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Volume 3913
Tarzan turns 100 — Part I
Interview with Bill Hillman of ~ October 7, 2012 by  Atul Sethi
This month, the lord of the jungle completes a century of existence. The vine-swinging,  yodelling ape man, whose adventures in the dense forests of Africa, have enthralled generations of readers, first appeared in the pulp magazine The All Story, in the October 1912 issue. Since then, the noble savage -- along with faithful chimp Cheeta (in film) and lady love, Jane -- has been a popular character who has battled wild animals, poachers, ferocious tribes and even dinosaurs. 
Bill and Sue-On Hillman :
The ERBzine Office
I had a chance to recently interact with two individuals who have had a close association with Tarzan and his creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The first is Bill Hillman who runs a gigantic fansite ( ) dedicated to the author that has over 10,000 fan pages containing everything under the sun you would ever want to know about the author and his varied creations that include, apart from Tarzan, icons like John Carter of Mars.

Following is a detailed interview with Bill Hillman followed by an interaction with John R Burroughs, Edgar Rice's grandson in the next post.

Why has Tarzan appealed to you so much?
Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan -- as well as a multitude of other fantastically exciting heroes and worlds -- possessed a boundless imagination and was a superb storyteller. Very few people dispute the brilliance of the Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan series: twenty-five novels published in over fifty languages, and a countless stream of comics, radio & TV shows, movies, merchandizing, spinoffs, games, etc. Over the last century there have been billions of fans and readers, turning Tarzan into one of the most iconic characters in literature.

The late Ray Bradbury, himself deeply influenced by ERB, commented, "I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly -- "Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world." Bradbury also added: "In conversations over drinks around our country in the past ten years I have been astonished to discover how often a leading biochemist or archaeologist or space technician or astronaut when asked: what happened to you when you were ten years old? replied: TARZAN."

Many heroes and superheroes constantly reinvent themselves over the years but Tarzan has remained more or less unchanged. Why is this so?
He's got everything, really.  The Tarzan of ERB’s books is big, strong, handsome, virile, has a noble spirit, is intelligent (though not in the movies), but most importantly free from the restrictions of civilized life. And he is human. He doesn't have super-powers. As suggested recently by my friend Robin Maxwell who wrote the just-released book Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan,  Tarzan was the very first superhero -- actually the first "super-natural" hero -- his powers were altogether human and emanated from the natural world. The ape-man pre-dated Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. He doesn’t have super-powers or a silly costume with a cape. He possessed neither extraterrestrial attributes nor cool technology, but -- having been raised by a tribe of "anthropoid apes" -- he was the strongest man on earth, could "fly" through the jungle canopy, and speak the languages of wild animals. Moreover, he possesses native intelligence and nobility of spirit and is every man's fantasy, and every woman's fantasy lover.

Do you feel that his appeal has reduced amongst the younger generation of readers, who might not identify with him as much as earlier generations do?
This is true to some extent because there is such huge varied and changing audience today. We must keep in mind that Tarzan was a product of Edwardian times. Earlier generations had to read and use their imaginations. They weren't spoon fed by the razzmatazz of short attention span social media, YouTube bits, computer games, smart phones, etc. . . .  Some of the morals and sensibilities of the Western world of "the old days" were different, but Burroughs was ahead of his time in the portrayal of strong women, honourable heroes, a respect for nature and the need to preserve wildlife and their natural habitat. He and his creations have also been on the cutting edge of entertainment media technology over the last 100 years. . . so even in today's fast-paced world his adventure and science fiction heroes and stories still capture fans in each new generation.

The character has also had to deal with accusations of being racist and confirming to a white, colonial stereotype. What is your take on this?
Too many of these critics have not read the Tarzan books, but have levelled their criticisms at the Tarzan created by Hollywood and parodies . . . this is not Burroughs' Tarzan. The Burroughs heroes and villains were from all races. Most of his villains were white European/American but I've never thought of this as being racist toward my ethnic background since just as many of his heroes were also of this background. The same goes for African natives . . . drawing  upon accounts from early explorers he described a few of the tribes as being savages or cannibals. . . but members of the black Waziri tribe which appear in almost every book were presented as noble, intelligent, brave and fearless. Equal opportunity villains were the norm. An adventure story without villains and adversaries would make for a very boring read.

Burroughs never visited Africa . . . he didn't want to destroy the magic of the fictional locales he created in his Tarzan novels. But the turn of the century was an exciting time as the unexplored  vastness of Africa started to reveal its secrets to early explorers and adventurers. When ERB created Tarzan, Africa was still the "Dark Continent" and the outside world knew very little about it.

