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Volume 2057

by Martin Hash
It seems somehow sad that videogames usher a boy into adolescence rather than the adventure novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Tarzan has so permeated modern culture that nothing about it now seems original.  In fact, The King of Apes is decidedly dated – to the point of unfashionability.  It is in this frame of mind that I entered upon a grand quest of final tribute to the bronze giant.

Of course, simply by writing this missive my age is apparent, and certainly my twelve year-old summer was filled with far off excitement in Africa.  Twelve is the last time that a boy can have a "best friend," in the meaning implicit of the phrase, because after puberty the 3 "g"s take precedence: girls, gas, and grades.  My Best Friend when I was twelve was Steve Wright: a genetically overweight boy obsessed with CB radio and the truckers that talked on them.  Initially we met on the last day of seventh grade due to a common interest in coin collecting.  I brought the love of comic books and Tarzan to our friendship during the summer that followed.  Setting out on our 10-speed bicycles in the morning, we would ride to the coin shop or book store at least once a week.  Each would feel happiness with a tinge of envy towards the other when one of us was first to obtain by purchase or gift one of the twenty-four original Tarzan novels.  We never referred to the books by their name but instead called them "Tarzan 8" or "number 17."  Countless hours of escapist fantasy for only $.99 Ballantine Books paperback.

"Son of Tarzan" (#4) left in a closet at a motel in Mali

Tragically, Steve died last year of multiple-sclerosis just after his and my 50th birthdays.  Contemporaneously, I was in-between careers, and had the flexibility to travel overseas for a year.  When someone asked me why I picked Africa to circumnavigate via backpacking, Tarzan came immediately to mind, and I began thinking about Steve and our collections.  A couple years previously, I’d given away all my paperback books to a nephew who would appreciate them, but for some reason I kept my Burroughs collection.  I didn’t know why at the time, and I won’t speculate on the existence of a higher power, but the coincidence is so improbably that I had to think of a fitting symbolic conclusion for Steve, my youthful past, and the general lost innocence in age of our children.  Hence, I prepared to trek around the coast of Africa carrying all the Ballantine Book paperback Tarzan books, 1 through 24, read each of them then, in turn, leave them like bread crumbs defining my trail for somebody, hopefully, to pick up and wonder about, and perhaps read or give to someone who will read it.  This imagining seems unlikely in a country where few people speak, let alone read, English, and where the paper pages of a 50 year-old paperback compete more with toilet paper and kindling than reading, but I will leave fate and chance to decide.  Tarzan belongs in Africa.

by Martin Hash

There's a pop-psychology phenomenon that blames Walt Disney for the social innocence of modern youth.  In the world of Disney, good is rewarded, evil mends its ways, and everyone lives happily ever after… Luckily, I escaped those misconceptions with the help of my literary mentor, Tarzan of the Apes.  In the world according to Tarzan; good is ephemeral, evil is implacable, and you survive through reliance on your own strength and effort.  Especially important is that life always remains complicated for Tarzan, through at least 24 novels, innumerable cultural references, and a timelessness that transcends generations.  For Tarzan, life is always difficult – and he always overcomes. 

First and foremost, Tarzan's adversaries are either entirely noble, like the lion, Numa, who was only an enemy given the fundamentalist of motives: hunger; or ignoble, like man, who is driven by the civilization-produced notions of greed, avarice, and lust. These latter deadly sins never dissipate in those that contain them – the only way to vanquish such an enemy is through death.  How often I have used this knowledge to good advantage, for if I followed the Disney philosophy, I might futilely hope for such an enemy to be reasoned with or co-opted in some manner, but I know that Tarzan would never be so fooled – Tarzan would avoid contact with such people, or kill them if he must, but he would never assume they would simply go away.  Contrarily, Tarzan made a lot of friends – in fact, it was so easy for him I felt my own small cluster of childhood friends inadequate – but no friend ever seemed to be around when Tarzan needed them, and if they were, they were ineffectual allies.  Even his highly capable son, Korak, was little more than a footnote.  Tarzan taught me not to rely on friends in a pinch but expect my enemies to be relentless.

Secondly, no matter the odds to the contrary, Tarzan always expected the best.  Coincidence might be rare but it does exist, and if you don't account for its presence, you can never take advantage of it.  The American culture of optimism melds neatly into such a philosophy, and for all the aspiring presidents, millionaires, sport and movie stars among us, Tarzan shows that hope springs eternal, and is rewarded on a regular basis.  Even if I've failed repeatedly to draw to an inside straight, I know Tarzan would never quit trying. 

Third on the list, but maybe the most important for one's self-fulfillment; Tarzan was satisfied with whatever his immediate circumstances might be, and never exhibited the base traits of envy, spite, and resentment when it came to his own lot in life.  If he was forced to wrestle gorillas and live among the arboreal treetops then that was his happiest state; but if his situation caused him to assume the manner of an English lord, then so be it.  Granted, both of those pursuits appeal to my own primeval proclivities but the message of inner peace and tranquility was clear, none-the-less.

Finally, Tarzan founded his existence on the love of his mate, Jane.  My own intellect and modern wisdom knows such infatuations to be specious and fleeting, but the ecstasy of even a momentary liaison of such a powerful nature is enough for any man to strive:  hope springs eternal in love, and rightfully so.  Tarzan taught me to love.

So, though I admire the "wonderful world of color" espoused by the Disney empire, I instead strive for the gold and emeralds of Opar that only Tarzan-like karma can procure.  If there's one bit of wisdom I can pass onto my grandchildren, it is to ask, "What would Tarzan do?"

~ Dr. Martin D. Hash, Esq.

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