Since the last days of the twentieth century, nothing has been heard from...
PROFILE: GEOFF DUNN
Reinforced Concrete Detailer
Structural Engineering, London
“The films are nothing like the books” is the familiar cry of Laurence Dunn, one of the UK’s leading authorities on the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan. It just so happens that Laurence Dunn – quoted in newspapers, fanzines and on TV – and Geoff Dunn – currently found slaving over drawings of Hammersmith Law Courts – are one and the same person.”
Being an authority on a prolific author is an expensive business. Geoff’s collection extends to several hundred books (he has 30 different editions of Tarzan of the Apes alone), stacks of fanzines, comics, t-shirts, badges and photographs. Having outgrown his own flat, the collection is now housed in a special room in his mother’s house. It is meticulously organised and documented, and some of the more precious books have never had their pages turned.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, a former soldier in the 7th US Cavalry, died in 1950. Although he is best known for the 24 books in the Tarzan series, a bibliography recently compiled by Geoff shows over 90 published novels, and a further 60 miscellaneous works. The novels include five set on Venus, 11 on Mars, Western adventures, an Inner Earth series (which led to the film At the Earth’s Core, with Peter Cushing) and a trilogy called The Land that Time Forgot (also dramatised). In fact, it wasn’t Tarzan which first drew Geoff to Burroughs, but the book – or rather, the cover of – Lost on Venus. “I was 15 – about the time you get interested in girls – and looking for something to read in WH Smith” says Geoff. “I saw a book with a painting of a semi-naked girl on the cover and thought that’s the one for me. It proved that you can’t tell a book from its cover, as I discovered that Burroughs was a master story-teller of adventure and escapism. So much so, that I went out to find further books written by him and from there my interest began to grow.”
The interest progressed to a more fanatical level when he saw an advertisement in Science Fiction Monthly seeking enthusiasts to form an Edgar Rice Burroughs Society in the UK. Geoff joined up and in time also became a member of many international appreciation societies. Each produces its own fanzine and Geoff – under his first christian name Laurence – is a regular contributor, usually on the subject of the Venus books.
He is also involved with many other activities. In 1988 – the year of Tarzan’s 100th birthday – Geoff helped to organise a convention at Greystoke Castle in Cumbria. So is Tarzan based on a real life Lord Greystoke as the latest film suggests? “No, the books are pure fiction” Geoff insists. “In fact, when Burroughs first created the character he was called Lord Bloomstoke. It’s unclear why he later changed this to Lord Greystoke, although we know that he came across the name when researching a historical novel set in the time of Richard III. The current occupants of Greystoke Castle were, however, delighted by our interest and held a banquet in our honour. They already knew the background to the Tarzan link as Hugh Hudson, the director of “Greystoke”, originally proposed setting his film in the Castle. He eventually decided it wasn’t grand enough and chose Floors Castle in Scotland instead.”
Edgar Rice Burroughs conventions continue to be the highlight of Geoff’s year. They are usually held in the USA and have taken him to Michigan, Chicago, Louisville, Maryland and Tarzana (Burroughs’ former ranch in California and now a thriving town). At the beginning of July, Geoff attended a convention in Denver and in September he’s off to Louisville, Kentucky. They are very social occasions and through them Geoff has built up a wide circle of friends in various corners of the world.
There is, however, a serious side to the proceedings. The conventions form one of the main markets for trading Burroughs’ memorabilia and thus a great deal of wheeling and dealing goes on. As always, first editions are the ultimate possession. In its original dust jacket, a first edition of Tarzan of the Apes is worth about $75,000 – unfortunately Geoff doesn’t yet have one. The conventions also provide a forum for lectures by leading Burroughs experts, including people involved in the production of books and films – at Louisville, Ron Ely who played Tarzan in the 60s TV series is due to speak. They also show the films, which the true aficionados bear with gritted teeth. “Unfortunately, the film portrayals – epitomised by Johnny Weissmuller, the most famous Tarzan of all – are nothing like the character in the books,” says Geoff. “He was refined, extremely intelligent and a much deeper character. In fact, a large proportion of the books concentrate on his life and adventures after leaving the jungle, when among other things he was a pilot in the First World War.”
Events have taken a further turn for the worse with a new TV series being shown in the States. The story has become more contemporary – Tarzan is now vegetarian and an environmental activist, trying to save the jungle. Geoff and his fellow enthusiasts will no doubt spend many a pleasant hour pondering the full repercussions of a “green” Tarzan in Louisville later this year.
Geoff stands beside a portrait of Burroughs in the Tarzana office
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