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.
I had a chance to recently interact with two individuals
who have had a close association with Tarzan and his creator Edgar Rice
The first is Bill Hillman who runs a gigantic fansite
( www.ERBzine.com ) 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?
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
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
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
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.