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Chattering From The Shoulder
February 18, 2000
"Nkima scolded and chattered from the safety of his master's shoulder
It All Started With A PunchThe typical Burroughsian hero settles his problems by punching the lights out of his adversary. A refinement of this knee-jerk reaction to life's slings and arrows is a carving up of the bad guy by hunting knife or sword, or by bashing him over the head with a club. These easy solutions seem a rather pleasant prospect at times, especially during our adolescent years of thoughtless blood lust, but lately these tactics seem to me to be a bit on the childish side.
It all started out with that punch John Carter threw in "A Princess of Mars." "Springing upward, I struck him full in the face as he turned at my warning cry . . ."
I'm not saying that the big, green man didn't deserve it; after all he had just slapped Dejah Thoris to the ground. The lad was just doing the noble thing when someone hit a defenseless girl. I still find it interesting that the typical Burroughsian hero finds himself in a society that rewards punching (or carving up) over any other form of human intercourse. This guy must have been brought up on the wrong side of the tracks in Chicago.
It all reminds me of Martin Eden's youthful battles with Cheese-Face.
"Then they fell upon each other, like young bulls, in all the glory of youth, with naked fists, with hatred, with desire to hurt, to main, to destroy. All the painful, thousand years' gains of man in his upward climb through creation were lost. Only the electric light remained, a milestone on the path of the great human adventure. Martin and Cheese-Face were two savages, of the stone age, of the squatting place
and the tree refuge. They sank lower and lower into the muddy abyss, back into the dregs of the raw beginning of life, striving blindly and chemically, as atoms strive, as the star-dust of the heavens strives, colliding, recoiling, and colliding again and eternally again." (Jack London's Martin Eden, Chapter 15)
It took Martin Eden eleven years to finally beat the crap out of Cheese-face. Later on, Wolf Larsen took to beating up his crew, and ERB continued the battle through novel after novel punching, punching, and carving up the raw human flesh into primary portions of primitive pulp.
All of which brings me around to "One-Punch" Mullargan, the mug in ERB's "Tarzan and the Champion," a short story he wrote in 1939 at an age he should have known better since he was already 64 years old. As short stories go, it's not a prize-winner, but as a little ERB vignette it really isn't all that bad. There are points of interest throughout to the real fan, but even he must cringe at times at the sloppy, back-handed blows.
Burroughs wrote the story in 1939, and it was accepted by Blue Book magazine for a mere $250 after being rejected by Liberty, Collier's , and the Saturday Evening Post. It first appeared in April 1940.
In a nutshell: The heavyweight champion of the boxing world, a stupid mug (who was actually Joe Lewis at time time) goes to Africa, shoots up a herd of zebra and elephants with a machine gun, gets punched-out by Tarzan, then captured with Tarzan by cannibals, and is finally rescued when Tarzan kills a lion in the middle of the village. The whole story is presented as a kind of "tongue-in-cheek" joke that really never comes off as being all that funny. The interesting thing about this little piece of fluff are the truly dark moments that are a little disconcerting.
The story is about as simple as my one sentence summary. However, there are a few items to consider.
I. Da Champ
In this story the Heavyweight boxing champion of the world is One-Punch Mullargan, an ignorant, stereotyped New York pug who communicates in broken English or "Brooklynese" (Porges, 653). In the real world Joe Louis had won the championship in Chicago in 1937 by beating Jim Braddock, who had beaten Max Baer two years before in 1935. Joe Lewis remained the champ until he retired in 1949. (He was later beaten by Ezzard Charles in 1950, but he was long past his prime.)
I wonder if One-Punch Mullargan was at least loosely modeled after Jack Dempsey, who was the champ from 1919 to 1926? He certainly was a high-profile fighter whom any writer might recall when thinking about ideas for a boxing story.
