzines in Archive
ICONS & ERB
The Archetypal Vision in the
of Edgar Rice Burroughs
In The Image of Tarzan
The fact that people take a fictional character as their personal image of what a man should be like is not a strange phenomenon. Our heroes often come from the pages of literature. Most of the fans of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs would readily admit that they were profoundly influenced in their youth by either Tarzan of the Apes or by John Carter, or perhaps by one of the other characters of the many created by this prolific author. Indeed, this is why we are still fans of his works today.
The truly interesting fact is that Tarzan of the Apes, while seemingly a good role model, is actually one of the heroes many of us would not want to emulate in our daily lives. No one really turns out to be entirely like our heroes, and perhaps this is for the best. Tarzan was for the most part a savage at heart, a loner with more than a little asocial proclivities in his personality, and to tell the truth, he was a dangerous man to be around. If any one of us had really turned out to be like our hero, we would not be fit company for polite society. And yet we all continue to read the stories and think about this man as someone important to us.
Tarzan happened to us as adolescents. It was more than reading a book or two and becoming enamored with a hero. It was a force that gripped us, picked us up and shook us like helpless prey in the mouth of a lion. Even today many of us are stuck with that primal, Tarzanic image somewhere deep in the core of our beings. Of course, we read the books in our adulthood with more intelligence and understanding, but that old beast-man still ranges and roams inside all of us, calling us to the trees, our souls stripped naked in an equatorial sunlight that cannot be denied.
I see the image of Tarzan as something larger than the remnants of a childhood fantasy. In the dark of a restless night as I turn over in bed, a growl escapes from my lips, and I smile a knowing smile. He is in there still.
At one point in my life I thought I had given up Tarzan for good. I was entering college and the great, adult world, so I put childish things behind me. I laughed at the stories when I picked up a few of the Ace paperbacks with those colorful Frazetta covers I had not read when they came out in the Ď60ís . I wondered how I could have been so foolish to think that Burroughs was an interesting writer when he was obviously such a hack.
But I kept the books in my library - - I thought for nostalgic reasons alone until I began writing a series of pieces for the local newspaper I called, ďAutobiographical Tales.Ē In the midst of these simple literary efforts I proceeded quite happily until I came to the point in my life when I began to write about my relationship with Tarzan of the Apes. It was then that the floodgate of memories opened for me, and I realized that he was more than a childhood fancy.
Over the past five years I have written many things about these experiences with Tarzan. Many of them have been published in the various ERB fan magazines, yet I feel that I have still not come to terms with the true image of Tarzan in my life.
Sometimes I feel that I have stalled in my personal growth and education because I have spent so much time thinking about this single matter. And yet I know that coming to terms with this man may be one of the most important things that I can do with the rest of my life.
For me the search for the image of Tarzan is a spiritual quest of great intellectual excitement. There is no longer any need for me to seek a personal identity, for at this late date I know who I am. Nor do I feel a need for answers to lifeís big questions concerning life and death. I am resigned on a ship heading outward toward distant lands. This body can only carry me so far. So, for me itís the simple joy of ranging through those fantastic worlds, poised to pick up the threads of a great mystery that was spread out before me by the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The Tarzan of the books presents us with a fascinating game. Itís fun to know the places and players, and so I will continue to pursue my investigations into the texts themselves. But the larger question for me still concerns that little boy dreaming of Tarzan on a long summerís day.
We all know that inner child, and we all know that Tarzan. Nearly everyone says that their Tarzan is unique to themselves, and indeed he is. We dreamed about him when we were young, and in a sense we created him as surely as his first creator, ERB.
Critics write that Tarzan has mythic dimensions, and that explains a lot, or at least it names a condition we can vaguely understand. He touches something primal in all of us. He is a template for greater possibilities we can all imagine. Heís a universal type.
Yet the essence of my quest remains. I want to tell about my Tarzan of the Apes. We all do this in every piece we write about him. We call it our love for the man and his works. Itís an affair of the heart more than of the head, and this is why we sometimes becomes tongue-tied when we try to tell about it.
We love Tarzan and his mighty works. We love the way he shrugs his shoulders and stands at ease when a thousand screaming warriors run toward him across the burning plains. We love his comfort among the animals and his leisurely ascent into the upper terraces. We love it all because we once were there with him, and everything he did, we did as well.
I will never again belittle the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was the great illuminator of my childhood. I still find glory on every page.
As a child I eagerly sought out the books. He provided me with a map for my soul. As an adult, I pour over the texts with a mature mind, and yet a distant, tiny hand guides my own with every word I write.
There is a great beauty in Burroughs. It is greater than the words he wrote because it draws us back into our own lands of childhood dreaming.
Lovers of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs talk about the texts as being sacred. They are more than the canon to us. A canon but sounds the law and the prophets, while truly Burroughs is our very ďgood news,Ē the New Testament of our becoming. I donít know of another literary figure in history that has such a devoted following. All the other books we ever read may have fed us, but only Burroughs can be said to have truly made us.
Sometimes I think I am too extravagant in my love for Burroughs. I may sound foolish in my endless praise for him. It doesnít matter. His was the Tarzan that raised a wondering child into this wondering man. His are still the worlds that shine behind this mundane one.
Even if Tarzan cannot raise the dead, he can at last raise the spirits of us all; thus Iím proud to be under those blazing suns by day, under those spectacularly glowing moons each night I still live.
[This essay (ICON IV) first appeared in ERB-APA #59, Fall 1998]
Correspondence to David Adams
Chattering From the Shoulder Columns
by David Adams
BILL HILLMAN .
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
Some ERB Images and Tarzan© are Copyright ERB, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2004/2010 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.