He built up a personal library of resource material
and spent countless hours in the Chicago Library studying the accounts and illustrations compiled by the early explorers who had studied the Africa of the earlier Victorian era.  Paul Du Chaillu and J. W. Buell, were the major sources, both direct and subliminal, of the Burroughs mind-fix. They provided essential background reading which Burroughs used systematically for his themes, situations and, significantly, for his nomenclature.

There have been many changes in Africa since that time -- not always for the better -- but the themes created by ERB remain relevant to today's audience. The Tarzan character has been constantly reinvented and adapted to contemporary times but Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. in Tarzana, California have a guide that all writers must follow so as to keep the ape-man true to ERB's vision of him as a noble, fearless and respected character. . . and certainly a role model for people of all ages and nationalities.

Do you have a favourite adventure that you dip into often? Also, what about favourite characters?
The first half dozen novels would have to be favourites although there are numerous later titles that also fire my imagination and invite ongoing re-reads. A favourite among the later books is his last Tarzan novel, Tarzan and "The Foreign Legion" -- a WWII story written during Burroughs's time in the Pacific Theatre where he served as the oldest correspondent in WWII -- a role that took him on bombing missions, warships, and to islands across the Pacific which were still occupied by Japanese troops.

The favourite character would have to be Tarzan, but there is a multitude of other intriguing and colourful characters such as his mate, Jane, as well as La of Opar, Jad-bal-ja, the Waziri, Korak, and so many of the characters in the lost civilizations that Burroughs invented.

    Tarzan the Invincible
    Cover art by Edgar Rice Burroughs nephew:
    Studley Oldham Burroughs

Tarzan turns 100 — Part II
Interview with John R Burroughs ~ October 15,  2012 ~ Atul Sethi
    How was the man who created Tarzan like? How would he have reacted to his creation completing a hundred years? What is the road-map ahead for the lord of the jungle? Is he still relevant to the present generation?  In an email interaction, I posed a few such questions to John R Burroughs, grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan. John now heads ERB, Inc, the California-based conglomerate that his grandfather founded. Here are excerpts from the interaction:

    What are your earliest memories of your grandfather?
    My earliest memories are of an old man partially crippled by strokes and Parkinson's. He was much like Andy Rooney who would wheel himself about in a custom built wheel chair. My little brother and I (Danton Burroughs) were deposited with him while my parents ran errands or vacationed. He would always arrange a surprise for his two grandsons and seemed genuinely happy to see us even after we ran about his place as small boys do. Then he would bring out a giant pirate's chest with an ornate key. Upon opening, we found it full of nickels (valuable in 1949). Then as if from nowhere, he produced a full sized slot machine and told us boys we could play as long as we wished, and keep anything we won. But no cheating by pocketing the nickels from his pirate's chest. He was until the end a great practical joker and knowing my mother had tried in vain to stop my brother from sucking his thumb, concocted an elaborate ruse that sent me into near hysteria.

    It came about when we were dropped off for a visit and my little brother Danny ran ahead of me up the pathway into the house. Meanwhile I was throwing rocks at the fish in his ponds, when out of the house ran my brother Danny holding his bloody hand in a towel screaming, "Poppy cut my thumb off"...close behind came grandpa waving a pair of seemingly bloody pruning shears, shouting ,"you still have one left" Needless to say when the smoke cleared and Danny began to laugh at my distress, I found the blood was ketchup and the shears were a prop for effect.

    How do you think he would have reacted to Tarzan completing 100 years?
    I think he knew that his first character John Carter of Mars would be a lasting legacy. Frankly, in 1912 he was surprised when the book publishers were bidding against each other for the rights of his then serial stories Tarzan of the Apes. In fact, as years went by he had plans of killing off this original eco-warrior because he wanted to write historical novels and westerns.

    Many heroes and superheroes constantly reinvent themselves over the years but Tarzan has remained more or less unchanged. Why is this so?
    The evolution of the character is timeless, actually. The situations that Tarzan encountered are the same today but on a grander scale -- specifically his triumphs over the protection of his forests and animal population. Here at ERB, Inc we have licensed the Tarzan name to Andy Briggs and Robin Maxwell (two best-selling authors) to bring the Tarzan character into modern times.

    How is the Tarzan centenary being celebrated across the world and particularly, in Tarzana, the community that your grandfather founded? Is there a new Tarzan film also in the pipeline?
    The United States Postal Service has issued a centennial commemorative stamp in honor of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan. I received it on behalf of ERB, Inc this August. Constantin Films has the Tarzan animation rights and plan to release their 3D film using performance capture (similar to Avatar) in 2012. Warner Bros also has the live action rights with a script written and director selected for release either in 2014-2015.

    John R Burroughs is son of John Coleman Burroughs
For more on the India Times Centennial Celebration of
ERB, John Carter and Tarzan,
Click HERE to read more about Tarzan turning 100 and
he character's attempt to stay relevant to a new generationGO TO

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