"He was a universally accepted sports star. With his bobbing and weaving stance, amazing speed, graceful agility, and pure power, Jack Dempsey will forever remain the perfect boxer and one of the greatest box office attractions of all time"
While One Punch Mullargan was known as a "dirty fighter," Dempsey was just downright brutal. He was known as the "Manassa Mauler" because of his iron strength and killer left hooks. His knock out victories often occurred in mere seconds of the onset of a fight. One Punch Mullargan's one punch was "a lethal right to the button" rather than a left hook, but like Mullargan Dempsey did defend his title six times in seven years.
Dempsey fought in the small mining towns of Colorado under the name of "Kid Blackie." Manager Marks called Mullargan "kid" throughout the story, but this probably only had to do with their difference in ages, or it was just a typical title of affection in the boxing world.
Even though there are connections with Dempsey, Mullargan was probably more of a composite, "a stereotype" as Porges mentions.
II. Burroughsian Word Search
Signs of the time: dough, bum, button (for point of the chin), my foot, Gee, kid, potatoes (for money) fresh, birds, my eye, fer cripe's sake, pretty swell, get sore, jalopy, bad medicine, poor boob, haymaker, I'm all in, dogs (for feet), in the drink (for the river).
Burroughsian Cliches: jungle billingsgate, shaking him as a dog shakes a rat, steel-thewed fingers, a low growl came from the throat, the lion reared upon his hind feet, striking futilely at the man-thing upon his back; and mingled with his roaring and his growling were the growls of the man. It was the latter which froze Mullargan's blood, Tarzan sprang erect and placed a foot upon the carcass of his kill, and raising his face to the heavens voiced the hideous victory cry of the bull ape.
Juicy Grubs: epochal, proffered, sobriquet, crawling anachronism, formulated a caustic rejoinder, confluence, ardent nemophilist (one who is fond of the woods), a paroxysm of pain.
Hells and damns: That's a hell of a long ways off, I wish to hell, when I'm good an' damn ready, Hell, exclaimed Mullargan, they'll get away, Nkima could tell the world to go to hell; and did, Never's too damn'
soon for me.
Jokes: After all, who wishes his skull fractured?
Mullargan decided to go and see the world for himself, without any assistance from Navy or Marines. If we was to go there, that would give Niag'ra Falls a lot of publicity too.
(Africa) That's a hell of a long ways off -- down in South America
(Mullargan giving autographs) When did he learn to write? Give my love to Tarzan when you get to Africa. (followed by) I seen that bum in pitchers.
Marks mistakes the grunt of a lion for a pig.
Mullargan calls a cape buffalo a cow.
(Human flesh to the cannibals) Like true gourmets, they know how to prepare it. Now if I could just run into a flock of lions --
(Marks' hayfever) I wish to Gawd I was back on Broadway where there ain't no elephants or no hay.
(Suffering natives being prepared by cannibals) Some guy's got a bellyache.
(Mullargan's last word about Tarzan) Who? Dat bum?
Nice touches: the use of words in K-Swahili, the Babango cannibals, a trumpet tree, phyrnia, amoma, and dwarf bush, the air roots of the epiphytes, the scent of an empty lion is quite different from that of one with a full belly.
Perhaps he knew nothing of the psychology of the truth, but he knew the truth.
His estimate of man, never any too high, reached nadir.
(Nkima) saw no sense in looking for trouble in a world in which there was already more than enough looking for you.
You are animals. You suffer no more than other animals, when you are hurt. I am glad that the Babangoes are going to make you suffer before they eat you. You are worse than the Babangos. You had no reason for hunting the zebra and the elephant. You could not possibly have eaten all that you killed. The Babangos kill only for food, and they kill only as much as they can eat. They are better people than you, who will find pleasure in killing.
He did not consider them as fellow-beings, but as creatures further removed from him than the wild beasts with which he had consorted since childhood: those were his kin and his fellows.
Death meant nothing to him, unless it was the death of a friend, for death is a commonplace of the jungle; and his, the psychology of the wild beast, which, walking always with death, is not greatly impressed by it.
(Next week I will continue my studies of this story. Topics to be considered:
III. Nkima IV. Babango cannibals and Stanley)
Tarzan in China
By David (Nkima) Adams
The fact that people in China might be interested in reading about Tarzan of the Apes or any of the other novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs came as a surprise to me, and yet it should not have been so. I have read the brief biographical page in the Ballantine editions many times.
"No one knows how many copies of ERB books have been published throughout the world. It is conservative to say, however, that of the translations into 32 known languages, including Braille, the number must run into the hundreds of millions. When one considers the additional world-wide following of the Tarzan newspaper feature, radio programs, comic magazines, motion pictures and television, Burroughs must have been known and loved by literally a thousand million or more."
Into which languages were the novels translated? Who did I think were reading those books? I had never before pictured Tarzan being popular among the Chinese. Yes, I knew about the Japanese editions, but somehow the idea of China had completely escaped my imagination. Somehow China remained a part of that "mysterious East" that forever lies hidden and foreign, locked behind a Great Wall with its own traditions and manners that would always be far from the Western way of knowing.
Yet, I am one of the advocates of Tarzan the archtypal man -- he who transcends both time and culture.
Perhaps I have been blinded by Erling B. Holtsmark's "Tarzan and Tradition: Classical Myth in Popular Literature." My views of Tarzan's long reach has been colored by the idea that ERB's classical training linked his writings with a specific Western tradition. The relationships with Greek and Latin heroic poetry and with Lord Raglan's outline of heroic myth is well established by Holtsmark. Yet, even my own Jungian approach to Tarzan in my "Soul of the Lion" did not completely open my eyes to the universality of the nature of the archetype.
It is the nature of archtypal stories that there does not have to be a specific cultural link for them to move forward with power and meaning. Thus, like all true folk tales or myths, ERB's work can be appreciated without being culturally particular. The dreams of the American and the dreams of the Chinese are human dreams, linking by their common human origin. I knew this a long time ago, but today it has been made much clearer to me.
Tarzan and many of the other stories of ERB can touch the soul of man where ever he lives in the world.
On another path, I am aware that ERB's cave man is not limited by cultural bias, for this creature is surely the ancestor of us all. In a sense Tarzan of the Apes is but the modern image of this ancient, human progenitor - - thus he is the cave man that still lives in the human species.
All of Burroughs writing is informed by the cave man at its psychological core. This primitive longing for who we once were is a longing for our long lost fathers and grandfathers. It is a longing for that link that we all feel inside that extends into the distant past, perhaps even to the simian ancestors who once roamed the savannas of prehistoric Africa.
My totem animal called Nkima after Tarzan's simian friend is actually much more than the monkey in the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Many years also when I was searching for a personal totem, much like the American Indians who live around me here in Minnesota, just a short drive to the south at the Lower Sioux, I found that the animal who most touched the core of my being was from the tribe of those very man-like apes whom Louis S.B. Leakey called Ramapithecus.
By my way of thinking, the Olduvai Gorge in African is the cradle of all of mankind, and Burroughs is the greatest apostle of the almost forgotten legend our hominid ancestors. There has never been another writer who so thoroughly dreamed the ancient dream, and thus his writings speak to all of mankind, almost remembering as he spins his spells which for many have become in the language of poetry -- sooth.
Nkima's China chatter came about after we received the following e-mail from Hong Kong:
SUBJECT: Can I link your page and...
Your great webpage Bill Hillman's ERBzin-e Weekly Online Fanzine
I fr Hong Kong preparing a website containing works of independent cartoonist (draw in leisure). This web is a good jumpstation to connect independent cartoonist in Hong Kong, Taiwan even in other countries.
Can you allow me to translate your work into Chinese weekly/regularly so those don't know English can also read your comic? Please reply this email with your correct email and latest webpage address!!
fr Oscar with thx!
if you have time, pls also see my webpage http://comic.isfunny.com keep you laugh! Pls also tells this news to other independent cartoonist!
After forwarding this note to Nkima, his reply was:
"Shall we go to China? By all means, my friend. By any means. Tarzan has preceeded us."
Nkima and his friend, David Adams, would like to hear from ERB fans
Chattering From the Shoulder Columns
by David Adams
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